Trump advisor J.D. Gordon successfully lobbies the GOP platform committee to drop anti-Russia language regarding Ukraine from the party platform. This is a vast departure from decades of establishment Republican foreign policy. Gordon claims to have made these changes at Trump’s request. Trump later denies that his involvement in platform change.
Donald Trump’s pro-Russian rhetoric during the campaign represented a major divergence from Republican norms. Perhaps no single incident during the campaign demonstrates this discrepancy better than the debate over the Republican Party platform, during which the Trump campaign requested one major change: dropping language calling upon the U.S. to provide lethal-weapons assistance to Ukraine.
Prior to the 2016 election, many Republican politicians harshly criticized the Obama administration for its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, arguing that the U.S. hadn’t done enough to help Ukraine. One key part of this criticism was arguing that the U.S. should begin providing lethal-weapons assistance to Ukraine to assist in repelling Russian forces, and language calling upon the government to do so was included in a draft of the official GOP platform.
Then, during the debates over the platform, which lasted from July 11 to July 15, 2016, that language was softened, from suggesting providing “lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine’s Armed Forces” to merely calling for “appropriate assistance.” The Washington Post subsequently reported that the platform committee mad the change at the behest of J.D. Gordon, a long-time Republican operative and Trump campaign aide.
Initially, the Trump campaign denied that it had been behind the change. Speaking on “Meet the Press” on July 31, Trump’s then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort said the change “absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign.” Gordon has offered conflicting accounts, at first disputing that he played a role in changing the language before acknowledging that he had pushed the platform committee to change the language.
Also on July 31, though, Trump said in an interview with ABC that his campaign was behind the change, although he said he was not involved. Moreover, Trump’s foreign policy adviser Carter Page, who at the time had just returned from a trip to Moscow during which he met with at least one high-ranking Russian government official, emailed Gordon and other campaign advisers praising the amendment regarding Ukraine. Several other Republican operatives involved in the platform committee have since corroborated reports that Gordon led the effort to change the platform. Congressional investigators are reportedly investigating the language change, and have interviewed former Trump aides about it.
Ironically, on December 20, 2017, the Trump administration did approve lethal arms sales to Ukraine, the largest such sale since 2014.