The New York Times parrots Trump's “no quid pro quo” phone call defense

Trump's phone call with Sondland occurred on the same day that Congress learned about the whistleblower report

The New York Times is running with Republican spin about President Donald Trump’s September 9 phone call with Gordon Sondland, his ambassador to the European Union, in which Trump had insisted, “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo,” as potentially exonerating Trump from the key accusations in the impeachment inquiry.

In fact, that phone call occurred on the same day that members of Congress learned of the existence of the whistleblower report accusing Trump of having held back military aid in order to pressure the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, thus lending credibility to the idea that Trump’s phrasing was really a sudden denial after finding out that he got caught.

On the Times’ The Daily podcast, host Michael Barbaro and congressional correspondent Nicholas Fandos uncritically repeated this Republican spin:

New York Times' The Daily Podcast on Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony

Audio file

Citation From the November 21, 2019, edition of The New York Times' The Daily

MICHAEL BARBARO (HOST): So the most senior figure, and the most involved figure in all this from the Trump administration, who declares that this was a quid pro quo, is simultaneously testifying that the president gets on the phone with him and says, “This is no quid pro quo.” That is complicated.

NICHOLAS FANDOS (CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT): It is. It's very complicated. And if you're listening at home and listening to Republican questioning, they're able, I think, to raise some doubts about this account that he's giving.

BARBARO: Why do you think that they are so focused on that — what the president told him versus what he has concluded from all the information and conversations around him?

FANDOS: Republicans' argument is basically that if you're going to impeach the president, you know, we need to know directly what his intentions were. What he told you, that's evidence, that's primary evidence. What you concluded, I mean, that's no better than what we heard from other witnesses. It's hearsay.

The situation that Barbaro calls “complicated” is made a lot more simple once the timeline of the whistleblower's report gets factored in.

In addition, the Times’ news write-up about Sondland’s testimony, co-written by Fandos, also neglected to mention this key point:

Holding a page of notes scrawled in marker in large block letters, Mr. Trump quoted Mr. Sondland’s closed-door deposition in which the ambassador described a phone call in which the president had told him he did not want a quid pro quo.

Before boarding Marine One, Mr. Trump shouted, “This is the final word from the president of the United States.”

The White House press secretary later put out a statement saying that Mr. Sondland’s testimony “completely exonerates President Trump of any wrongdoing.”

Right-wing media personalities, such as Fox host Sean Hannity and Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz, have attempted to hold up Trump’s denial in the call with Sondland as absolute proof of Trump’s innocence, without mentioning the timeline. By contrast, Andrew Napolitano did bring up the timeline to Fox & Friends hosts this morning. They did not acknowledge his point.