Once upon a time—before nine of the top ten chairs of the National Security Council were sitting empty and the most common way to start a title in Washington was with “acting”—Donald Trump claimed he was going to fill the White House with “all the best people.” But the latest demonstration of how much that did not happen isn’t another cabinet member rolling out the revolving door, it’s the latest strategy from House Republicans to protect Trump. That plan is The Buck Stops Anywhere Else.
As The Washington Post reports, Republicans have moved on from the idea that nothing bad happened in Ukraine. They’re resigned to the fact that someone has to go under the bus. In fact, they’re prepared to give that bus all the someones … so long as none of them are the guy who actually ordered everything that happened. Republicans have three principle bad actors they’re ready to give up—after, of course, and appropriate level of pretense and high drama.
The first of these is Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Sondland wasn’t just one of the “three amigos” who was charged with seeing that Trump’s demand for investigations into Joe Biden and the 2016 election were delivered to Ukrainian officials, he was extraordinarily clumsy about it. As apparently the only member of Trump’s White House team who hasn’t binged Mafia movies, Sondland did his leaning on Ukrainian officials in front of State Department officials, in front of NSC officials, and in texts. Worse still, as far as Republicans are concerned, Sondland seems to realize that both what he did and what he was asked to do, were seriously bad. So his testimony was 100% about protecting Gordon Sondland and roughly 0% about protecting Donald Trump. That alone is enough to make Sondland the first man into the crosswalk.
However, since it’s hard to blame a lowly ambassador for everything that went wrong, particularly when his major crime seems to be enthusiastically following orders (orders which, to be fair, he thought were criminal), there’s a second name line up for tire tracks: Rudy Giuliani. If there’s one common theme to every transcript, every statement, and every comment made about Ukraine, it’s that almost every issue seems to start with the involvement of Giuliani. When he wasn’t trying to oust an ambassador for being too honest, Giuliani was trying to get a visa for a known criminal willing to go along with Trump’s Ukraine demands. Or he was threatening State Department officials. Or he was threatening Ukrainian officials. Or he was running back to The New York Times so they could break his latest big scoop.
In general, Giuliani rolled around Ukraine like the less-attractive form of wrecking ball and was hated by everyone, in every position, in both governments. But the problem with lining up the bus his way is that the only reason Giuliani was allowed to do such damage, is that everyone knew he had the backing of Trump.