Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chair of the Senate Republican Caucus, speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2013.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

GOP leader: emerging picture for Trump ‘is not a good one’

Many of the Republican reactions to Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry have been predictable. This one wasn’t.

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, reacted on Wednesday to the closed-door testimony of top diplomat Bill Taylor, who said Ukraine aid from the U.S. was linked Trump demands for probes of the Bidens:

“The picture coming out of it based on the reporting we’ve seen is, yeah, I would say is not a good one, but I would say also that, again, until we have a process that allows for everybody to see this in full transparency it’s pretty hard to draw any hard fast conclusions.”

Thune added, “I think that whatever (Taylor) said in private it ought to be done in public. And I think the Republicans are right to point out that this has been very a sort of rigged process relative to previous impeachment exercises that have been undertaken in the past.”

In terms of the process, I find it implausible that Thune genuinely believes the House process has been “sort of rigged.” The South Dakotan is no rookie – he’s been in the Senate for nearly 15 years, and he’s been a member of Congress for more than two decades – so he must realize why the impeachment inquiry has unfolded, for now, behind closed doors.

But all things considered, that’s not the part of his comments that mattered most. Rather, in reference to Bill Taylor’s opening statement on the White House’s Ukraine scheme, Thune conceded that the latest revelations paint a picture that’s “not a good one” for Donald Trump.

We might expect a quote like this from Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) or Susan Collins (R-Maine). Thune is a very different story.

Remember, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was the Senate Republican Whip – the #2 GOP leader in the chamber – for most of the decade, but thanks to intra-party term limits, the Texan was forced to give up his post at the start of this year. He was succeeded by John Thune.

In other words, the #2 Senate Republican is aware of the allegations raised against Donald Trump by a respected veteran diplomat, and the GOP leader realizes that his party’s president appears to have a real problem on his hands.

To be sure, plenty of congressional Republicans have tried to dismiss Bill Taylor’s testimony as unimportant, but the point is, John Thune seems to know better.

Yes, the senator added caveats related to press coverage and the confidentiality surrounding the process, but that doesn’t negate the underlying point: Thune effectively conceded that if Taylor said what he appears to have said, Trump’s in trouble.

And given that we have no reason to doubt that Taylor was telling the truth about White House developments, it only helps reinforce the seriousness of Trump’s scandal.