Like an HR meeting convened in hell, the whole Ukraine impeachment saga is boring, hard to understand, and apparently goes on for eternity. It never ends.
Washington endured, and the rest of America ignored, yet another round of it on Wednesday. The hearings consumed virtually every hour of Wednesday's available daylight and elevated to international celebrity this country's current ambassador to the European Union, a man called Gordon Sondland.
In contrast to other recent witnesses, Sondland wasn't obviously hostile to the administration. In fact, he was appointed directly by President Trump. He was also a major Trump donor. So, given those two facts, Sondland's opening statement this morning initially looked like a complete disaster for the administration.
Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to European Union: I know that members of this committee frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question, "Was there a quid pro quo?" As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is, "Yes."
So that's how the morning began. "The answer is, 'Yes,'" said Gordon Sondland. "There was a quid pro quo." And not only that, he explained, pretty much everybody knew about it.
Sondland: Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19th, days before the presidential call.
Holy smokes! For a moment there, it looked like case closed. The final ignominious end of the Trump presidency, the one that our perpetually excitable friends in the news media have been confidently predicting day after rage-filled day, for more than three years now. The last meltdown -- the great Orange Hindenburg finally bursts into flames.
In TV studios across midtown Manhattan, cable news contributors struggled to hold back tears of joy. And then Adam Schiff took the microphone.
Schiff, as the ringmaster of this particular circus, was determined to bring it to its final theatrical close. "Tell us," Adam Schiff said, "about President Trump's deal with Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden in return for foreign aid."
It was the moment Democrats had been waiting for. But, when it finally arrived, Gordon Sondland wouldn't read from the script.
Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee: Though President Trump claimed to you there was no quid pro quo, he also made it clear to you in that call that President Zelensky had to "clear things up and do it in public." You don't have a reason to dispute that's what you told --
Sondland: I don't have any reason to dispute the "clear things up and do it in public." What I'm trying to be very clear about was President Trump never told me directly that the aid was tied to that statement.
Schiff: But in that same conversation you had with him about the aid, about the quid pro quo, he told you that President Zelensky had to "clear things up and do it in public," correct?
Sondland: I did not have a conversation with him about the aid. I had a conversation with him as referenced in my text about quid pro quo.
Schiff: Well, the quid pro quo you were discussing was over the aid, correct?
Sondland: No. President Trump -- when I asked him the open-ended question, as I testified previously, "What do you want from Ukraine," his answer was, "I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing." That's all I got from President Trump.
So, they pushed him, and they pushed him, and they pushed him again, but Gordon Sondland would not, in the end, mouth Adam Schiff's talking points. Well, why not?
Maybe because he didn't have any evidence that they were true.
As Sondland conceded in the exchange with Congressman Michael Turner, his assessment of any deals Trump may have struck with Ukraine was based mostly on assumptions.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio: No one on this planet told you that President Trump was tying aid to investigations - yes or no?
Turner: So, you really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations?
Sondland: Other than my own presumption.
Turner: Which is nothing.
This is tiresome. And of course, we apologize for it as we have in nights' past. But since it's happening, we feel duty-bound to explain it.
So a presumption. Now, some presumptions are correct. Others are laughably wrong. But one thing a presumption definitely isn't is evidence. You can't overturn an election based on a presumption. You can't stage an impeachment on presumptions. You need facts to do that. And as the day went on, Sondland introduced a new fact: the president, Gordon Sondland told us, had told him explicitly that he, in fact, didn't want a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
U.S. Rep Jim Jordan, R-Ohio: You said to the president of the United States, "What do you want from Ukraine?" The president: "I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing. I want him to do what he ran on."
Why didn't you put that statement in your opening statement? I think you said you couldn't fit it in. Is that right? Instead, we might be here for 46 minutes instead of 45 minutes?
Sondland: It wasn't -- it wasn't purposeful, trust me.
Jordan: It wasn't purposeful?
Jordan: Couldn't fit it in a 23-page opener?
It's a fair question, actually. So why wasn't that fact -- and it's not a small point, by the way. It's the point on which the entire impeachment hangs. Why wasn't that point included in Sondland's opening statement? Well, we don't know, really, but here's one possible explanation.
The statement was likely drafted by Sondland's legal team. All four of his attorneys -- it turns out, because we checked -- are Democratic donors. The man seated next to Gordon Sondland today during the hearing, that would be a man called Robert Luskin. He has given over $130,000 to the Democrats over the years. Luskin also represented the FBI informant, Stefan Halper during the Russia hoax not too long ago.
Yes, a lot of people in Washington despise Donald Trump. But still, to this moment, nobody can prove a crime.
So is it possible that someone like Luskin was thinking about more than his client's personal interests in this case? Could impeaching public enemy No. 1 have crossed his mind? We don't know, but it doesn't seem implausible.
We should also point out something that the press conveniently overlooked in its analysis Wednesday for the most part. Gordon Sondland and his family have been under intense political pressure -- in some cases, scary political pressure -- from the left for weeks.
Protesters have swarmed Gordon Sondland and his family in public. Democratic politicians have endorsed boycotts -- pushed boycotts -- of his businesses, his livelihood. In other words, the left has been working the refs. And that shouldn't surprise you because, for the left, this is total war.
And yet, in this one case, it didn't quite work. By the close of business today, we were back right where we were when the Ukraine circus started. In fact, we're back where we were on November 9, 2016.
Yes, a lot of people in Washington despise Donald Trump. But still, to this moment, nobody can prove a crime. Don't tell the press, though. They're celebrating as if someone did.
Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst: Now we know that every fantasy about how corrupt this administration was is actually true.
Brian Williams, MSNBC anchor: For our live coverage of the blowtorch testimony this morning from Gordon Sondland -- [he] turns out to be the guy that has offered the most stunning testimony.
Ari Melber, MSNBC anchor: In addition to that and the bombshells we've heard about, this was an IED from Mr. Sondland.
Nicolle Wallace, MSNBC anchor: As you said, taking a blowtorch to even the defense Donald Trump has offered -- we don't say this very often anymore, because it's rarely true, but I think today changed everything.
So, you heard it. "Bombshells, IEDs, blowtorches." Who writes the metaphors for these hair hats? It sounds like Wednesday's hearing was taking place in ISIS territory, in the caliphate. But the really telling line comes from the CNN legal analyst -- and we're quoting now: "Every fantasy about how corrupt this administration was is actually true."
So pause for a minute and think about what he's telling you. All of the fantasies the press has held without evidence are true based on testimony from another person who doesn't have evidence.
So you remember the Russia collusion story? Remember Stormy Daniels? Remember every totally baseless -- and in some cases, insane -- allegation that people like CNN's legal analyst Toobin invented and promoted and used to try to affect elections and, in so doing, destroyed lives? Well, they're telling us that all of them were true because of our presumptions. That's the most revealing thing in all of this.
From the beginning, Washington has had "presumptions" about what the new president was like, about what policies voters were allowed to choose. Voters weren't allowed to end foreign wars by casting a ballot, or to put America first, or to secure America's borders.
That's not on the table. Those aren't menu options. This isn't a real democracy, according to the people who administer the democracy.
And, by the way, that ought to make you nervous. You come to Washington, the city that's in charge of our democracy, and no one believes in it? You're like -- if you showed up in Detroit and everyone's driving a Japanese car, would it make you nervous? It would.
And they don't believe in it. And so, what they're really saying to voters is you can't actually make changes to American policies, the ones that we support. All you're allowed to do is rubber-stamp the current status quo, the one that enriches private equity managers and defense contractors and parasites in the vast federal bureaucracy -- our donors and friends. Other than that, shut up and obey.
So that's their program. And maybe they'll succeed in the end. Maybe they'll remove the president. OK. What then?
Well, Washington will celebrate, of course. But will they have learned anything from the exercise? Will the 2016 election have changed their minds or their priorities at all, in any way? Or will they continue to console themselves with the whole thing was just some weird aberration run by Russia and racists in the heartland. Something that they can safely ignore and return to a kind of arrangement that looks very much like 1998 -- or 1978 for that matter.
Well, you know the answer to that. If the people in charge were capable of learning anything, our country wouldn't look like it does today.
Adapted from Tucker Carlson's monologue from "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on Nov. 20, 2019.