Not enough is being made of that chronological confluence. It means we now know that Trump froze the money at around the time he personally directed Sondland to carry out his corrupt pressure on Ukraine to investigate a potential 2020 rival.
This will gain wider attention when David Holmes, a State Department employee who overheard Trump’s July 26 call with Sondland, testifies Thursday to the impeachment inquiry.
Republicans continue to insist there was no connection between the withheld aid and Trump’s corrupt demand that Ukraine carry out his political dirty deeds. Never mind that Sondland actually did convey that message to Ukraine, and that Sondland has now confirmed that overwhelming evidence persuaded him that this is what Trump intended.
The GOP defense is now this: Trump is exonerated, because it hasn’t yet been nailed down beyond any doubt that Trump directly commanded Sondland to tell Ukraine that the money was withheld for that corrupt purpose.
Like many other GOP defenses, this one is in slow-motion collapse. And it’s about to get worse.
David Holmes’s testimony
Start with Holmes. He will reiterate his private testimony, which told us Trump said this to Sondland on July 26: “So, he’s going to do the investigations?” To which Sondland replied: “He’s going to do it.”
Hearing this publicly after Sondland’s testimony on Wednesday will be damning. Here’s why: Sondland unequivocally confirmed that Trump was using the White House meeting as leverage to get the investigations he wanted, and that numerous top officials were in on that corrupt scheme.
Now that it has been established that Trump dangled a meeting to force an investigation of Biden, how likely is it that Trump suddenly didn’t intend to use the frozen military aid for that same purpose, at precisely the moment he was both obsessing over that goal and was maximizing his leverage over Ukraine to its highest point yet?
It’s an utterly ludicrous notion.
We know Trump was obsessing over that goal because he personally pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to carry it out on July 25. And the next day he shouted at Sondland over it — which Holmes’s testimony will now dramatize.
Sondland also told us overwhelming evidence persuaded him that Trump’s motive was a corrupt one — that the aid wouldn’t be released until Ukraine did his political bidding. And Ukraine knew the aid had been frozen at the time, a fact that was disclosed on Wednesday by Defense Department official Laura Cooper.
Meanwhile, Sondland also explicitly told us that Mulvaney could testify to that motive in freezing the aid.
In that context, the fact that Trump has blocked Mulvaney from testifying is just profoundly damning. And it will get more so.
Fiona Hill’s testimony
When Hill testifies publicly, she is expected to reiterate her private account of former national security adviser John Bolton’s anger at hearing about this whole corrupt scheme.
On July 10, at the White House, Sondland pressed Ukrainian officials to carry out the investigations Trump wanted. According to Hill’s private testimony, this prompted Bolton to erupt: “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”
If and when Hill reiterates this, it will underscore the degree to which this whole scheme was already in full swing — in July — and that Trump’s own national security adviser already saw it as corrupt to its core. Only two weeks later, Trump froze the aid.
Hill’s testimony will also serve as a reminder that Bolton himself privately pressed Trump to release the aid, which Trump refused to do. Bolton had numerous conversations directly with Trump over this topic. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, Trump’s motive was overwhelmingly clear to Bolton?
In that context, the blockade on Bolton’s testimony is also profoundly damning.
The GOP defense: 2+2=5
At this point, Trump and Republicans have been reduced to arguing that, because Trump told Sondland in September that there was “no quid pro quo,” that makes it true. But on the same call, Trump both said that Zelensky must do his bidding and that Zelensky must do it of his own accord. That’s how crime bosses communicate corrupt directives while maintaining plausible deniability for it.
Beyond that, however, this whole defense will become much more ludicrous in light of what we’re about to hear.
Let’s be clear: The GOP defense is that Trump is entirely innocent because it hasn’t yet been confirmed that he explicitly ordered the ringleader of his scheme to expressly tell Ukrainian officials that Trump, in effect, was soliciting a bribe from them, even though Sondland did convey this message, at what he fully understood to be Trump’s direction.
We now know Trump ordered the aid frozen at precisely the time he was deeply preoccupied with getting Ukraine to investigate Biden; that he had already used one official act as leverage to secure this; that many around him saw the developing scheme as corrupt, with some (Bolton) directly communicating with him over the frozen aid but getting blocked from testifying about it; and that the ringleader of his scheme (Sondland) understood his intentions perfectly.
As Sondland agreed, he understood this as plainly as he knows that 2+2=4.
The Republican defense is that you should ignore all these widely known facts. It’s that 2+2=5.