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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

It's not the 'crime' or 'cover-up' that stands out, but Trump's futility

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union,

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, at the public impeachment hearing Wednesday. Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

Sometimes it's what you don't hear that merits attention.

Nobody who appeared at the House impeachment hearings last week hailed it as a good idea for President Donald Trump to push Ukraine into announcing "investigations" clearly aimed at U.S. Democrats.

Several presidential appointees, in fact, seemed to think it was a very bad idea. Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill condemned the "fictional narrative" spread by the Kremlin blaming Ukraine instead of Russia for 2016 election meddling and said embracing it could destroy Americans' faith in democracy.

Trump still has his lawyer Rudy Giuliani seeking feverishly to portray Hunter Biden's ill-advised sinecure with a Kyiv-based gas firm as evidence that election rival Joe Biden committed something akin to the crime of the century.

 Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified last Wednesday that he and other officials worked with Giuliani only because the president ordered them to do so. And Trump's former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker trashed the Trump message by calling the former vice president honorable.

Diplomats and NSC officials termed this unique White House blend of partisan politics and foreign policy "inappropriate" at best.

GOP defenders in Congress, meanwhile, didn't want to look like they opposed U.S. security aid to help Ukraine resist Russian incursions from the east. To downplay an apparent link between that $391 million in aid and Trump's push for a Biden probe, Republicans emphasized that those funds were ultimately released.

The Trump-Giuliani pressure strategy, if it can be called that, ended up another half-baked failure of a White House operation. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky never announced desired "investigations"; Giuliani has revealed no pots of political gold. 

After dodging bullets from former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, which produced eight convictions of Trump associates, the president has managed to fan new suspicions of foreign collusion, this time on the other side of Crimea.

Last Wednesday, it was reported that federal officials plan to interview an executive with Ukraine’s state-owned gas company Naftogaz in connection with actions by Giuliani and associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

The next day it was revealed that U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan issued related subpoenas to a firm run by lobbyist and Trump fundraiser Brian Ballard. Once again the president is decrying as a "witch hunt" inquiries carried out from within his own Justice Department.

And nobody from either party testified in favor of authorizing a foreign government — let alone one with a reputation for past corruption — to go after American citizens. 

Most clearly, Trump's post-hearing talking point — "I want nothing" — could have been replaced credibly with "I got nothing." 

Allegations of crime, bribery, extortion and quid pro quos remain for Congress to judge. A sense of White House futility has meanwhile been established.

Whatever the legal consequences, Trump's summertime interactions with Zelensky yielded nothing of value for the people of either nation. Failure proved to be an option after all.

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