This week’s bombshell testimony from EU Ambassador and Trump megadonor Gordon Sondland has perhaps, to date, been the most consequential moment in Trump’s political future. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Trump has endured a substantial mudslinging before from his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, in which Cohen testified, essentially, that Trump operates like a TV movie mob boss and is generally unscrupulous. Cohen’s testimony had a limited impact, and while it’s hard to say exactly why, the distance Cohen had from Trump by that point in tandem with Cohen’s forthcoming prison sentence certainly heavily contributed. Trump parried Cohen’s testimony with his typical tropes: tweets, primal screams in front of a helicopter, and Fox News plugs.
But this time feels very different. Sondland still works for the Trump administration. Sondland is not merely a middleman like Cohen largely was — Sondland was quite literally one of the men whom Trump enlisted to commit a crime. Trump likes to throw the term “rat” around a lot—again, like a TV movie mob boss, but Sondland is a true rat. Trump and his handlers know this too well, which is why Trump hasn’t torn into Sondland. Tearing into him would make Trump look spectacularly guilty. The problem for Trump, however, is that it’s too late.
Sondland, in divulging the details of the Ukraine scheme, has opened the floodgates. He did what no Democrat with even a mountain of evidence could do: legitimized our suspicions about Trump’s corruption from the inside. If he can do it and suffer minimal or no repercussions, now what’s to stop others from coming forward and doing the same? Answer: nothing. By speaking the truth, putting himself at risk, and not having to incur the wrath of Trump, Sondland set an example that will surely stick in the minds of other Trump administration officials. Sondland proved there’s a safe way to do this and a safe way out, at least with respect to the Ukraine scandal. And it’s too late for Trump to do anything about it. To work, his scheme counted on nobody talking, and one of the biggest fish in the game just talked.
More will come forward; mark my words. A secret impeachment conviction vote in the Senate will become more and more likely a possibility with every verification of Trump’s corruption by insiders like Sondland. Mitch McConnell will be stuck with an impossible decision: impeach a president in your own party, or risk political annihilation.