How Sondland’s testimony stacks up to his past statements
Washington – For an ambassador whose credibility had been called into question by fellow witnesses, Gordon Sondland didn’t seem to make any major corrections to past statements in the House impeachment inquiry.
He did, however, reveal previously undisclosed conversations, offer additional details about his perception of the Trump administration’s interactions with Ukraine, and name-drop some of the most senior advisers to President Donald Trump – including the vice president and a Cabinet secretary.
A look at how Sondland’s public testimony Wednesday compares with previous statements he’s made:
On the quid pro quo
Sondland didn’t exactly deny the existence of a quid pro quo when he testified to Congress behind closed doors Oct. 17, but the only time he used the Latin term in his opening statement was to quote Trump’s response when he asked him what he wanted from Ukraine.
“The President responded, nothing. There is no quid pro. The President repeated, no quid pro,” Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, said at the time. “No quid pro quo multiple times.”
On Wednesday, Sondland went out of his way to use the term in his opening statement. He said he knew a White House visit for Ukraine’s leader was contingent on the country announcing the investigations Trump wanted into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. He left no doubt that he viewed the proposed arrangement as meeting the definitions of a quid pro quo. He said he presumed, but was not told for certain, that the release of military aid for Ukraine later depended on the same conditions.
“Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes,” Sondland said Wednesday.
On Vice President Mike Pence
Sondland made zero reference to Pence in the opening statements he delivered last month.
When his name did come up, it was mostly in response to questioning, with no new significant information revealed.
On Wednesday, though, he described a significant encounter with Pence ahead of a meeting in Warsaw with Ukrainians last September. He said he told Pence he was concerned that the delay in military assistance to Ukraine was tied to the issue of investigations. He said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy raised the same concerns with Pence during the meetings, and said the vice president replied that he would talk to Trump.
Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short said the exchange recounted by Sondland “never happened.”
On a phone call with Trump
The first time he testified, Sondland did not describe any phone conversation he may have had with Trump a day after Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate Biden. Sondland’s July 26 phone call with Trump was not publicly known until a few days ago, when a diplomat who overheard Sondland in a crowded Kyiv restaurant described the contents in vivid and evocative detail – including the fact that the president and the ambassador had discussed investigations.
On Wednesday, Sondland confirmed he did indeed speak to Trump that day and said there was no reason to doubt Holmes’ recollection that he and Trump had discussed investigations. He said the White House confirmed the call took place by sharing certain call dates with his attorneys.
He insisted the call did not strike him as significant at the time he had it, perhaps explaining why he hadn’t disclosed it during the closed-door appearance.
On Mick Mulvaney
Sondland minimized his personal relationship with the White House acting chief of staff during his private deposition, and he did the same on Wednesday.
Sondland stressed last month that he had not discussed Ukraine with Mick Mulvaney, and had had minimal interactions with him. But he said Wednesday that Mulvaney was kept abreast of the president’s desire for investigations and was among the officials aware that a White House visit depended on Ukraine announcing those probes.
To prove his point, Sondland brought emails to the hearing, including one to Mulvaney and other officials in which Sondland said Zelenskiy was prepared to reassure Trump that he would leave no stone unturned in the investigations.
On Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Sondland had stressed last month that his actions had the blessing of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and that Pompeo had supported his Ukraine strategy and told him to keep up the good work and to continue working on Ukraine.
He shed new light on their relationship Wednesday: Pompeo was among the recipients of the July email that went to Mulvaney and others. He also recalled asking Pompeo directly if they should organize a “pull-aside” meeting in Warsaw between Trump and Zelenskiy. Pompeo said yes.
He also described a separate email to Pompeo’s advisers in which he said he and another envoy, Kurt Volker, had negotiated a statement that was to be delivered by Zelenskiy.
“Again,” Sondland said, “everyone was in the loop.”