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FILE -In this Nov. 20, 2019, file photo, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. The “three amigos” used to mean just one thing in Washington -- the trio of globe-trotting senators led by John McCain who brought American idealism to the trouble spots of the world. Now, it refers to another trio, the Trump envoys pushing Ukraine to pursue investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden.. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE -In this Nov. 20, 2019, file photo, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. The “three amigos” used to mean just one thing in Washington -- the trio of globe-trotting senators led by John McCain who brought American idealism to the trouble spots of the world. Now, it refers to another trio, the Trump envoys pushing Ukraine to pursue investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden.. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Federal

The new ‘three amigos’ riding into Donald Trump impeachment inquiry

The “three amigos” used to stand for one thing in Washington. Now it refers to another trio.

The “three amigos” used to stand for one thing in Washington — the pack of globe-trotting senators led by John McCain who brought American idealism to the world’s trouble spots.

Now it refers to another trio, the Trump envoys who pushed Ukraine to pursue investigations of Democrats and former Vice President Joe Biden.

The shift represents more than the appropriation of a name. It also marks a departure from efforts by the late Arizona senator to build bipartisan alliances and further broad foreign policy ideals pursued by Republican presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. That approach is unrecognizable today as the GOP has become the party of Donald Trump and his “America First” approach.

“I knew the ‘three amigos’ and believe me, these are not three amigos like we were,” said Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic, then independent senator from Connecticut who was part of the original group with Republicans McCain and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Lieberman said he believes McCain, his longtime friend, would be “really upset about what’s happening in Ukraine now.”

The House impeachment inquiry has detailed how the self-described “three amigos” — European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker — operated an “irregular” foreign policy channel that was pushing Ukraine to announce the investigations Trump wanted. In return, the White House would release $400 million in military aid the Eastern European ally needed to counter Russian aggression and would arrange a coveted Oval Office visit with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Led by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, the trio assembled as a loose contingent of envoys whose activities were initially unseen by others in the administration specializing in Ukraine issues. But as their actions became known, the “amigos’’ set off alarms among diplomats and officials who described them as pursuing the president’s political agenda over U.S. national security interests.

Fiona Hill, a former Russia adviser to the White House, testified before the impeachment inquiry that at one point she confronted Sondland to ask on whose authority he was operating in Ukraine.

The president, Sondland responded, according to Hill.

State Department official David Holmes testified that Sondland, Perry and Volker “styled themselves as the three amigos and made clear they would take the lead on coordinating our policy and engagement with for the Zelenskiy administration.”

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