House impeachment investigators have exposed a major bombshell about Trump’s demand for a quid pro quo from Ukraine when they shared a pair of deposition transcripts with the public that was taken last month from EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker in closed-door sessions.
Pivotally, just yesterday the hotelier-turned-Ambassador Sondland filed a four-page update in order to supplement his daylong deposition from 18-days ago which yielded a 375-page transcript (embedded below). In his update, Gordon Sondland came clean about Trump’s obvious demands for a quid pro quo dating back to May.
In his supplemental testimony, Ambassador Sondland admits that he told current Ukraine charge d’affairs, Bill Taylor, about Trump’s demands for a public announcement of a criminal investigation from Ukraine and he clarified that Rudy Giuliani had personally insisted the statement had to come from President Volodymyr Zelensky himself.
The rest of Sondland’s deposition has landed with a tremendous thud because he told House investigators that he himself believed the scheme to withhold Congressionally appropriated funds from Ukraine was illegal.
EU Ambassador Sondland also admitted that he carried Trump’s water on the sidelines of a September meeting in Warsaw between President Zelensky and Vice President Mike Pence to push Ukraine’s leader to give the President an explicitly political favor. The Times reports:
In his updated testimony, Mr. Sondland recounted how he had discussed the linkage with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, on the sidelines of a Sept. 1 meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Zelensky in Warsaw. Mr. Zelensky had discussed the suspension of aid with Mr. Pence, Mr. Sondland said.
“I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Mr. Sondland said in the document, which was released by the House committees leading the inquiry, along with the transcript of his original testimony from last month.
The Portland hotelier Sondland — who parlayed a million-dollar donation to Trump’s oft investigated Inaugural Committee slush fund into an ambassadorship — has turned into the central point of official contact between the President and people on the ground demanding a quid pro quo from Ukraine in exchange for sorely needed national security funding and even routine diplomatic favors. House rules permit a witness to change or amend their testimony after the fact, and the Ambassador’s use of that rule looks like it could deal a mortal wound to the Trump presidency.
President Trump’s entire scheme began to surface early last month when text messages from Kurt Volker, a former Ukraine Envoy and former executive director of the McCain Institute, were released publicly. They showed Sondland making a blatant attempt at making a record of plausible deniability, writing on WhatsApp that “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” Of course, the boutique hotelier then testified to Congress that the Hotelier-in-Chief had directed him to write that statement to Volker.
Then, two weeks ago, Ambassador Taylor’s testimony about more of Sondland’s texts directly tied Trump to a quid pro quo demand to the Ukrainian President in order to bully him into opening a politically motivated investigation into the Bidens.
What’s amazing about the new transcript from Ambassador Sondland’s testimony is how long he knew that President Trump wanted something from Ukraine, and how he knew that the demands were improper and illegal. This exchange with House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) illustrates how President Trump became personally involved very early on with Sondland, who knew that this was about helping Trump’s personal lawyer’s mission to manufacture political dirt.
From page 141 of the transcript:
THE CHAIRMAN: But it became clear to you in your conversation with the President that that meeting wasn’t going to take place unless the President’s lawyer’s interests or concerns were met. Is that right?
AMBASSADOR SONDLAND: When the President suggested that we speak to Mayor Giuliani, that was, I believe, on May 23rd, and only a few days later, he did, in fact, issue an unconditional invitation. 5o at that point, we thought whatever the logjam was, it had been broken.
THE CHAIRMAN: Well, I think you testified earlier, didn’t you, Mr. Sondland, that when the President told you to talk to Mr. Giuliani, you understood that unless the President’s lawyer’s interests were satisfied, there was go’ing to be no meeting?
AMBASSADOR SONDLAND: But then the invitation was issued.
THE CHAIRMAN: Before the invitation was extended, you understood from the Pres’ident that unless Mr. Giuliani’s interests or concerns were met there was going to be no meeting. Isn’t that correct?
AMBASSADOR SONDLAND: I understood that walking out of the door on the 23rd [of May].
As the deposition wound to a close, freshman Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) who sits on both the House Intel and Oversight panels, asked the Ambassador why he said in his written testimony that he didn’t recognize the President’s attempts to involve him in soliciting a quid pro quo with Guiliani.
Gordon Sondland’s bombshell admission is probably one of the reasons that he chose to amend his testimony yesterday, on the eve of its public release.
Page 341 of the transcript contains this damning passage:
MR. KRISHNAMOORTHI: When you said in your statement, on page 8 of your statement, you did not understand until much later that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians directly or indirectly in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign, why did you why do you think that either of those activities are problematic?
AMBASSADOR SONDLAND: Because I believe I testified that it would be improper to do that.
MR. KRISHNAMOORTHI: And illegal, right?
AMBASSADOR SONDLAND: I’m not a lawyer, but I assume so.
President Trump and his House Republican defenders spent a month screaming about the unfairness of the process that obtained numerous key deposition testimonies behind closed doors in a short amount of time and making pithy demands that they are released.
One of the key reasons to keep the testimony secret for a time is to get all of the fact witnesses on the record without tipping off the other participants as to what their story is, so it can be coordinated or changed. With Ambassador Sondland’s revision of his testimony, it appears that the House impeachment investigation’s tactic worked; he admitted what everyone else testified, that he was at the heart of a shakedown.
Now that the Sondland deposition and new admissions have been released just like Trump asked, even Republicans in the Senate have to wonder how they can possibly admit publicly that President Trump demanded a quid pro quo for the delivery of funds, but there was no corrupt intent when the person doing the demanding believed that he was participating in illegal acts.
Read Ambassador Sondland’s revised testimony here:
Gordon Sondland's 4-page revised testimony clarifies everything about the Trump scheme to obtain a quid pro quo from Ukraine.https://t.co/ZXTsdcdgqs
— Grant Stern (@grantstern) November 5, 2019
Read the entire transcript of EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s impeachment testimony here:
What do you think?
Grant Stern is an Editor-At-Large for OccupyDemocrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report. Find out more at grantstern.com.