Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of Donald Trump’s fiercest defenders, appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation earlier this week and pushed one of his party’s favorite talking points. Referencing the July 25 phone meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which the Republican pressured his counterpart to participate in a political scheme, the Ohio congressman took aim at a foundational element of the controversy.
This has been a central element of the Republican case for several weeks: in order for the quid-pro-quo allegations to have merit, there would need to be evidence that Ukrainian leaders were aware of Trump’s scheme to use military aid as leverage to get the political assistance he was desperate to receive. It can’t be extortion, the argument goes, if the intended target doesn’t know they’re being extorted.
Yesterday, Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine, testified as part of Congress’ impeachment inquiry and explained that Ukraine did, in fact, know about the White House’s hold. Politico reported:
Laura Cooper shared some startling information during her opening statement in Wednesday’s impeachment inquiry hearings: evidence that Ukrainian officials may have known about a hold on U.S. assistance well before news of it broke in late August.
The Pentagon official said that as early as July 25 – the same day President Donald Trump spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – her staffers received two emails indicating the Ukrainians were aware of the hold.
In fact, Cooper described a dynamic in which Ukrainian officials raised multiple concerns about the delayed military aid within hours of the Trump-Zelensky phone meeting.
All of which knocks down one of the central pillars of the Republican Party’s defense.
If this sounds at all familiar, it’s probably because there’s been an evolution to the GOP talking points. A month ago, for example, Trump suggested that Ukraine never knew about the delayed aid. That was soon after discredited by a New York Times report that explained, “[W]ord of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August.”
The White House’s allies soon adapted, conceding that the Times’ report was correct, but moving the goalposts to July. Now we know, thanks to Cooper’s sworn testimony, that this GOP pitch is wrong, too.
As every pro-Trump talking point gradually implodes, I can only assume the president and his cohorts will soon be reduced to saying that evidence is no longer relevant at all.