2019-11-21 by Daisy I.
Gordon Sondland’s decision not to be Donald Trump’s fall guy could be a game changer
Photo: Mr Sondland is not a perfect witness, James Glenday writes, but his testimony sent shockwaves through the inquiry. (AP: Andrew Harnik
This morning Gordon Sondland had a stark choice.
Would the wealthy hotelier turned Donald Trump donor turned US ambassador to the European Union try to protect the President or himself?
He chose the latter.
The term ‘bombshell’ is probably used too often by journalists.
But the shockwaves inside the stately room where impeachment proceedings are being held were palpable the moment it was clear Mr Sondland was determined not to be a fall guy.
His opening statement, under oath, publicly implicated the President and some of the most senior members of the Trump Administration in a plot to pressure Ukraine.
‘I followed the directions of the President’
In clear terms, Mr Sondland described how the nation’s new leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was urged to announce two politically motivated investigations that could benefit Mr Trump.
One inquiry into Hunter Biden and his father Joe, a leading Democratic political opponent of the US President, and a second investigation into the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election.
Mr Sondland testified that Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was central to the pressure campaign and explicitly added that a highly coveted visit to White House that Ukraine wanted was conditional on the investigations being announced.
“I followed the directions of the President,” Mr Sondland said.
“Everyone was in the loop.”
Mr Sondland also declared he was concerned some $570 million in US military aid that Ukraine desperately wanted to fight Russian backed rebels had been put on hold as additional leverage.
He even testified that he raised those concerns with Vice-President Mike Pence, an allegation Mr Pence’s office denies.
“I came to the conclusion that the aid, like the White House visit, was jeopardised,” he said.
“Members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: was there a ‘quid pro quo?’
“The answer is yes.”
Republicans caught off guard
Republican allies of the President and White House were clearly unprepared for his explosive testimony.
It has now blown a hole in their defence strategy.
So far, they have sought to deny there was ever a “quid pro quo” — a Latin phrase roughly meaning exchange of favours — with Ukraine.
They have also sought to attack witnesses at the impeachment proceedings and portray them as simply “disgruntled bureaucrats”, who did not agree with Donald Trump’s unconventional way of conducting foreign policy.
But Mr Sondland was appointed by the President and donated $US1 million to his inauguration.
He obviously is not one of the so-called “never Trumpers”, even though the President immediately tried to distance himself from the ambassador after watching the proceedings on television.
“I don’t know him very well,” Mr Trump told reporters.
“This is not a man I have spoken to much.”
Imperfect witness could tip the scales
It is worth stressing that Mr Sondland is hardly the perfect witness.
He has already changed his testimony once and, by his own admission, did not keep any written records or notes.
But much of what he said matches concerned statements already put forward by other officials.
It now seems ludicrous to suggest the pressure campaign on Ukraine was simply unconventional diplomacy.
Even Ken Starr, who authored the report that led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, said the testimony could be a “game changer”.
“This obviously has been one of those bombshell days,” he said.
The question now is will it move the political numbers in Washington?
Specifically, will the Republican senators, who will serve as jurors in the now seemingly inevitable impeachment trial, see the Ukraine pressure campaign as an abuse of office, an offence worthy of removing Donald Trump from power?
Topics: world-politics, government-and-politics, foreign-affairs, donald-trump, united-states