In recent days, President Donald Trump’s go-to defense has been to label a witness against him in impeachment proceedings as a “Never Trumper” — typically a Republican who never supported him and is committed to taking him down.
Gordon Sondland is no Never Trumper.
A wealthy Republican hotelier who contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, Sondland was awarded for his loyalty with a coveted ambassadorship to the European Union. He could reach the president with his personal cellphone and felt comfortable talking with him in a familiar patter sprinkled with four-letter words.
That makes Sondland’s testimony Wednesday — directly linking the president and his men to a quid pro quo on Ukraine — all the more credible and crushing. Among Sondland’s most damning revelations during his day-long testimony to House impeachment investigators:
Take directions from Giuliani
► Trump expressly directed Sondland, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, to take directions on Ukraine matters from Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. And Giuliani thereafter laid out the this-for-that terms: President Volodymyr Zelensky would only get a White House meeting if he publicly announced investigations that would politically benefit Trump. “So we followed the president’s orders,” Sondland testified.
Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testifies in an impeachment hearing on Nov. 20, 2019. (Photo: Jack Gruber/USA TODAY)
►Sondland also became convinced that nearly $400 million in desperately needed military assistance for Ukraine, which is embroiled in a proxy war with Russia, would be provided only if Zelensky publicly promised the investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and a theory that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 presidential election, which contradicts findings by the U.S. intelligence community that it was Russia that interfered. Trump spelled out his interest in Zelensky investigating these issues during a crucial July 25 phone call between the two leaders.
►Several senior administration officials were fully appraised of these demands on the Ukrainians, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then-national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. “They knew what we were doing and why,” Sondland said. “Not once do I recall encountering objection.”
‘Everyone was in the loop’
By September, Zelensky was ready to announce on CNN the launch of investigations into Biden and the 2016 election. But as word of the quid pro quo began to surface in early September, the White House elected to release the Ukraine’s military assistance.
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said more than once.
So out of a bevy of administration officials sworn to uphold the Constitution, only one person — the unnamed whistleblower — had the courage to report all of this nefarious actively to an intelligence services’ inspector general and, ultimately, to Congress.
The House committee conducting the impeachment inquiry — and the American public — is now entitled to hear from Pompeo, Bolton, Mulvaney and others about what they knew and how they responded. It also needs access to the State Department documents being withheld from investigators.
In the meantime, Sondland’s testimony adds to a mounting body of evidence that Trump personally directed a scheme to abuse the power of his office to coerce a foreign government in order to gain advantage in the 2020 election.
The main question remaining is whether congressional Republicans are prepared to do anything about it.
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