Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) says he will not be reading the impeachment transcripts as the House of Representatives takes action against President Donald Trump.
"I've written the whole process off," he told CBS News. "I think this is a bunch of B.S."
The Senate Judiciary Committee chair dismissed the news that Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, revised his impeachment inquiry testimony the day before it was to be released. In his appended response, Sondland admitted to a September 1 conversation in which he told one of the top advisers to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that U.S. military aid to that country "likely" hinged on Zelenskiy announcing a corruption investigation directed at former Vice President Joe Biden and his family.
Trump released the aid—which he froze this summer without explanation—on September 11. The president is currently the subject of an impeachment inquiry amid accusations that he withheld the congressionally appropriated package in an attempt to strongarm Zelenskiy into probing Biden, his political rival in the 2020 election. Trump has repeatedly denied those allegations.
"I now recall speaking with [Andriy] Yermak," wrote Sondland. "I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks." Per congressional testimony, the statement in question refers to Trump's request that Zelenskiy publicly announce investigations into Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden sat on the board, and into a widely debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind 2016 U.S. election interference.
Sondland said he "presumed" the aid was frozen in exchange for Trump's demand, because he otherwise lacked a "credible explanation," although he maintains that he "did not know (and still does not know) when, why, or by whom the aid was suspended." The change in testimony marked an about-face for the ambassador, who sought to confirm in his sworn deposition on October 17 that he "did not and would not ever participate" in any such efforts to leverage diplomatic relations in service of influencing an upcoming election.
Lindsey Graham has been a public skeptic of the impeachment process, although he has expressed a willingness to hear evidence of a quid pro quo outside of Trump's July phone call with the Ukrainian president. During that conversation, Trump appeared to allude to the aid package multiple times, but never mentioned it by name.
"If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing," Graham told Axios last month. Sondland's admission certainly provides fodder for that. And it's only bolstered by the testimony of William B. Taylor, the current ambassador to Ukraine, who told investigators on October 22 that a national security adviser alerted him to Sondland's activities.
Graham now says that he won't read those transcripts, casting doubt on his purported openness towards a nonpartisan evaluation. The senator has consistently railed against Democrats for what he says is a politically motivated sham, though one wonders what motivates Graham when he refuses to even consider available evidence.
The public nature of that evidence is also relevant to Graham, who has lambasted House Democrats for conducting the initial interviews behind closed doors. Never mind that it was his own party, led by then-Speaker John Boehner (R–Ohio), who set those rules in 2015, knowing that a president under impeachment scrutiny would be the subject of many public hearings following the initial testimonies. And never mind that Graham himself supported the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton based on private interviews conducted by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.
One thing is clear: Graham has bemoaned the Democrats' lack of transparency, only to shield his eyes once the curtain was lifted. It makes you question if Graham's complaints have been anything more than political theater all along.