There is a key witness in the public hearings conducted as part of the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, one that he will not be able to gratuitously frame as mean or working for the Democrats.
Indeed, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, is far from being a “Never Trumper,” something Trump usually likes to accuse his political opponents of being. Wednesday, Nov. 20, Congress will hear from a long-standing Republican who supported Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign and who did not hesitate to contribute $1 million to Trump’s January 2017 presidential inauguration.
Coincidentally, Sondland’s contribution bought him the diplomatic position that is today at the heart of the ongoing historic investigation into whether the president of the U.S. took advantage of his position to obtain information from Ukraine that could help him compromise his political opponent Joe Biden.
Sondland, 62 , has a lot in common with Trump. Just like the improbable president, he made a fortune in the hotel business while flirting with the political world.
He is also a master at lying and manipulating reality, or at connivance. In a closed hearing last October, Sondland actually testified under oath that he was never a part of the talks attempting to make the U.S. military aid to Ukraine dependent on a Ukrainian investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. He even called that tactic “illegal,” especially if the point was to influence the next American election.
But some days later, in a three-page letter addressed to House Intelligence Committee before which he initially testified, the former head of Provenance Hotels—run today by his wife, Katherine Durant—finally changed his testimony, after a few too many other witnesses told Congress a different story.
“I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak [an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy], where I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” he wrote.
Shame and Discomfort
Since the beginning of the public hearings in the impeachment investigation, Sondland has been the only American diplomat who had direct contact with the American president concerning this Ukrainian scandal.
Other people close to the president—for instance, Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, another important part of the intimidation strategy—have refused to testify in Washington, a position Sondland was pressured into by the White House, among others.
Last week William Taylor, chargé d’affaires at the Kyiv Embassy at the time, talked about what he was told in confidence by a member of his team, who overheard a phone call last July between Sondland and Trump, the former reality TV star.
The subject was the investigations that Ukraine was being asked to announce; the EU ambassador said that Zelenskiy was complying with all the White House demands, but also that Trump cared more about those investigations than he cared about this European country whose integrity is threatened by pro-Russia separatist movements in the East.
The very involvement of this diplomat in the talks between Ukraine and the U.S. was a source of shame and discomfort inside the State Department, Taylor explained, because of the geographic and geopolitical reality that the American president does not seem to grasp: Ukraine is not part of the European Union.