Gordon Sondland’s Statement Protects, Does Not Break with, Trump

Gordon Sondland is behind closed doors right now, trying to talk his way out of implication in crimes (he is represented, it should be noted, by the same lawyer who helped Karl Rove talk his way out of crimes in Valerie Plame’s outing, Robert Luskin).

But if Congressional staffers are doing their job, he’s going to have a hard job to spin what he did as anything but criminal. That’s true, in part, because his statement is full of obvious contradictions and evasions. But contrary to what many in the press (fed in advance with deceptive claims about his testimony) have claimed, the statement does not break with Trump, it protects him.

Who’s the boss?

Sondland’s first inconsistency pertains to one of the most important issues: why he was in charge of Ukrainian policy when Ukraine isn’t even in the EU. His general explanation for it is bullshit — and also should raise questions about what he has been doing in Georgia, Venezuela, and Iran. He studiously avoids explaining who ordered him to focus on Ukraine (as other testimony has made clear, the answer is because Trump ordered him to).

From my very first days as Ambassador, Ukraine has been a part of my broader work pursuing U.S. national interests. Ukraine’s political and economic development are critical to the long-lasting stability of Europe. Moreover, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which began nearly five years ago, continues as one of the most significant security crises for Europe and the United States. As the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, I have always viewed my Ukraine work as central to advancing U.S.-EU foreign policy. Indeed, for decades, under both Republican and Democrat Administrations, the United States has viewed Ukraine with strategic importance, in part to counter Russian aggression in Europe and to support Ukraine energy independence. My involvement in issues concerning Ukraine, while a small part of my overall portfolio, was nevertheless central to my ambassadorial responsibilities. In this sense, Ukraine is similar to other non-EU countries, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Georgia, with respect to which my Mission and I coordinate closely with our EU partners to promote policies that reflect our common values and interests. I always endeavoured [sic] to keep my State Department and National Security Council colleagues informed of my actions and to seek their input.

But the logistics of it are more interesting, particularly as it pertains to coordinating with Rudy Giuliani.

At times (at both the very beginning, after his description of the July 10 meeting, and again to explain away the July 10 meeting), he emphasizes that Mike Pompeo has approved of all this.

I understand that all my actions involving Ukraine had the blessing of Secretary Pompeo as my work was consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives. Indeed, very recently, Secretary Pompeo sent me a congratulatory note that I was doing great work, and he encouraged me to keep banging away.

[snip]

We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting; and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.

Furthermore, my boss Secretary Pompeo was very supportive of our Ukraine strategy.

[snip]

While I have not seen Dr. Hill’s testimony, I am surprised and disappointed by the media reports of her critical comments. To put it clearly: Neither she nor Ambassador Bolton shared any critical comments with me, even after our July 10, 2019 White House meeting. And so, I have to view her testimony — if the media reports are accurate — as the product of hindsight and in the context of the widely known tensions between the NSC, on the one hand, and the State Department, on the other hand, which had ultimate responsibility for executing U.S. policy overseas. Again, I took my direction from Secretary Pompeo and have had his consistent support in dealing with our nation’s most sensitive secrets to this very day.

Again, the public record makes it clear he was put in this role by Trump, not Pompeo. And while I’m sure Pompeo knew of what he was doing (his suggestion that Pompeo was “supportive of it” seems most clearly on point), he was reporting directly, via a third channel of authority, directly to Trump.

That said, his suggestion that Pompeo — a former CIA Director but now in charge of diplomacy, which is not supposed to be the realm of utmost secrecy — trusts him “with our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” suggests there’s something else going on here, something about which he’s reassuring Pompeo he’ll remain silent.

The claim that he took his direction from Pompeo, bolded above, is contradicted on the matter of Rudy Giuliani’s involvement.  His description of why Rudy was involved varies slightly over time. Initially, he says he coordinated with Rudy because the Three Amigos, collectively, decided they had to involve Rudy to achieve other diplomatic objectives.

Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Later, he claims that “his understanding” is that Trump ordered Rudy’s involvement, as if he didn’t get that order directly.

Mr. Giuliani does not work for me or my Mission and I do not know what official or unofficial role, if any, he has with the State Department. To my knowledge, he is one of the President’s personal lawyers. However, my understanding was that the President directed Mr. Giuliani’s participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the President, and that Mr. Giuliani had already spoken with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker.

Still later, he strengthens that, suggesting he was “taking direction from the President” directly.

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose.

If he was taking orders from Trump on involving Rudy (which is almost certainly the case), then the claims of Pompeo’s role are just cover.

Sondland is obfuscating on both these issues: why the EU Ambassador was put in charge of Ukraine policy, and why Rudy was allowed to dictate Ukraine policy. While the press thinks Sondland has taken a big break from Trump, he has not on the key issue: that Sondland was taking orders from Trump and doing precisely what the President ordered him to.

The royal we

There are really telling passages in this statement where Sondland slips into the first person plural. Generally, he does so when describing something that he, Rick Perry, and Kurt Volker jointly believe. As noted, he does so is to explain why he and Rick Perry and Kurt Volker coordinated with Rudy.

It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani. It is my understanding that Energy Secretary Perry and Special Envoy Volker took the lead on reaching out to Mr. Giuliani, as the President had directed.

Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Another place he does so is to explain why the Three Amigos moved forward on scheduling the July 25 call when John Bolton and Fiona Hill were opposed (he’s utterly silent about the second half of his July 10 meeting with the Ukrainians).

We three favored promptly scheduling a call and meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky; the NSC did not.

He also uses it to describe his meeting with Zelensky on July 26, after Zelensky had delivered on the quid pro quo, where he set up the White House meeting.

During this July 26, 2019 meeting in Kiev, we were able to promote further engagement, including discussions about a future Zelensky visit to the White House.

This is Gordon Sondland’s testimony, remember, not the Three Amigos’ testimony. But in these key passages, he claims — without explaining how he can do so — to speak for all three. He doesn’t explain if they had conversations (or WhatsApp threads) agreeing on all these issues, he just suggests he can speak for all three.

And his denials that he shared this statement with State or White House would not extend to these other people he invokes as “we.”

Perhaps a more interesting invocation of the third person plural comes where he claims that Bill Taylor, along with him and Volker, had no concerns about the push to get to Ukraine to publicly commit to an investigation that would deliver part of a quid pro quo.

First, I knew that a public embrace of anti-corruption reforms by Ukraine was one of the pre-conditions for securing a White House meeting with President Zelensky. My view was, and has always been, that such Western reforms are consistent with U.S. support for rule of law in Ukraine going back decades, under both Republican and Democrat administrations. Nothing about that request raised any red flags for me, Ambassador Volker, or Ambassador Taylor.

Taylor is still with State, so if Sondland is being honest when he says he hasn’t shared his statement, then Taylor has not bought off on this claim. I look forward to seeing whether he backs it when he testifies.

Schrodinger’s quid pro quo

The press has been most excited about the fact that Sondland claims Trump may have had a quid pro quo, but he was ignorant of it.

But in fact, Sondland does not deny a quid pro quo. In fact, his carefully written statement admitting he knew the quid pro quo involved Burisma (which he claims he had no idea meant Biden) admits that the 2016 ask was part of it.

Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anticorruption investigatory topics of importance for the President.

And his denials about knowing that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 elections are laughable. His first such denial claims he only learned later about the specific nature of (part of) Rudy’s quid pro quo, but he doesn’t describe when he learned of it, either there or later.

I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Later, he denies recalling having any conversations about these aspects of the quid pro quo with 1) Rudy, 2) State, and 3) any “White House official” (does that description include the President?).

Third, given many inaccurate press reports, let me be clear about the following: I do not recall that Mr. Giuliani discussed Former Vice President Biden or his son Hunter Biden with me. Like many of you, I read the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call for the first time when it was released publicly by the White House on September 25, 2019.

[snip]

Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.

But he doesn’t deny talking about the nature of the quid pro quo with Volker (who’s not technically a State Department employee), Rick Perry (ditto), or the Ukrainian officials that Fiona Hill saw him discussing Burisma with on July 10.

When he denies Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, he denies only that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 election (and not Naftogaz considerations or claims about what happened in 2016 or, perhaps even more tellingly, Russian help in 2020).

Sixth, to the best of my recollection, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign.

In denying Bill Taylor’s concern about a quid pro quo, he dismisses it as a concern about the appearance of a quid pro quo, rather than the actuality of one.

On September 9, 2019, Acting Charge de Affairs/Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: “What do you want from Ukraine?” The President responded, “Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.” The President repeated: “no quid pro quo” multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood.

Sondland here credits Trump’s statements, as if any Trump statement ever had any veracity, as true, even though they came at a time when the White House already knew about the whistleblower complaint, which makes what would already be unreliable outright laughable, if indeed Trump actually said that at all.

But the bigger point is this: Sondland doesn’t deny a quid pro quo. Just that he knew it was the quid pro quo that the House is currently most closely focused on early on in the process.

Gaps in the timeline

Given the way he is protecting Trump in all this, there are notable key gaps in his timeline.

Sondland doesn’t answer two obvious questions: why the Ambassador to the EU was part of the delegation to Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration, and why the inauguration delegation flew back to DC, almost immediately, to brief the President on it.

On May 20, 2019, given the significance of this election, I attended the inauguration of President Zelensky as part of the U.S. delegation led by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, along with Senator Ron Johnson, Special Envoy Volker, and Alex Vindman from the NSC. During this visit, we developed positive views of the new Ukraine President and his desire to promote a stronger relationship between Kiev and Washington, to make reforms necessary to attract Western economic investment, and to address Ukraine’s well-known and longstanding corruption issues.

On May 23, 2019, three days after the Zelensky inauguration, we in the U.S. delegation debriefed President Trump and key aides at the White House. We emphasized the strategic importance of Ukraine and the strengthening relationship with President Zelensky, a reformer who received a strong mandate from the Ukrainian people to fight corruption and pursue greater economic prosperity. We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns.

One reason those players would have flown to DC to debrief Trump is because of the scheme to take over Naftogaz led by Perry, something Sondland doesn’t mention at all.

He also plays games with his antecedent in trying to claim that a June 4 meeting involving Zelensky, Rick Perry, and Ulrich Brechbuhl (where they discussed natural gas, among other things) had been long planned.

Following my return to Brussels and continuing my focus on stronger U.S.-EU ties, my Mission hosted a U.S. Independence Day event on June 4, 2019. Despite press reports, this event was planned months in advance and involved approximately 700 guests from government, the diplomatic corps, the media, business, and civil society. The night featured remarks by the Ambassador and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs. Following the main event, we hosted a smaller, separate dinner for about 30 people. President Zelensky and several other leaders of EU and non-EU member states attended the dinner, along with Secretary Perry, U.S. State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl on behalf of Secretary Pompeo, and numerous other key U.S. and EU officials. Though planned long in advance with the focus on improving transatlantic relations, we also viewed this event as an opportunity to present President Zelensky to various EU and U.S. officials and to build upon the enhanced government ties.

He uses “this event” to refer both to the larger 700 person event and the smaller 30 person meeting, effectively making a claim — that the larger event had been long-planned — that he tries to apply to the smaller one. He also is curiously silent about Jared Kushner’s involvement.

In addition to being silent about the second part of his July 10 meeting — the part that got John Bolton worried about what drug deals he was doing — Sondland is also silent about his pre-call briefing to Trump on July 25, after Bolton’s prep.

I was not on that July 25, 2019 call and I did not see a transcript of that call until September 25, 2019, when the White House publicly released it. None of the brief and general call summaries I received contained any mention of Burisma or former Vice President Biden, nor even suggested that President Trump had made any kind of request of President Zelensky.

And his denials about the post-call summaries mentioning Burisma or Biden do not amount to a denial that his prep did. Nor does that denial address his July 26 conversation with Trump (which he addresses in a different section), which he describes as nonsubstantive without addressing whether Trump mentioned the quid pro quo.

I do recall a brief discussion with President Trump before my visit to Kiev. That call was very short, nonsubstantive, and did not encompass any of the substance of the July 25, 2019 White House call with President Zelensky.

In other words, even where denies talking about the quid pro quo, the denials don’t amount to denials in the most important conversations.

Sondland’s silence about WhatsApp

Finally, Sondland is playing games regarding what communications he has had. With the exception of his July 26 and September 9 calls, doesn’t describe what direct communications with Trump he has had.

Just as key, he is mostly silent about his conduct of diplomacy on WhatsApp, precisely the crime (doing official business on private accounts) Trump accused Hillary of to get elected (though his lawyers wrote a letter claiming that they’re helpless in the face of State’s refusal to share his comms). That’s all the more telling given the structure of Sondland’s denials of extensive comms with Rudy. His statement deals with three different kind of comms. He focuses on in-person meetings and phone calls.

To the best of my recollection, I met Mr. Giuliani in person only once at a reception when I briefly shook his hand in 2016. This was before I became Ambassador to the EU. In contrast, during my time as Ambassador, I do not recall having ever met with Mr. Giuliani in person, and I only spoke with him a few times.

[snip]

My best recollection is that I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for the first time in early August 2019, after the congratulatory phone call from President Trump on July 25, 2019 and after the bilateral meeting with President Zelensky on July 26, 2019 in Kiev. My recollection is that Mr. Giuliani and I actually spoke no more than two or three times by phone, for about a few minutes each time.

[snip]

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose. In these short conversations, Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues.

[snip]

Ten weeks after the President on May 23, 2019 directed the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani, I had my first phone conversation with him in early August 2019. I listened to Mr. Giuliani’s concerns

But he acknowledges that Volker introduced him to Rudy “electronically.”

Ambassador Volker introduced me to Mr. Giuliani electronically.

Nowhere in his statement does he explain what form of electronic communication this introduction took place over, and nowhere does he deny having WhatsApp (or any other kind of texting) communications with Rudy.

That’s all the more curious given that he claims — ridiculously — that his statements to Bill Taylor to avoid talking about a quid pro quo on WhatsApp were not an attempt to avoid leaving a record.

Fifth, certain media outlets have misinterpreted my text messages where I say “stop texting” or “call me.” Any implication that I was trying to avoid making a record of our conversation is completely false. In my view, diplomacy is best handled through back-and-forth conversation. The complexity of international relations cannot be adequately expressed in cryptic text messages. I simply prefer to talk rather than to text. I do this all the time with family, friends, and former business associates. That is how I most effectively get things done. My text message comments were an invitation to talk more, not to conceal the substance of our communications.

Immediately after saying those WhatsApp texts no not really record the truth, he points to some emails that, he says, show that he truthfully did not want a quid pro quo.

I recall that, in late July 2019, Ambassadors Volker and Taylor and I exchanged emails in which we all agreed that President Zelensky should have no involvement in 2020 U.S. Presidential election politics.

Remember: State is withholding all of Sondland’s electronic comms from the impeachment inquiry (even assuming he turned them all over to State). So his games with phone calls and texts should be assumed to be just that, claims made from the temporary security of believing the comms to check his claims will never be turned over.

Which is to say that Sondland says quite a bit in this statement. But the most important things are his silences.

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61 replies
  1. obsessed says:

    Well, the conclusion is depressing and rings true, especially when you mention Rove and Luskin, and I was depressed to begin with, but on the positive side, this is the single most readable-for-the-layman post you’ve ever written. I love the section headings, the lede, the logical flow of ideas, and the way you use short sentences frequently between the blockquotes.

  2. Tom says:

    Sondland reminds me of Jeff Sessions with all of his ‘don’t recalls’ and ‘have no recollections’. But seriously, don’t these people have executive assistants, secretaries, day-timers, agendas, or whatever to help them manage their time and track and record their meetings, phone calls, and other activities? Why should Sondland expect anyone to be satisfied with his “I recall”, “my best recollection”, or “to the best of my recollection”? Would not a person in his situation take notes in some format of his calls, meetings, and conversations, especially when you’re communicating with the President of the United States or his cabinet members and other close associates? The text of his opening statement should read something along the lines of, “According to the notes I took of my phone conversation with so-and-so on May whatever …”. But I understand from the reporting that there are communications of Sondland’s that he is trying to avoid drawing attention to, and the whole vague tone of his opening statement seems intended to conceal and divert rather than inform.

    • timbo says:

      And has he turned over his planners and meeting notes to the committee(s) or not? That’s another interesting question. By using this “do not recall” mantra, doesn’t that open him up to having to turn over those notes if he has not done so already?

      • Tom says:

        You would think so, wouldn’t you. Sondland’s stated reliance on his memory for some of his statements leaves room for him to flex his story in case inconvenient hard evidence comes to light later on.

    • I am sam says:

      It is an outright lie that Sondland broke with Trump. He was rehearsed, lawyered up. and sent forward. Why the press would say otherwise is stupid. They should get their heads out of their a****. He is doing a CYA and a “good soldier” act at the same time. A million- dollar contribution is not easily forgotten—plus “Boss, are both hotel guys.”
      Every time he says ” . . . I do not recall,” you know a lie is coming.
      Bolton could blow up the whole thing, but probably will not because (1) no guts and (2) saving the goodies to help sell his book after the dust settles. Never will understand why some people let a guy crap all over them and then suck up to him.
      One more thing. Follow the money, that is Rick Perry.

  3. SteveR says:

    I still can’t get past the audacity of Sondland’s first big lie (the one that lays the essential groundwork for the balance of his lies).

    In his prepared statement, Sondland testifies that he “did not understand until [long after his May 23 meeting with Trump], that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the Presidents 2020 reelection campaign.”

    To believe Sondland’s testimony, one must believe Sondland never caught wind of Ken Vogel’s May 9 NYT article and/or the significant news coverage at that time regarding Giulliani’s activities and intent vis-a-vis Ukraine. The first three paragraphs of Vogel’s May 9 article read as follows:

    “Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, is encouraging Ukraine to wade further into sensitive political issues in the United States, seeking to push the incoming government in Kiev to press ahead with investigations that he hopes will benefit Mr. Trump.

    Mr. Giuliani said he plans to travel to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, in the coming days and wants to meet with the nation’s president-elect to urge him to pursue inquiries that allies of the White House contend could yield new information about two matters of intense interest to Mr. Trump.

    One is the origin of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The other is the involvement of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.”

    Vogel’s article continues quoting Giuliani as follows:
    “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation …. And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop [the investigations] because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/09/us/politics/giuliani-ukraine-trump.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

    Sondland would have us believe that as he focused keen attention on Ukraine and was gravely concerned about Trump’s direction that he work through Giuliani, he remained utterly ignorant of the pervasive news coverage of Giuliani’s expressly articulated plan to “meddle in the investigation” of Hunter Biden for the purpose of helping Trump.

    Is that not Sondland’s boldest lie?

    • timbo says:

      One would also have to unreasonably assume that Sondland was not getting intelligence briefings on what Guiliani was actually up to to make any sense of his statements. Was Guiliani doing all this traveling with out our own intelligence folks looking into why the President’s lawyer might be shuttling around in Eastern Europe? He’s not an appointed official of the US Government yet he’s close to the President—to assume US intelligence and other intelligence agencies would not be watching Guiliani closely is a ludicrous assumption.

      Basically, the whole thing begs the question as to whether or not the President and his thugs have ordered our own intelligence people not to monitor folks close to the President… or have put “loyal” people in charge of such monitoring?

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Consistently, Sondland knows as little about oil – a common denominator for the places he spends his time visiting – as he does about anything but selling hotel rooms to high-flyers.

    Little of that is within the remit of the US ambassador to the EU, which, one would think, has plenty going on just know to keep the US ambassador busy. (Even though Sondland is on record as saying he wants to see it dismantled.) How much of his “work,” then, is really for Trump personally, for his campaign (an in-kind contribution), and for the State Dept?

  5. Vince says:

    “In denying Bill Taylor’s concern about a quid pro quo, he dismisses it as a concern about the appearance of a quid pro quo, rather than the actuality of one.”

    As the Church Lady used to say, “HOW CONVEEENIENT!”.

    • JPLM says:

      I’m more interested in Taylor’s testimony than Sondland, given he’s more of a career diplomat. The text to Sondland on 1st Sept from Taylor asks the question as to a quid pro quo – ‘Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?’. Prompting the response ‘Call me’. Don’t know when Taylor may have called but it would appear a three way conversation took place on Sept 8th between Volker, Taylor and Sondland.
      The text on Sept 9th now asserts the quid pro quo – ‘As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.’ It would appear that from a conversation Taylor had with Sondland between Sept 1st and Sept 9th Taylor is no longer questioning this is the case. It would appear there was no push back against Taylor during the conversation ( IMO more likely confirmation) otherwise he would be unlikely to state it so plainly by text afterwards.

  6. P J Evans says:

    More lies and obstruction. I guess we shouldn’t expect anything else from a bin of tomatoes that are all rotten underneath.

  7. CaliLawyer says:

    I wonder if Rudy’s getting the 702 hints that keep getting leaked? He’s such an idiot he probably just keeps rambling on.

  8. Mickquinas says:

    Just a little thing, but the evidence indicates that it bears emphasis and repetition: what the White House released in late September was NOT a transcript. Sondland’s referrals to it as such are part of an overall (and almost certainly co-ordinated) attempt to inaccurately present it. It really should be noted as [not an actual transcript] every time that statement gets made.

    The incompetence of this Administration is legend, but the idea that what they released, even as damning as it was, wasn’t at the very least understood as an “improved” version of the truth and edited with the idea that it reduced the negative exposure for the president is unrealistic. It continues to amaze me, particularly given what the White House CHOSE to reveal, that more folks aren’t screaming for the unredacted full transcript of this call, and others, especially Trump’s most recent exchange with Erdogan. Even pursuing a redacted version that covered the entire call would make sense.

  9. SomeGuyInMaine says:

    Rough Summary of Sondland Opening Statement:
    * I did nothing wrong
    * President Trump, my boss, told me to
    * Secretary Pompeo approved everything
    * No one ever said anything was wrong
    * I didn’t know any better
    * Whatever I did, everybody else did it with me
    * The press has me all wrong
    * Hey I’m not a partisan hack, a nice millionaire, with a ‘fresh’ perspective; I go along to get along — don’t be so judgey.
    * This all happened so fast, I wish my lawyers had more time to prepare me to be more evasive.
    * Call me (because that’s what diplomats not mobsters do, according to Sondland)

    It’s the lawyered up version of Bart Simpson’s classic “I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me. You can’t prove a thing.’

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    So Mick Mulvaney’s performance art this afternoon – his first briefing of reporters since becoming acting COS months ago – was intended to distract from Sondland’s not too subtle or credible performance in front of Congress? He also seems to be doing a full Col. Jessup.

    It seems to be a distraction from the complete cave Pompeo, Pence, and O’Brien performed in Ankara for Erdogan. I’m beginning to think this administration hasn’t ordered enough knee pads.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      To revisit a phrase from Rove himself, it would appear that Sondland, Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Giuliani, and associated ‘amigos’ are all making themselves ‘fair game’.

    • SomeGuyInMaine says:

      Mulvaney can’t seem to distinguish between Executive Branch policy and partisan campaign objectives.

      His future deposition should be fun, should it get there (and it should).

      His future public testimony in phase two, if/when it gets there even more so.

      This pattern keeps repeating:

      ‘We didn’t do that. What we did was perfectly fine.’

      ‘Even if we did, that’s fine too.’

      ‘Ok, we did do that, but as we said before that’s also perfectly fine.’

      Repeat.

      Prepare for a long running series of goalpost moving exercises.

    • BobCon says:

      With the G7 announcement he is also signalling that Trump will be doubling down on illegal acts. This is the day after ProPublica prints proof that Trump is committing ongoing fraud.

      They are daring everyone to stop them, and gambling that watchdogs will blink. I don’t see a lot of resolve among the watchdogs.

  11. RobertJ says:

    Question – Do US diplomats normally use Whatsapp? I would think that there would be approved means of communications and that these would ensure that messages are properly archived.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      My guess is that it is as inappropriate and outside of legal, departmental, and security protocols as Donald Trump using it.

      • Johnathan Mathews says:

        Of course they are not allowed to! Every communication is supposed to be recorded in official government records and be subject to FOIA requests. Hillary Clinton had to send in every government related email. The reason she didn’t commit a crime is because she didn’t have intent to hide anything. Their using WhatsApp and encrypted communications makes it really easy to show the intent to hide their communications. It’s hard to argue their intent is “WhatsApp was just easier”. Add another count to the impeachment proceedings.

        • SomeGuyInMaine says:

          Surely Pompeo or some responsible person at State has noticed this unauthorized use and requested all such copies of all such communications, and filed and indexed them appropriately.

          Right?

          Also, phone logs of private cell phones should be within subpoena power I’d expect.

          We seem to be at about Act III in this drama.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Shirley, you jest. Pompeo is part of the team abusing official telecoms protocols. He runs the State Dept.

            Anyone who wanted to do what you suggest, which would be essential to preserve the record and comply with the law and good security practice, would be unlikely to get approval. More likely, they would be stopped and reprimanded.

            We have an Augean stables problem: Trump and his people have left their detritus throughout government. Dismantling it in general works for Russia, in particular, it allows Trump to do what he wants with little resistance from other public employees.

            A progressive Democrat, one willing to look back as well as forward, will have to sit in the Oval Office before anything is done to improve this. It is also essential for the Dems to win a Senate majority. Without it, the progressive political appointees needed to make effective changes will rarely obtain Senate confirmation.

  12. Johnathan Mathews says:

    Based on all the public comments I’ve read, I’m not sure that Rick Perry even knew why he was telling the Ukrainian delegation the administration wanted the board of Naftogaz removed. I don’t think that would have even been a red flag for him, because he doesn’t appear to be the brightest guy or know anything about Ukraine or what he was getting into the middle of. And Sondland would have known even less and it wouldn’t have even registered as a big deal to him when Perry said it.

    It looks to me like that directive went from Giuliani to Trump to Perry. And Perry probably didn’t know it’s origins or reasons.

    It’s not like Perry recommended Lev Parnas or anyone in Giuliani’s orbit to the board that I am aware of.

    If anyone has more insight into that or disagrees I would be curious what others know.

    • drouse says:

      Occam’s razor says he most likely didn’t know. If there was ever a politician that dumb as a box of rocks describes, it’s Perry.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Rick Perry is not regarded as the brightest bulb in Texas or the GOP pack. He does seem to have connections in the oil and gas industry, perhaps because he’s a good front man.

      • Tom says:

        And good hair! Didn’t Texans used to call him Governor Good-Hair? And remember his little lesson on economics and the law of supply-and-demand? If you make a product (I think he was talking about coal) people will want to buy it.

        • Teddy says:

          Molly Ivins, RIP, coined “Governor Goodhair” for Rick Perry, iirc.

          Longest-serving Texas Governor, tho.

  13. drouse says:

    Good old “gold bars” Luskin. Last I heard of him was when the Mueller investigation was getting going. He did an interview that I read over at Raw Story. It was basically how sad, how bad and everyone involved should lawyer up. I’m pretty sure he did it to troll for clients.

  14. BobCon says:

    They are trying to contain this to the point where they get a slap on the wrist from the Senate, and I fear Pelosi will let them.

    The latest reports on the House leadership’s thinking say they want to stick to the December conclusion, citing the legislative calendar as a driving force:

    https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/16/impeachment-democrats-2020-congress-048618

    Which makes no sense — you may as well walk into a car dealership and tell them you want to hurry because the lease on your current car runs out in a week.

    • drouse says:

      I so despair of this kind of strategic thinking. Pelosi let slip more of her real thinking during the all roads lead to Putin remarks than she has done before. Not as if it wasn’t anything the military and national security types present haven’t been thinking, judging by their pained expressions.

    • SomeGuyInMaine says:

      The House controls the timetable.

      No reason to send it to the senate if it’s clear, there aren’t the votes and/or strong public opinion.

      The sequence is likely: Private depositions, subpoena records and witness court fights, public house testimony, then vote on articles to send to the Senate.

      They can slow down or speed up to a large degree as makes sense.

      Curious what happens at and around the Nov 21 budget deadline.

      • timbo says:

        The House can send articles one at a time if they want. I expect that they may forward one on soon enough… if Pelosi has the actual votes for it…

        Sigh. Trump used the term “third-grade” but maybe “second-rate” is more the apt description…

        • BobCon says:

          The concern I have is that I am seeing no sign that there is any interest in using Ukraine as only a first salvo of impeachment investigations if the Senate doesn’t follow through.

          For that matter, I’m not seeing any sign that there will be continuing investigations even if the Senate somehow votes him out, which will absolutely need to happen.

          I can see no reason for a rush to close the books, but somehow we are getting that.

  15. PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

    Things are moving so quickly that it’s already displaced, but on Twitter I saw a lot of commentators falling into this trap over articles like this and the nyt already linked: https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/17/gordon-sondland-to-break-from-trump-in-impeachment-testimony-000288

    Disappointing to say the least. I saw Marcy calling out his shifting trial balloons on Twitter but had the sinking feeling a lot of the press would act as stenographers and miss the deeper game.

  16. timbo says:

    Who at State and other organs of the USG had access to intelligence briefs on Guliani’s travels and actions? Where is all that information? It’s improbable that USG would not monitor and track the President’s personal lawyer’s actions on Eastern Europe… or is that the new “normal” for the Trump regime’s national security—to ignore all actions taken by the President’s inner circle? The Congress needs to get to the bottom of that too… while there still is a Congress allowed.

  17. timbo says:

    The Congress needs to get to the bottom of where State, DoD, and other agencies reports on Guilani’s activities outside the country are and who had access to that… if they even exist.

    I’m concerned here that Trump has ordered ort intelligence folks not to monitor his inner circle and/or has put Trump loyalists and parties to this conspiracy to subvert the Constitution and our national security in charge of these intelligence gathering operations.

    The more and more I look at this scandal, the more and more it feels like Watergate or worse.

    And the whack-a-mole criminal President has just upped the ante again with the announcement that the G7 summit will be at Mar-a-lago… how many fires has this criminal started as he seeks to subvert our Constitution? smh

  18. Tom says:

    Sondland’s statement p. 16 — “I recall that, in late July 2019, Ambassadors Taylor and Volker and I exchanged emails in which we all agreed that President Zelensky should have no involvement in 2020 U.S. Presidential election politics.” Was this before or after the President’s July 25th phone call? The emails would be date-stamped so why not give the date(s)? And why would it even be necessary for the three ambassadors to discuss or even have to agree that the President of Ukraine should not be involved in the U.S. Presidential election? That should go without saying. Seems mighty odd that Sondland should think he has to make this point.

    • Rayne says:

      If Sondland had been working on legitimate State Department business to the letter of the law, it’d never have occurred to him the presidential election was an issue.

      Can you say ‘consciousness of guilt’?

      • bmaz says:

        Heh, if Sondland had been working on legitimate State Department business, he would have been nowhere near anything involving Ukraine that is not related to the Association Agreement or Free Trade Agreement (Both of which, if delved into would be done by the EU itself, not the US Ambassador thereto). None of this shit was even close to his remit as US Ambassador to the EU.

        • Rayne says:

          It’s a deep rabbit hole if we follow it — I mean, a legitimate diplomat isn’t a million-dollar campaign donor and actually has some background in diplomacy.

          You have to wonder what the books for Sondland’s hotels look like.

  19. SomeGuyInMaine says:

    Just reread some of Sondland’s opening remarks. He says:

    I have not shared this Opening Statement in advance with either the White House or the State Department.

    Those words seem chosen very carefully. It does not say that he did not consult, coordinate, or prepare his remarks and upcoming testimony with the Whitehouse and or State Department. It just says he didn’t share this particular final product.

    He makes a lot of these fine, careful claims, throughout his prepared remarks.

    I’m guessing his live in person testimony may not dance so finely on the head of a pin, given his reputation as direct and abrupt.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      “I have not shared this Opening Statement….”

      But I could have shared every draft of it with them, they could have written and shared it with me, etc.

      His language throughout left holes like that even Trump could squeeze through. His briefers were too clever by half.

      • bmaz says:

        Yeah, and it seems there were drafts being shared with a couple of journalists. If Sondland was doing that, you know he was sharing them with State and the White House. Also, too, doesn’t mean it was not shared via lawyers. So his “I” testimony on this means close to nothing.

  20. Eureka says:

    Yeah, that “our nation’s most sensitive secrets” bit (on top of the annoying pre-press, very little of which I entertained) really ticked me off. Everything that he *thinks* he is accomplishing with that statement is morally repugnant, every last wink-and-nod of it.

    His other servile language just makes me wish we could be rid of these jokers in “public service.” It’s a shame that politics and other public realms attract people who are desperate for attention. The gloss I got from a WaPo the other day was that given an economically diverse high school experience, Sondland still wants to be the guy with the nice car. Rock on your own dime, dude.

  21. Mooser says:

    When a “quid-pro-quo” involves criminally denying or adding ‘vigorish’ to something you were already supposed to get, isn’t that usually called extortion, or a shakedown?

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