House Republicans appear to have a new strategy to defend President Trump from mounting evidence that he used the U.S. government to squeeze Ukraine for politically beneficial investigations of Democratic rivals past and present: Talk loudly and throw other Trump allies under the bus. Specifically, The Washington Post reports, Trump's House defenders are effectively offering up U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney "to be fall guys" in the Ukraine scandal.
All three Trump allies played overlapping roles in the Ukraine story: Sondland informed Ukraine it had to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden to get a White House audience and unfreeze military aid; Trump told his ad hoc Ukraine team to go through Giuliani, who reportedly specified the targets Ukraine needed to investigate and was also behind the ouster of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovich; and Mulvaney was involved in freezing the Ukraine aid and admitted on camera it was tied to Ukraine investigating the Democratic National Committee, a statement he later tried to walk back.
House Republicans have now started "sowing doubts about whether Sondland, Giuliani, and Mulvaney were actually representing the president or freelancing to pursue their own agendas," the Post reports. This is just one theory Republicans are testing out — others include that Trump didn't have "corrupt intent," that quid pro quos are commonplace, and that Trump is too incompetent to carry one off. "In a sign of how the GOP is scrambling, however, many of those theories run counter to each other," the Post notes.
The blame-the-aides strategy also isn't without risks. Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen flipped after being fed under the bus, and on MSNBC Thursday night, former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner speculated to Ari Melber that if Giuliani is charged in either of the two investigations where he's a central figure, "there's nowhere to go but up," and rather than risk prison, "he's gonna sing." Peter Weber