Trump-loyalist Republican senators went on Fox News on Tuesday evening and made a last-ditch defense of the president: A quid pro quo is no big deal.
“Quid pro quo doesn’t matter,” Sen. Ted Cruz told Sean Hannity. “[Bolton’s] point is what? That doesn’t tell us anything,” said John Kennedy. Getting Bolton’s testimony “was the House’s responsibility,” added Rick Scott during a particularly awkward interview.
Umm Rick Scott is squirming on Fox News while being confronted with questions on John Bolton pic.twitter.com/Lt6k8KYHpG— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) January 28, 2020
The background of this, of course, is that former National Security Adviser John Bolton is reportedly prepared to testify he has first-hand knowledge of a quid pro quo in which President Donald Trump linked the release of held-up military aid to Ukraine to the government there helping him with investigations aimed at damaging his domestic political foes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told Republican senators on Tuesday he doesn’t have the votes to block Democrats and four Republicans from compelling Bolton’s testimony during the ongoing impeachment trial.
So now that it’s becoming harder to deny the quid pro quo, Republican senators are learning to love it — and using the Trump-friendly confines of Fox News to downplay Bolton’s revelations before he even has the chance to testify.
“I think it [Bolton’s account] should be taken with a grain of salt ... I think it doesn’t matter what he has to say,” claimed Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday, who a short time after his Fox News appearance was photographed hanging out at the Trump International Hotel just blocks away from the White House, a property the president still owns and profits from.
The notable thing about Republicans loving to learn the quid pro quo is that before news about Bolton’s position broke on Sunday, the Trumpworld line was that there was no evidence one ever existed. For instance, just two weeks ago, Cruz dismissed quid pro allegations as mere “hearsay” coming from “people who had no direct evidence, witnesses who’d never even met President Trump.”
But now that news has broken about Bolton claiming to have first-hand knowledge of a quid pro quo based on a conversation he had with the president, Cruz has suddenly moved the goalposts to “quid pro quo doesn’t matter.”
Ted Cruz now says it doesn’t matter if the President engaged in a quid pro quo pic.twitter.com/EQLbkosG41— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) January 29, 2020
During his Wednesday appearance on Hannity, Cruz argued that “a president is always justified, and in fact has a responsibility, to investigate credible accusations of corruption” — his implication that was what Trump was up to in withholding military aid from Ukraine. But Trump didn’t go through the proper congressional channels to hold up the aid, and the claim that the hold-up was rooted in concerns about corruption is belied by the fact that a top Defense Department official told Congress last May that Ukraine had made good enough progress on anti-corruption efforts to merit the aid.
Though Cruz wants people to believe it was no big deal, the US government’s top internal watchdog concluded earlier this month that the Trump administration “broke the law when it withheld military aid to Ukraine last year after Congress had approved its disbursal,” as my colleague Alex Ward explained.
And, of course, Trump never even mentioned the word “corruption” during the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that’s at the heart of his impeachment. But he did specifically discuss his desire to have the Ukrainian government launch investigations aimed at tarnishing Joe Biden and other Democrats, and he suggested those investigations were linked to military aid, telling Zelensky, “I would like you to do us a favor though.”
The Trump administration did end up releasing the aid to Ukraine in September, but only after the White House got wind that a whistleblower had sounded the alarm about the July 25 phone call and other aspects of Trump’s Ukraine dealings. Republicans have argued that since the aid was released and Trump’s desired investigations were never announced, Trump did nothing wrong. But that’s a bit like arguing a would-be bank robber has nothing to explain if they flee the scene of the crime without any money after a security alarm goes off.
But, perhaps most importantly, Republicans learning to love the quid pro quo illustrates how far they’re willing to go to defend Trump. They have no shame about contradicting statements they made just weeks ago, interpreting Trump’s actions in a way inconsistent with the known facts, and insisting — absurdly — that arguably the most corrupt president in American history has good faith concerns about corruption abroad.
And, at least in Rand Paul’s case, when they’re done going on TV and arguing that Trump is a principled anti-corruption fighter, they head across town to patronize his business — and in the process refute their narratives.