Trump impeachment: Four key moments from bombshell Sondland testimony

Ambassador directly implicates president and top White House officials in 'quid pro quo' during explosive hearings

Chris Riotta
New York
Wednesday 20 November 2019 20:34
Trump impeachment: Nunes doesn't appear to ask Sondland anything substantive about his testimony

Gordon Sondland may have provided much-needed aid to Republicans defending Donald Trump on Capitol Hill during the House-led impeachment inquiry – had his public testimony occurred last month.

Unfortunately for the president and his allies, the ambassador’s memory was conveniently "refreshed" when he submitted a change to his testimony earlier this month and by the time he delivered explosive evidence on Wednesday morning.

Whereas Mr Sondland previously testified in October that he was unaware of the administration’s plans to withhold crucial US military assistance to Ukraine while demanding political investigations into one of Mr Trump’s rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, his story had vastly changed during the fourth day of public impeachment hearings.

Mr Sondland held no diplomatic experience when he was appointed by Mr Trump to serve as the US ambassador to the EU, but donated $1m (£774,105) to the president’s 2016 inaugural committee. His new testimony linked top White House and State Department officials to a “quid pro quo” involving US-Ukraine policy — from the very beginning of his opening remarks.

Here are four key moments from the ambassador’s damning public testimony:

Gordon Sondland directly implicated Donald Trump in Ukraine quid pro quo
The ambassador described having to work with Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who he said “was expressing the desires of the president of the United States” when he demanded Ukraine announce investigations into Mr Biden and the origins of the US federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“We knew that these investigations were important to the president,” Mr Sondland said.

Throughout the hearing, Mr Sondland identified Mr Giuliani as the point of contact for the investigations, saying “President Trump was not really interested in engaging, he really wanted Rudy to handle it”.

Mike Pompeo approved of plan urging Volodymyr Zelensky to announce probes

Mr Sondland not only implicated the president in the apparent quid pro quo involving Ukraine, but he said Mr Trump’s top appointees were also involved in working to get public commitments for investigations from Mr Zelensky. The ambassador told investigators he spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about getting the Ukrainian president to commit to investigations during a meeting with Mr Trump.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Mr Sondland said. “It was not secret.”

Republicans turn on Gordon Sondland, calling his testimony a “trifecta of unreliability”
The GOP swiftly sought to undermine the ambassador’s testimony, as Steve Castor, the House Republican counsel, described Mr Sondland’s evidence as “the trifecta of unreliability”.

“You don’t have records,” the attorney said. “A lot of it is speculation. A lot of it is your guess.”

The president’s allies also attempted to push back against the testimony, including US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who said Mr Sondland “misrepresented” his interaction with Mr Giuliani “and direction the secretary received from President Trump”.

White House blocking records increasingly becomes an issue in fact-finding process
Ironically, one of the Republicans’ main arguments against the testimony delivered by Mr Sondland was that he lacked evidence to support his claims — despite many of those records having been blocked throughout the investigation by none other than the White House.

Top officials with first-hand knowledge of the president’s dealings with Ukraine have been ordered not to comply with congressional subpoenas to testify in the investigation, though several have broken ranks with the administration and met with House investigators.

Mr Sondland frequently reminded Republicans during their questioning that he could not answer certain questions because he was limited in his ability to review records and transcripts of his phone calls with the president, considering such material has been blocked by the administration. “What I’m trying to do today is to use the limited information” I have, Mr Sondland said.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments