Ambassador Sondland delivers a John Dean moment in the impeachment hearings


Well, not quite John Dean. John Dean had a photographic memory and laid out incredibly detailed riveting testimony from his memory of events, later remarkably verified in the Nixon tapes.

Ambassador Gordon Sondland concedes that his memory is not that good without access to reference to documents and readouts of conversations, which he says the State Department has refused to allow him to review to prepare for his testimony (obstruction of Congress, obstruction of justice).

Sondland concedes that he is not a note taker or writes “memos to file” like his fellow ambassadors who have testified. Republican counsel attacked the reliability of his testimony based upon his memory and need to refresh his recollection.

But Ambassador Sondland nevertheless delivered a John Dean moment. From his opening statement and subsequent testimony, Sondland testified that there was a quid pro quo, and that everyone knew about it and authorized it. “Everyone was in the loop”:

      • President Donald Trump
      • Vice President Mike Pence
      • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
      • Acting White House Chief of Staff and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney
      • Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry
      • Former National Security Adviser John Bolton
      • Former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker
      • Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani

The only person above who has agreed to testify was Kurt Volker. Everyone else is defying the committee to testify (obstruction of Congress, obstruction of justice).

Sondland clearly made the decision that “If I am going down for a conspiracy to extort/bribe the Ukraine government, I am taking everyone involved down with me.”

This blows up the defense floated by Republicans that Rudy Giuliani and/or Ambassador Sondland were running a “rogue operation.” Sondland also disputed Ambassador William Taylor’s belief that there appeared to be a “regular channel” and an “irregular channel” to Ukraine, there was only one channel “in the center lane.”

Ambassador Sondland is still testifying, but here is a quick summary from Talking Points Memo of his testimony so far. The Big Highlights From Gordon Sondland’s Opening Statement:

Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland substantially shifted his testimony to point the finger for the Ukraine pressure campaign at President Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, flipping the onetime Trump donor from a participant in the effort to pressure Kyiv into manufacturing political dirt into a key witness in the impeachment inquiry.

Sondland’s Wednesday opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee provides more detail – and more text messages – that lay bare the President’s role in using American foreign policy for his own personal political benefit.

Here are key highlights from his testimony.

Sondland points the finger at Trump

Trump ordered Sondland and his two other “amigos” – Ukraine Special Envoy Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry – to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney. Contrary to earlier testimony in which he suggested that the pressure campaign was innocuous, Sondland now says that had he known of Rudy’s “dealings or of his associations with individuals now under criminal indictment, I would not have acquiesced to his participation.”

Sondland has receipts

Sondland revealed new WhatsApp messages and emails.

Those, he said, quote from “certain State Department emails and messages that provide contemporaneous support for my view.” The records show that White House, National Security Council and State Department leadership were “informed about the Ukraine efforts” beginning in late May, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Sondland kept Pompeo in the loop on the effort to extort Ukraine for investigations

Sondland released emails and text messages showing that he informed Pompeo of the status of the pressure campaign on Ukraine.

Namely, Sondland released an Aug. 11 email he sent to Ulrich Brechbuhl, Pompeo, and another State Department staffer in which he said that “Kurt and I negotiated a statement from Ze[lensky] to be delivered for our review in a day or two.”

This refers to a statement on investigations that the Ukrainian leader was set to issue, but never did.

Another case took place before the September Warsaw meeting between Zelensky and top Trump Administration officials. Sondland told Pompeo in an Aug. 22 email that the Ukrainian leader planned to look Trump “in the eye and tell him that once Ukraine’s new justice folks are in place,” Ukraine could “move forward.” After that conversation, Sondland testified, Kyiv could then “break the logjam” of issues that were important to Trump and the US. Pompeo replied “yes” to Sondland.

Sondland confirms the account of the Kyiv restaurant “investigations” phone call

Sondland confirms testimony from David Holmes, a foreign service officer posted to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, that President Trump loudly discussed “investigations” with Sondland in a July 26 phone call at a Kyiv restaurant. “I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the President’s concerns,” Sondland said.

Pompeo was still involving Giuliani as recently as late September

Sondland quoted a previously unseen WhatsApp message he received from Volker on Sept. 24: “Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S,” Volker said. S, Sondland said, “means the Secretary of State.”

‘Everyone was in the loop’ about the quid pro quo

Sondland said that Zelensky’s now-notorious July phone call with Trump and the prospect of any future meeting with the U.S. President were conditioned on Zelensky’s willingness to go along with investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 elections.

“Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret,” Sondland said. “Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the Presidential call.”

Sondland assumed freeze of assistance to Ukraine was tied to an investigation announcement

As in prior testimony, Sondland asserts that he simply assumed that the nine-figure Ukraine aid package was tied to a Ukrainian announcement of the investigations Trump wanted. “In the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid,” Sondland said he simply “came to believe” the two were linked.

Sondland announced an investigations-for-Trump-meeting deal to the Ukrainians

Other witnesses have testified that in a July 10 White House meeting between Ukrainian and American national security officials, Sondland announced that there was an agreement in place with the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, that the Ukrainians would get a White House visit in exchange for pursuing Trump’s desired investigations. “I recall mentioning the pre-requisite of investigations before any White House call or meeting,” Sondland said of the meeting. “But I do not recall any yelling or screaming as others have said.”

Confirmation that Giuliani cast doubt on a White House meeting

As other witnesses have testified, Sondland said Giuliani told the Ukrainians in early July (on July 10, Sondland said) that a Zelensky-Trump meeting was unlikely to happen. But this time, Sondland provided WhatsApp messages from the time:

Sondland confirmed telling Zelensky’s aide that money was linked to investigations

After the Trump administration’s hold on the Ukraine aid money became public, Vice President Mike Pence met with Zelensky in Warsaw, on Sept. 1, where the issue came up in discussion. Several witnesses have testified that Sondland had a pull-aside meeting with Yermak afterward, and that Sondland claimed afterward to have tied the nine-figure aid package to the investigations Trump wanted.

Sondland confirmed that: “I told Mr. Yermak that I believed that the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

Text shows Mulvaney and Perry conversation

One message shows that Sondland told Energy Secretary Rick Perry and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that Zelensky would commit to Trump to “turn over every stone.”

Zelensky, Sondland told the pair on July 21, would “greatly appreciate a call prior to Sunday” — July 21, the day of the Ukrainian parliamentary elections — “so that he can put out some media about a ’friendly and productive call (no details) prior to the Ukraine election on Sunday.”

Perry and Mulvaney responded by confirming the call date, though it would ultimately be delayed several days.

There will be substantial reporting on today’s explosive testimony. I will update in later posts.

UPDATE: Keeping with today’s theme, Michael D’Antonio writes in an opinion piece at CNN, Gordon Sondland delivers the ‘John Dean’ moment.