House Republicans have struggled to maintain a cohesive and consistent defense of President Donald Trump as damaging testimony from top diplomats trickles out into the public sphere, but they now seem to be setting up three members of Trump’s circle as fall guys, according to The Washington Post.
In particular, GOP lawmakers are trying to cast the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland as freelancing Ukraine policy without Trump’s knowledge. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting White House chief of staff, is also in the running to shoulder blame.
The Post noted that all three men had the most direct contact with the president on Ukraine policy, but Republicans are shifting the narrative to paint Giuliani, Sondland and Mulvaney as acting on their own, rather than at the direction of Trump himself.
“William B. Taylor, currently the top diplomat in Ukraine, and National Security Council expert Tim Morrison told lawmakers they learned through Sondland that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being leveraged to secure the probes,” The Post reported — highly incriminating testimony that is not easily explained away.
Republicans hope to cast doubt on the motivations of Sondland and others in an effort to undermine the seriousness of Trump’s situation. House Oversight Committee member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told reporters that Sondland had simply “made a presumption,” adding that “what Sondland was told by the president ... [is] there was no quid pro quo.”
Similarly, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) said this week that while attorneys typically coordinate with their clients, Giuliani is not a typical attorney: “There is no direct linkage to the president of the United States. There are a whole lot of things that he does that he doesn’t apprise anybody of.”
Mulvaney is potentially on the hook after delivering a problematic press conference last month in which he admitted “that the administration had withheld U.S. aid to Ukraine to secure investigations that could help the president politically” and claimed they did this all the time.
While Mulvaney subsequently tried to walk back his comments, House Democrats consider his remarks key evidence in their impeachment case.