House Republicans have noticeably shifted their messaging in recent days to attempt to shield President Trump from a swelling body of evidence against him by subtly suggesting that key deputies involved in the Ukraine saga may have acted on their own.
And Trump is clearly ripping a page from their playbook.
According to the Washington Post, the new effort is focused on U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and possibly acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. The end game is to raise questions about whether the three acted on their own to mount the Ukraine pressure campaign in order to save face for Trump, whom congressional investigators clearly believe was squarely behind the push to get Ukraine to probe his political rivals.
Republicans reportedly believe that if they can publicly question these key figures’ motivations enough, it might lessen the damage of the damning testimony from current and former White House and State Department officials that’s emerged in recent days. The most charged information that’s surfaced in recent days came from Sondland’s full testimony transcript, in which he officially confirmed there was a quid pro quo attached to the withheld military aid and his efforts on behalf of the White House to get Ukraine to publicly announce politically advantageous probes for Trump.
Earlier this week, Politico Playbook reported that Republicans are rallying behind the idea of throwing Sondland under the bus, despite his record of financial and political support for Trump. Earlier this week, House Oversight Committee member Jim Jordan (R-OH) — an ardent Trump defender who will soon gain a seat on the House Intelligence Committee ahead of next week’s public testimony — told reporters that Sondland’s quid pro quo confirmation was just a “presumption” the top diplomat reached on his own. According to the Post, this could allude to a potential Republican effort to paint Sondland as rouge actor, who conducted the quid pro quo on his own.
Whether intentional or not, Trump has latched onto the shadow denigration campaign. He’s not disparaged Giuliani or Mulvaney (yet), but he notably scorned the whole swath of officials who have provided House investigators with testimony.
Making remarks to reporters on Friday, Trump claimed the House members conducting the impeachment inquiry had dialed in the “10 people that hate President Trump the most” and “put them up there” for testimony. While it’s not clear which 10 he’s referencing, every person who has been disposed before the House thus far was uniquely involved in various aspects of his agenda in Ukraine, where the Giuiliani-led pressure campaign began.
Trump: Investigators "say let's find ten people that hate president trump the most and let's put them up there" to testify. Interestingly the ten people who hate Trump most are the ten people who worked on his Ukraine policy. pic.twitter.com/iwjNYK4jcr
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 8, 2019