COLUMBUS — Ohio’s Rob Portman echoed other senators yesterday when he declared that he is a “juror” in the impeachment proceeding, but that hasn’t stopped him from spending weeks parroting the very talking points being put out by the defendant — Donald Trump’s White House.
Whether it was the initial Trump excuse that he held up the aid to Ukraine because Europe hadn’t paid their fair share (a false claim), or that the transcript didn’t reveal a quid pro quo (not a credible argument), or that the acts were problematic but not impeachable, Portman has been communicating in lock-step with Trump, often saying the same thing on the same day as the White House. Donald Trump bragged early on how Rob ‘backed me up’ on his Ukraine cover story.
Portman, “the juror,” also is telling reporters that he intends to vote for the president in 2020 and pleads ignorance of any illegal activity, even though Trump ordered congressionally appropriated military aid to be withheld from Ukraine over what Trump’s own appointees acknowledge as a quid pro quo.
“Rob Portman now claiming to be a neutral juror is laughable,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “As the co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, Rob was a potential witness to and participant in key moments of the Ukraine scandal, and Rob is one of just seven senators who already have their minds made up on impeachment — not a great look for a member of a jury. Portman went on Fox News to parrot the White House talking points that there was no quid pro quo, even when Mick Mulvaney and Gordon Sondland have said there was one. Now Rob’s saying he doesn’t know if any laws were broken, but Pentagon lawyers certainly thought it was illegal to withhold military aid from Ukraine. At this point, in a normal trial, Portman would be bounced from a jury pool and possibly looked into for jury tampering, given that he keeps rolling out the defendant’s talking points.”
Beltway observers are starting to notice something is off with Portman and Trump on Ukraine. In today’s Washington Post, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin writes,
“You would think that an ‘advocate for Ukraine’ would be horrified that the president illegally withheld aid appropriated by Congress so as to extort Ukraine, demanding that its president make a public commitment to provide dirt on former vice president Joe Biden, at a time Ukraine is fighting for its survival against Russia. You would think someone of Portman’s stature would realize that if Trump can extort foreign governments to aid in his reelection, future presidents can do the same, thereby sacrificing U.S. sovereignty and placing elections in the hands of foreigners. You would think that Portman, who has served in the executive branch, would understand that even the request to a foreign power to interfere in our elections is a grave breach of the president’s oath of office.
“I raise Portman not because he is the worst of the Trump apologists but because he should know better. He should at this time in his career have the confidence and independence to defend the Constitution, as he surely would if a Democrat were in the White House. We do not even have to speculate on that point. Portman voted to impeach President Bill Clinton for lying under oath about a matter entirely unrelated to the performance of his duties.”
January 2019 — Giuliani meets with the Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko. (Giuliani admitted to the meeting in a July 2019 story for the New Yorker and told the New York Times that he called Trump during their first meeting.)
Jan. 15, 2019 — Portman tweets that he met with Marie Yovanovitch, the American ambassador to Ukraine, to discuss “the latest developments in #Ukraine.”
Jan. 15, 2019 — Portman votes to let the Trump administration ease sanctions on companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. One day earlier he had told CNN he would “be more on that side” of supporting sanctions.
Jan. 30, 2019 — Portman endorses Trump, saying he gets “a lot done … with him.”
March 20, 2019 — The Hill publishes a dubious story sourced to Lutsenko that gets bounced around the right-wing media echo chamber and conservative Twitter (including Donald Trump Jr.).
April 21, 2019 — Zelensky is elected as Ukraine’s next president.
April 29, 2019 — The whistleblower learns that Yovanovitch was being “suddenly recalled” — and Giuliani tells Ukrainian media that it’s because of her “efforts against the president.”
May 6, 2019 — The State Department announces that Yovanovitch is leaving her post early. Democratic lawmakers call her removal a “political hit job.”
May 9, 2019 — Giuliani admits to the New York Times that he is “meddling in an investigation” in Ukraine.
June 5, 2019 — Portman delivers a floor speech about his trip to Ukraine.
“I told President Zelensky that he is now the face of reform in Ukraine and indeed for those of us watching around the world. He acknowledged that with a smile and said, ‘I know.’ He said that his commitment to reform is real, but he also had no illusions about how hard reform will be, and I am very hopeful he will have the continued courage to see it through, whether we are talking about fighting corruption, more transparency in government or civilian control of the military. He understands it is the only path forward and frankly a linchpin of the U.S. partnership with Ukraine, and as a matter of law, a condition of our future defense assistance.”
June 19, 2019 — Portman questions the Trump administration’s special envoy for Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
July 25, 2019 — Trump has his infamous call with Zelensky.
Sept. 1, 2019 — Vice President Mike Pence meets with Zelensky in Poland. The next day Pence is asked if the Trump administration is holding up funding because of efforts to “dig up dirt on the Biden family.” Pence responds that “Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption.”
Sept. 5, 2019 — The Washington Post pens an editorial making crystal clear that Trump “is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.”
Sept. 11, 2019 — Portman calls Trump to ask him to release the funds.
Sept. 12, 2019 — Trump releases the funding.
Sept. 25, 2019 — Portman tells a reporter for Spectrum News 1 that he doesn’t believe Trump’s behavior crossed a line.
Oct. 2, 2019 — Trump says, “Rob Portman backed me up … I gave the money because Rob Portman and others called me and asked.”
Oct. 7, 2019 — Portman says, “The president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period. It’s not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government in an investigation of a political opponent.”
Oct. 17, 2019 — Portman says, “I don’t know why the president would turn to [Giuliani]. I’ve never talked to Giuliani about anything to do with the Ukraine.”
Oct. 17, 2019 — Ambassador Gordon Sondland testifies before Congress and reportedly said “efforts by President Trump and his allies to press Kyiv to open investigations in exchange for a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president amounted to a quid pro quo.”
Oct. 18, 2019 — John Kasich comes out in favor of impeachment.
Oct. 22, 2019 — Portman says, “There are a lot of gray areas” on emoluments in response to a question about Trump’s statement that the emoluments clause was “phony.”
Oct. 29, 2019 — When asked about impeachment, Portman says, “We don’t know in this case that there were any federal laws broken. We don’t know if there are any laws broken …” Portman also restated his intention to vote for Trump in 2020.