And on Thursday, the argument was undermined again.
In newly released testimony, George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said that not only did Trump want investigations of Burisma Holdings (the company that employed former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter) and potential Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election; he also specifically wanted Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to link the latter to the word “Clinton.”
He says he learned it while hearing about European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s conversations with Trump.
“Gordon had told him, Tim [Morrison], and Tim told Bill Taylor that he, Gordon, had talked to the president, POTUS in sort of shorthand,” Kent said. “And POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to [a] microphone and say ‘investigations,’ ‘Biden,’ and ‘Clinton.’ ”
Kent was then pressed on the “Clinton” part:
Q: Could you just go through that again?A: Right.Q: I haven’t heard that name lately.A: That was a message — that was described in the shorthand of the desire to have — this was the Gordon Sondland messaging of what the Ukrainians need to say in shorthand 2016. And in shorthand, it was suggested that the Ukrainians needed — Zelensky needed to go to a microphone and basically there needed to be three words in the message, and that was the shorthand.Q: Clinton was shorthand for 2016?A: 2016, yes.
While the connection between Burisma and the Bidens is clear, Trump’s interest in the other investigation has been somewhat more nebulous. We know it involved CrowdStrike and email servers that were allegedly in Ukraine and potentially the idea that Ukraine rather than Russia was behind the 2016 U.S. election interference.
But Kent, as the questioner noted, is injecting something that generally hasn’t been cited in that context: the Hillary Clinton campaign.
It’s not difficult to pick up that thread. There was a Politico story in 2017 headlined, “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire.” The subheadline was: “Kyiv officials are scrambling to make amends with the president-elect after quietly working to boost Clinton.”
Judging by what Kent heard Sondland was pushing, it seems Trump wasn’t necessarily trying to just learn stuff about the origins of the Russia investigation, but that he was also interested in attaching the “real collusion” to Hillary Clinton.
It’s not clear why we haven’t heard about this before. Taylor, after all, has also testified about the things he heard about Sondland through Morrison, a now-former White House aide who served on the National Security Council. Taylor’s testimony didn’t make such a mention of Clinton in this context.
But if accurate, we basically have two investigations that Trump was seeking, one that he explicitly tied to his 2016 election opponent, and one that he explicitly tied to the person who was then his leading potential 2020 election opponent.
Of course, even if Trump’s interest in the second investigation were just about the origins of the Russia probe — something the Justice Department is investigating — that would still be obviously self-serving. He’s called the investigation a hoax and stands to gain plenty from the perception that it was used to persecute him.
But to the extent that the second investigation was really about Clinton, it would become even more obvious how much this has been about Trump’s own personal political gain — and about undermining one of his most high-profile foes.