Not shocking: The Republicans’ star witness at Trump’s first impeachment was lying

When former special ambassador to Ukraine Kurt Volker appeared to testify before the House in hearings connected to Donald Trump’s first impeachment, Republicans were thrilled. Volker was part of the “three amigos,” who Trump had sent to Ukraine to force out experienced diplomats and see that Rudy Giuliani got all the assistance he needed in extorting the Ukrainian government into pretending to investigate Joe Biden. 

As soon as Volker completed his testimony, it was clearly at odds with that delivered by other witnesses. Volker testified that he never talked about the company Burisma, where Hunter Biden was on the board, in his discussions with Ukrainian officials. He completely omitted any reference to a series of meetings and calls on July 10, 2019, after which then-Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman took his concerns about what was going on to the NSC’s lead counsel. Volkman contradicted the content of text messages he sent on July 19, in which he joined Rudy Giuliani in urging the Ukrainian president to initiate an investigation of Biden. He left out how Burisma and the Bidens factored into a statement Trump wanted from the Ukrainians. And he completely failed to testify about how he had insisted—as text messages showed—that Ukrainian officials had to include both claims that Ukraine had interfered with the U.S. election in 2016, and that Biden had tried to block an investigation into Burisma, if they wanted to “prevent a recurrence” of Trump blocking military aid to the country.

But what really excited the Republicans was the fact that Volker provided them with the Big Talking Point: a claim that there was “no quid pro quo” connecting the request for an investigation into the Bidens and the release of U.S. assistance to Ukraine. In his deposition to the House committee, Volker made it clear: “At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden.”

But text messages at the time also made it clear this wasn’t true. And calls that CNN released this week while looking into the actions of Giuliani make this one thing exceedingly clear: In his sworn testimony to Congress, former ambassador Kurt Volker was lying his ass off.

As The Washington Post reports, it was Volker’s testimony that Republicans leaned on when they claimed that Trump had been exonerated. 

“Ambassador Volker … confirmed what the President has repeatedly said: there was no quid pro quo,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan. 

“Ambassador Volker, you just like took apart their entire case,” said a grateful Rep. Michael Turner during questioning.

In his testimony, Volker didn’t hold back. “At no time was I aware of or knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former vice president Biden. As you know from the extensive real-time documentation I have provided, Vice President Biden was not a topic of our discussions.”

How could this be the case when Volker repeatedly texted concerning an investigation into Burisma? The pretense that Volker put forward was that he didn’t know. He didn’t know why Trump wanted an investigation into a particular Ukrainian energy firm as part of his deal. He didn’t know why this was so vital that it could be a factor in allowing an ally to be preyed on by Russian forces.

Volker wasn’t the only one. His former “amigos”—Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry—pushed the same line. Apparently Trump and Giuliani had it out for this one gas company. After that, they all pled blissful ignorance. 

Yeah, but … Volker was on the call when Giuliani said this to one of the Ukrainian president’s top assistants:

“All we need from the President is to say, I’m going to put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence that presently exists, and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out.”

That was just one of several instances where Giuliani explicitly drew the connection between what was being asked of the Ukrainian president with the Bidens. Volker was on that call. Pretending that he didn’t know what he was asking when he asked about Burisma would mean not just acknowledging an astounding ignorance about the country he was supposed to be assisting—past allegations against Burisma had played a key role in both U.S. and U.K. actions in Ukraine—it would mean he wasn’t actually listening to what Giuliani said during their conversations with Ukrainian officials. In Volker’s testimony he claimed that “In referencing Burisma it was clear he was only talking about whether any Ukrainians had acted inappropriately,” which never made any sense at all. It still doesn’t.

The Post suggests that Volker hewed a very narrow line in his testimony and that he “referred specifically to the idea that Biden wasn’t brought up in the text messages he turned over—rather than at all in any conversations.” But that’s attempting to parse things way, way too finely.

It’s clear that when Volker, Sondland, and others mention Burisma in their text messages, that this is shorthand for announcing an investigation into the role Joe and Hunter Biden played in connection to that company. That’s specifically what Giuliani asks for, again and again.

And in his testimony, Volker goes much further than The Post suggests. Volker’s full statement to the committee, apparently in response to a question by Rep. Adam Schiff, was this:

“At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden. As you will see from the extensive text messages I am providing, which convey a sense of real-time dialogue with several different actors, Vice President Biden was never a topic of discussion.”

It might be possible to twist that statement so that the last mention of Biden is directed toward the text messages. It’s not possible to do so with the first mention. “At no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden” is simply a lie. An out and out lie. A lie that was intended to cover Volker’s ass, and which Republicans seized on as justification to exonerate Trump.

It was always clear that Volker was lying when he claimed to not understand the connection between Burisma and Joe Biden. The most recent revelations just underline the extent of that lie.

it may be too late for a do-over of that first impeachment, this time with honest testimony. It’s not too late to charge Kurt Volker for his lies.

Gordon Sondland sues government, Mike Pompeo for impeachment-related legal fees

Remember when it was conclusively proven that Donald Trump did a crime? No, not that one, the other one. No, between those two. We're talking about the confirmation, by multiple witnesses called before the House to testify on presidential acts, that Donald Trump slow-walked both military and diplomatic aid to Ukraine, which was fighting off a Russia-backed insurrection after Russian troops invaded and proclaimed ownership of Crimea, because Donald Trump was demanding the Ukrainian government do him specific favors to aid his upcoming campaign.

In a move eerily similar to the Trump campaign's 2016 dalliances with Russian espionage and propaganda campaigns, this time it was Rudy Giuliani, not Paul Manafort, who acted as courier looking to boost the effectiveness of Russian disinformation campaigns looking to damage Trump's most-feared Democratic election opponent. Pro-Russian Ukrainians laundered anti-Biden materials through Giuliani, who broadcast even the weirdest and most ridiculous ones (Secret servers! Russia was unfairly blamed for 2016 election hacking when actually it was Democrats hacking themselves the whole time!) into Donald Trump's own incomprehensibly hollow head; Donald Trump then insisted that Ukrainian government officials announce that they were investigating these very stupid claims, lending them official credence, in exchange for Trump (1) meeting with the Ukrainian president as show of support for the nation's battle against Russian occupation and (2) agreeing to release his hold on congressionally mandated military aid that Trump and his top officials had no legal authority to block in the first place.

During House impeachment investigations, Trump ally, donor, and ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified through only a little flopsweat that yes, there was a "quid pro quo" demand from the White House that the Ukrainian government promote the Trump-backed anti-Biden hoax before Trump would agree to meet with the Ukrainian president—a clear abuse of governmental powers to gain something of value to Trump personally. Sondland was one of the few pro-Trump witnesses to even agree to appear before Congress; other key witnesses to the events, including William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, refused to testify or to produce subpoenaed documents.

Trump and his allies faced no repercussions, however. Senate Republicans near-unanimously refused to hear testimony or evidence in the resulting impeachment trial, because they are corrupt. Only days after those Republicans dismissed the impeachment trial against Trump, Trump fired Sondland and other witnesses who testified to his actions, beginning a large-scale purge of any government officials deemed to be unwilling to cover up future Trump corruption. It was a fascist act from a fascist administration backed, then and now, by a fascist party.

Trump once-ally Gordon Sondland is now suing both the U.S. government and Mike Pompeo. His claim? That Pompeo assured him that the U.S. State Department would cover the legal expenses he incurred in preparing for his congressional testimony, back when Pompeo (himself hiding from Congress) and other Trump allies still believed Sondland would refuse to acknowledge Trump's extortive would-be deal. When he came back from testifying, however, Pompeo demanded his immediate resignation, Trump fired him after he refused to give it, and Pompeo's State Department stiffed him, leaving him with $1.8 million in legal bills.

Or, in other words, the same thing happened to him that has happened to everyone else who ever tried to attach themselves to Trump. Who would have thunk it.

Pompeo, for his part, is scoffing at the lawsuit. Democrats have for some reason declined to enforce Pompeo's testimony now that Pompeo no longer has the whole of Trump's government stonewalling that testimony on his behalf, and Pompeo is currently preparing to jet off to Israel to attend a party honoring an Israeli intelligence official and, presumably, commit another crime or two while he has the chance. He remains of the belief that he is still a force to be reckoned with in Republican politics, despite being made to look like a chump throughout Trump's incompetent reign and despite newer-generation fascist blowhards like Ron DeSantis running circles around him when it comes to kissing Trump's ass and getting Americans pointlessly killed.

Will Sondland get his money back? Who knows. Not from Pompeo, that's for sure. We'll see whether the new Biden administration decides that a Pompeo promise ought to be honored even when Pompeo himself never intended to do so, or whether maybe all involved believe that if you staked nearly $2 million on a promise from Trump's crooked inner circle than maybe that's your problem and not ours.

Luxury hotel chains, including Gordon Sondland’s, among those capitalizing on ‘small business’ loans

Remember Gordon Sondland? Of course you do, from back in the before time when the national crisis was impeachment. He’s the now-former ambassador to the European Union, who got that cushy job by being a big donor to Donald Trump's inaugural committee. Trump might have fired him from that sweet gig, but that doesn't mean Sondland's out of the money loop with Republicans at all. Because guess who got some of that "small business" coronavirus emergency loan money?

Provenance Hotels, the hotel chain Sondland owns, got some of that loan money according to a spokeswoman, along with some very wealthy, very connected to Republican lawmaker hoteliers. How much Sondland landed isn't clear, but the company spokesperson told the Portland Business Journal: "Now that we have been approved for our SBA PPP loan, we hope to bring back a significant portion of those employees and retain them for as long as possible." Let's certainly hope so. Not all business are doing so, figuring the terms of the loans are so good that it doesn't matter if they flout the rules and spend the money on other costs.

One of the biggest winners was Dallas hotel executive Monty Bennett, also a Trump major donor. He got a combined $59 million for three of his companies—Braemar Hotels & Resorts, which operates a Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas; Ashford Hospitality Trust Inc., which operates 100 or so hotel properties around the country; and finally the management firm that oversees both chains. Bennett's given Trump $150,000 just in the last six months, and was rewarded nicely. Ashford’s group said in a statement that the loan program "is working exactly as intended by providing much needed capital to small businesses and larger businesses that have been the hardest hit—hotels and restaurants." The Bloomberg article doesn't say whether Ashford also claimed to be retaining its employees.

It does, however, report that Ashford expects to get more loans on top of the $30 million it got in the first round. If Bennett is spending all that money on keeping his 1,000 or so employees paid, great—keeping people afloat right now is the main thing.

But when this is all over? There had better damned well be a wealth tax that claws this money back.

GOP senators alarmed by firing of Sondland, a Republican donor—but not by the rest of Trump’s purge

We now know that a handful of Republican senators were, in fact, alarmed by Donald Trump's Friday firings of government officials who testified to House impeachment investigators about Trump's Ukrainian extortion scheme. More accurately, we now know that a bare handful of Republican senators were concerned only about the firing of U.S Ambassador Gordon Sondland, while remaining unconcerned by Trump's removal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother, who did not testify.

The likely reason? Gordon Sondland, unlike the others, was a big-money Republican campaign donor.

The New York Times is reporting that Republican Sens. Susan Collins (yes, Susan Collins), Thom Tillis, Martha McSally and Ron Johnson contacted the White House to try to halt Sondland's firing. Sondland, who was made a U.S. ambassador after giving $1 million to Trump’s own inaugural fund, was signaling he was planning to resign; the Republican senators wanted Sondland to be given a graceful exit. That was not to be: a vengeful, frothing Trump was insistent on making a public example of him.

Why were the senators concerned about Sondland but not the others? Sondland, reports the Times, was "a donor to Mr. Tillis and other Republicans."

So there you go. We now know the one, the only thing that would get the slightest pushback from the now-fascist Republican Party: Trump humiliating a top-dollar donor. The rest of it they're fine with.

That's not hyperbole. Sen. Susan Collins, in particular, made a special point of telling the Times that her prior "hope" that perhaps Trump would learn a "lesson" from impeachment was excruciatingly narrow. It didn't apply, she explained, to Trump's purge of the witnesses who spoke out to confirm the Trump-Giuliani Ukrainian plot.

“The lesson that I hoped the president had learned was that he should not enlist the help of a foreign government in investigating a political rival,” she told the Times. “It had absolutely nothing to do with whether or not he should fire people who testified in a way that he perceived as harmful to him.”

So yes, Susan Collins is fine with Trump retaliating against those who testified to his "perfect" actions. It was just the Republican donor whose plight roused her enough to make a simple phone call.

Her new statement is, yet again and of course, another reversal of a prior Susan Collins statement of supposed principles. On Friday she told a Maine crowd that "I obviously am not in favor of any kind of retribution against anyone who came forward with evidence." This new statement clarifies that she is not specifically against such retribution either.

In a non-authoritarian, non-fascist movement, Dear Leader retaliating against those who testified under oath about his own actions would be astonishingly corrupt. It would be close to the very definition of corrupt, in fact. It is now considered an acceptable act, by Republicans, subject to mild private pushback only if the purge happens to touch on one of their own campaign donors. And even the most "moderate" of Republicans, Susan Collins, is now releasing statements clarifying that she is in fact not expressing any concerns about that.

Trump’s next retribution ax falls on European Union Ambassador Sondland

Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, was fired by impeached president Donald Trump Friday, hours after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was forced out of his national security job at the White House.

I was advised today that the president intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union," Sondland announced in a statement issued soon after the Vindman firing. He thanked Trump "for having given me the opportunity to serve." The New York Times even sees this for what it is, "a campaign of retribution against those he blames for his impeachment." That campaign of retribution extended to family; Vindman's twin brother Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who was also on the NSC staff, was fired Friday as well.

Trump's rendition of the Friday night massacre is on the heads of every Republican senator who voted to cover up his crime. That acquittal unleashed this monster, and in the case of the Vindman's made our nation that less secure.