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If two plus two equals four, Trump squeezed Ukraine for personal political gain

Gordon Sondland was stating the obvious. Or, as one lawmaker put it, if somebody walks in the door with a wet and open umbrella, you can bet it’s raining.

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified before a House committee Wednesday that President Trump demanded personal political favors from Ukraine in return for military aid and a White House visit.
Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testifies Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee.
AP Photos

“Was there a quid pro quo? . . . The answer is yes.”

And with that, one of the highest ranking officials in the Trump administration, Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, put his seal of confirmation on what the known evidence already has made clear — yes, our American president tried to put the squeeze on a foreign country for personal political gain.

Sondland, in a day of testimony Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating grounds to impeach President Trump, said the quid pro quo was as obvious as “two plus two equals four.”

No, Sondland said, he didn’t hear this directly from Trump himself. And you got the sense, watching him testify, that he might have felt like a chump for not figuring it out earlier. But, he said, “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

Sondland said that he personally, in fact, communicated the quid pro quo to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

No sooner did Sondland testify to this effect than those in the loop raced to say they were not in the loop and had never been in the loop, if there ever was a loop — and, of course, the ambassador is loopy.

It “never happened,” an aide to Vice President Mike Pence said in a statement, even as Sondland was testifying.

Sondland “misrepresented” former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s involvement, Perry’s office said in a statement.

Except here’s the thing.

Sondland was testifying under oath. He swore to tell the truth and, though he flopped around, our sense is that he more or less did.

On the other hand, Pence, Perry and all the others allegedly “in the loop” — including White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — have refused to testify under oath, ignoring subpoenas.

They are defending themselves instead by press release, an art form with a casual relationship with the truth.

We see no reason not to accept Sondland’s assessment of what was going down. A string of other witnesses with stellar reputations already had testified as to what they know about how Trump pressured Zelensky to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden and the 2016 presidential election.

Even before Sondland sat in the witness chair, the evidence was compelling that Trump had held up nearly $400 million in military aid and a visit to the White House in a failed attempt to get what he wanted.

Sondland was stating the obvious. Or, as one member of the Intelligence panel put it, if somebody walks in the door with a wet and open umbrella, you can bet it’s raining outside.

If, though, Sondland is wrong in his facts and assumptions, then let’s hear from the rest of the boys in the loop. It might be especially helpful to hear from former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has hinted that he would have much to say.

In Washington, Democrats are test-driving the word bribery to describe the president’s misconduct, hoping to do a better job than they have so far of selling the public on impeachment.

That’s a good word, bribery. We hear it a lot in Chicago, pretty much every time the local U.S. attorney indicts another alderman, county commissioner, state representative or governor.

But the Democrats might also want to consider grubbier words and phrases that get a good workout here, such as “shakedown” and “put the arm on.” It’s important to stress that Trump’s behavior was of the lowest level.

Trump’s scheming, with a big assist from bagman Giuliani, often involved coded words and gestures, a realization that sometimes apparently came late to Sondland, or so he testified.

“Investigations” in Trump-speak referred specifically and only to investigations of the Bidens and the 2016 election.

The “favor” Trump requested of Ukraine was the “quid” in the “quid pro quo” that Trump denies.

And it was not until late in the game, Sondland said, that he finally put “two and two” together and figured out that the military assistance for Ukraine was contingent on Zelensky doing Trump’s bidding.

Sondland was clueless then — or disingenuous now.

But what more should one expect of man who was made an ambassador only because he donated $1 million to the Trump inauguration committee?

Trump must have been pleased.

Until Wednesday.

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