President Donald Trump seems to be watching different testimony than the rest of us.
In fact, he jumped at the chance to use out-of-context portions of EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s damning remarks before the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday in his favor.
As Sondland told Congress that there was indeed a quid pro quo at the heart of the Ukraine controversy, Trump tried to counter-program with an impromptu reading of cherry-picked quotes suggesting the opposite.
Appearing on the South Lawn, Trump reenacted Sondland’s recollection of a conversation between the two. “Ready? Do you have the cameras rolling?” he asked reporters, reading from hand-scribbled notes of the interaction.
“I want nothing,” Trump yelled above the whirring helicopter blades of Marine One. “I want no quid pro quo. Tell [Ukraine President Volodymr] Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“That means its all over,” Trump added, referring to the Democrats impeachment inquiry.
The selective quoting of Sondland’s testimony appeared to be Trump’s latest attempt to counter the bulk of this week’s damning testimony. Sondland said that he presumed a quid pro quo from other conversations with top Trump aides, including Rudy Giuliani, and that he worked with Giuliani at the "express direction of the President." He added that Trump's entire inner circle was in the loop on the proposed exchange of military aide for a sham investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
Though Trump had previously called Sondland a “really good man and great American,” he has tried to distance himself as the scandal has tied ever closer to his office. On Friday he said that “I don’t know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. Seems like a nice guy, though.”
The dissociation came as the White House turned its official Twitter account into a Trumpian megaphone to shout real-time defenses of the president.
As Sondland testified, the official White House unleashed rapid-fire tweets on Sondland’s testimony that he didn’t hear of the alleged quid pro quo from Trump himself. The official account reshared posts by Reps. Steve Scalise and Mark Meadows as they trumpeted the president’s talking points and spread Fox News clips of his remarks on the South Lawn. The president likewise shared many of those tweets.
That’s a tactical pivot from Friday, when Trump himself attacked ex-Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch on Twitter while she testified. The president’s real-time smear shifted the focus of media coverage toward his own vindictiveness, drawing stern rebukes from Democrats in the House chambers.
While Trump has yet to launch a barbed Twitter attack on Sondland himself Wednesday, the White House did take direct aim at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. They even used Trump’s go-to insult of the moment, “Shifty Schiff.”
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump holds his notes while speaking to the media before departing from the White House on November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump spoke about the impeachment inquiry hearings currently taking place on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)