Sondland to Testify Wednesday 11/20 06:23
Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment
inquiry, is likely to be unpredictable when he faces questions about his
evolving accounts of the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine and a
newly revealed summertime phone call with President Donald Trump.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness
in the impeachment inquiry, is likely to be unpredictable when he faces
questions about his evolving accounts of the Trump administration's dealings
with Ukraine and a newly revealed summertime phone call with President Donald
Sondland, a wealthy hotelier Trump tapped as his ambassador to the European
Union, is more directly entangled than any witness yet in the Republican
president's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and
Democrats in the 2016 election. Yet Sondland has already amended his testimony
once --- "I now do recall," he said, talking to Ukraine about investigations.
Sondland's appearance at Wednesday morning's hearing, and his closeness to
Trump, is of particular concern to the White House as the historic impeachment
inquiry reaches closer to the president, pushing through an intense week with
nine witnesses testifying over three days in back-to-back sessions.
Trump has recently tried to suggest that he barely knows his hand-picked
ambassador, but Sondland has said he has spoken several times with the
president and was acting on his direction.
The envoy is likely to face tough questions from lawmakers of both parties
about Trump's July 25 call when he asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy
for the political investigations at the same time as U.S. military aid for the
ally was being stalled.
Sondland routinely bragged about his proximity to Trump and drew alarm from
the foreign service and national security apparatus as part of an irregular
channel of diplomacy led by the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Last week State Department official David Holmes revealed one of those
interactions to impeachment investigators, saying he recalled it "vividly."
The political counselor was having lunch with Sondland in Kyiv when the
ambassador dialed up the president on his cellphone and Holmes could hear
"I then heard President Trump ask, quote, 'So he's going to do the
investigation?'" Holmes testified. "Ambassador Sondland replied that 'He's
going to do it,' adding that President Zelensky will, quote, 'do anything you
ask him to.'"
Sondland was known for telling others "he was in charge of Ukraine" despite
being the U.S. envoy in Brussels, said another witness in the impeachment
probe, former White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill.
"And I asked, well, on whose authority?" said Hill, who will testify
Thursday. "And he said, the President."
Sondland's appearance follows the testimony Tuesday of four national
security and diplomatic officials, including a career Army officer who
described Trump's call with Zelenskiy as "improper."
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told lawmakers it was his "duty" to report his
concerns about the call, as he deflected Republican attacks, including from the
White House on his loyalty and career in public service.
It wasn't the first time Vindman had registered his concerns over Ukraine
policy. He testified about a July 10 meeting at the White House when Sondland
told visiting Ukraine officials they would need to "deliver" before the
administration would agree to a meeting Zelenskiy wanted with Trump.
"Ambassador Sondland referred to investigations into the Bidens and Burisma
in 2016," Vindman testified, referring to the gas company on whose board Hunter
Biden had a seat.
At the White House, Trump said he had watched part of the day's testimony
and slammed the ongoing impeachment hearings as a "disgrace." Over the weekend,
Trump assailed Williams as part of the "Never Trumpers" who oppose his
presidency, though there is no indication she has shown any partisanship.
Former National Security Council official Timothy Morrison told
investigators that he witnessed a key September conversation in Warsaw between
Sondland and a top aide to Zelenskiy. Afterward, Sondland said he had relayed
to the Ukrainian that U.S. aid might be freed if the country would announce the
investigations, Morrison testified.
Another diplomat, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, shifted his
own account of the July 10 meeting to say Sondland did, in fact, discuss
investigations with the visiting Ukrainians.
"I think all of us thought it was inappropriate; the conversation did not
continue and the meeting concluded," Volker said.
A series of text messages Volker provided to lawmakers showed conversations
between him, Sondland and other leaders in which they discussed a need for
Ukraine to launch investigations, including into Burisma.
Volker said meeting with Giuliani was just part of the dialogue, and he had
one in-person meeting with him, in which Giuliani "raised, and I rejected, the
conspiracy theory that Vice President Biden would have been influenced in his
duties as vice president by money paid to his son."