Throughout the Trump era, there have been periodic news events that the D.C. chattering class – often on both sides of the aisle – sees as game-changing. So big, so unusual, so BREAKING NEWS IN ALL CAPS, that everyone agrees it will have a significant impact.
And then, in short order, it becomes clear that it isn’t going to change anything at all.
It’s too early to know if today’s testimony by Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, will turn out to be another one of those days – or will actually become a bona fide turning point.
Appearing before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Sondland said there was indeed “a quid pro quo” – a White House meeting made conditional on Ukraine’s president launching specific investigations. He said President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani “emphasized that the President wanted a public statement” about investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma, the Ukrainian company where Hunter Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, served on the board. Mr. Sondland also said this was not a secret: “Everyone was in the loop.”
Mr. Sondland said he was never told why U.S. aid to Ukraine had been held up. But he said he “came to the conclusion” that if Ukraine demonstrated “a serious intention” to open those investigations, “the hold on military aid would be lifted.”
To many, Ambassador Sondland’s testimony represented “one of those bombshell days,” as Ken Starr, the independent counsel whose investigation led to the Clinton impeachment, put it on Fox News. “This is the smoking gun,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., told Politico.
Yet almost immediately, President Trump’s allies began insisting it was all a nothing burger. “What this ‘bombshell’ hearing is amounting to: Another witness who never heard anything from the president,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. “Sondland SPECULATED why there was a hold on aid,” tweeted Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y. “POTUS told Sondland ‘no quid pro quo’ & the aid was released w/out any new investigations.”
Bottom line: Republican lawmakers are highly unlikely to abandon Mr. Trump unless their voters do. And as FiveThirtyEight pointed out earlier this week, there’s been very little movement in the polling on impeachment. Notably, according to a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, nearly two-thirds of Republicans believe Mr. Trump did ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens – but the vast majority don’t see it as an impeachable offense.
Will today’s testimony move the needle? Perhaps. But it seems unlikely.
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