Sunday 15 December 2019

Editorial: 'Trump left feeling heat after incendiary testimony'

The Commander in Chief is now in the direct line of legal fire. AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
The Commander in Chief is now in the direct line of legal fire. AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
Editorial

Editorial

If the Mueller inquiry was dismissed as a damp squib, Gordon Sondland, US Ambassador to the EU, detonated something of a nuclear bomb at the impeachment inquiry in Washington. The fallout for President Donald Trump is potentially catastrophic. In the past 48 hours, we have seen the Trump administration effectively cannibalising itself.

Mr Trump and Republicans have until now circled the wagons, holding the line that there was no quid pro quo regarding a meeting between President Zelenskiy and Mr Trump and the release of nearly $400m (€360m) in military aid from the US to Ukraine, which would follow.

Mr Sondland was adamant he pressured Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, at Mr Trump's "express direction". The claim goes to the very heart of the accusation that Mr Trump was linking the provision of aid to an investigation to undermine Joe Biden, his main rival in the 2020 US election.

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Inviting a foreign government to interfere in a US election is a red line. Using US taxpayer dollars to do so is something even Mr Trump's notoriously tough base would find hard to swallow.

All of the above would be incriminating enough, but Mr Sondland went further.

He revealed that neither he nor his fellow diplomats "were happy" with being directed to work with Rudy Giuliani, the president's private lawyer, to enforce Mr Trump's demands.

For all this to be done "at the express direction of the president" puts the Commander in Chief in the direct line of legal fire.

In a bizarre TV appearance last night, Mr Trump repeated "we wanted nothing from Ukraine". But the EU envoy's claims sounded credible.

Yet it almost defies belief a US president would subcontract security matters to his personal attorney, effectively sidelining his own diplomatic corps, military and State Department.

The incendiary testimony threatens wildfire on Capitol Hill. Not only have Mr Trump's feet been held to the flames, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton have also been drawn in. "They knew what we were doing and why," Mr Sondland insisted.

Republicans will now set about attacking the ambassador's allegations.

In view of the enormity of the allegations, they will go at it with gusto; their very survival is in the balance. As one insider put it: "Sondland's testimony is an absolute wrecking ball for the president and his allies."

An already deeply divided America must now contend with the possibility its most divisive president has committed an impeachable offence. Ultimately, the inquiry could see President Trump removed from office - but only if the House of Representatives impeaches him and the Senate convicts him.

We are witnessing unprecedented times. And such a prospect does not seem as remote as it once did.

Whatever the outcome, the self-crowned king of reality TV is facing a reality check unlike any he has encountered to date.

Irish Independent

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