Early on in David Mamet’s movie “House of Games” there is a scene where a group of con artists are trying to scam 6,000 dollars from a mark. A handgun is placed on a table to emphasize to the mark the gravity of the situation. But just as she is about to write a check, she notices something, water is dripping from the gun. Just like that the scam is exposed. Two of the con men lament their failure.
Vegas Man: I told you a squirtgun wouldn’t work.
Mike: A squirt gun would have worked. You didn’t have to fill it.
Vegas Man: What, am I going to threaten someone with an empty gun…?
Mike: No, George, your right, of course.
Upon careful examination, Amb. Gordon Sondland’s supposedly damning testimony before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday looks a lot more like a dripping gun than a smoking one. What made his appearance before the committee seem so important is that he was the first and only witness so far to change their story from their original secret testimony to go from no quid pro quo to yes, quid pro quo.
Except, there are two problems with this alleged bombshell. One, the supposed quid pro quo had nothing to do with congressionally approved foreign aid, but rather a White House meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, and the president can obviously invite or not invite anyone he pleases to the White House for any reason. Two, the statement of intent to conduct investigations from Zelensky never happened.
When it came to the military aid, Sondland testified that he “presumed” the less than two month delay was a result of Zelensky refusing to announce investigations against Burisma, the Ukrainian energy concern that was paying then Vice President Joe Biden’s son a fortune for apparently nothing, and into alleged interference in the 2016 election. He was told this by no one, certainly not the president, who flat out told him he wanted nothing from Zelensky, he just kind of figured it.
The next shiny paint job that got the left in a tizzy of Trump loathing was Sondland saying that the president didn’t even want the investigations, just the announcement. Some seized on this as evidence that Trump’s sole intention was to smear the Biden’s not to fight corruption, but Sondland himself put the lie to this theory. He explained that Ukraine has a history of failing to live up to promises made in private, so the president wanted a public announcement to ensure the investigations would in fact happen.
The broad picture we got of Sondland was that of a wealthy guy, with a lot of ego, who loves colorful language and enjoys touting his power as an ambassador and who likes to brag about having the president’s ear. It was Sondland who told the Ukrainians that military aid was tied to investigations, but apparently under nobody’s authority. He had a hunch, and he thought that was good enough to go on.
Throughout this impeachment process, just like the Mueller probe into Russian collusion before it, a bunch of gotcha moments, made to look damning have turned out to be nothing more than the somewhat unconventional running of the White House and a campaign for it. For three years now the “walls have been closing in” on Trump, but like Zeno’s arrow, they never seem to actually touch him.
Nonetheless, the illusion that Sondland badly damaged Trump, along with all the talking heads on cable news aghast, and all the spicy memes on Twitter have probably given the Democrats in the House enough ammunition to vote for articles of impeachment.
What continues to be the norm in this, the public phase of impeachment effort 2.0 is that we already know all of the basic facts from the transcripts of secret testimony. Sondland changed that for a few minutes, that’s why it felt like a big deal. But not long into being cross-examined by the Republicans and their counsel, everything settled back down into the hum drum same old story that Trump was acting within his authority and did not expressly tell anyone that military aid would not be released unless investigations were announced.
Democrats will feel on firmer footing now, pinning their grave votes for impeachment which they promise they are very sad to have to cast on Gordon Sondland. But what seems equally certain is that Sondland’s testimony will not move the needle with the American public and will not have Republicans jumping ship to support ousting the sitting American president.
Rep. Adam Schiff’s grift is coming to an end soon, but he’s already blown the gaff. His mark, the American people are seeing through the con game. The president will not be removed from office, so how about we just have an election.