On Wednesday morning, EU ambassador Gordon Sondland delivered what, by almost every account, was a devastating opening statement during his hotly-anticipated public testimony before House impeachment investigators.
Sondland emerged last month as perhaps the key player in the Ukraine saga. Witness after witness suggested it was Sondland who worked directly with Trump to bridge the gap between Rudy Giuliani’s shadow campaign in the country and official US policy towards the fledgling government of Volodymyr Zelensky. Late last month, Sondland was forced to revise his closed-door testimony to lawmakers after key portions were called into question by subsequent testimony from, among others, Bill Taylor.
On Wednesday, Sondland took the opportunity to tell the country, on national television, that he was hardly the only guy “in on it”, so to speak. In fact, Sondland said, “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret”. “Was there a ‘quid pro quo?'”, he asked, on your behalf, before responding to his own question: “The answer is yes”.
Read Sondland’s opening statement in full
Fortunately for the White House, Donald Trump barely knows Sondland.
Here is the president pretending that Sondland is some peripheral character with only loose ties to the Oval Office:
As you can see, the president is quite literally reading from his own notes, and he is screaming at reporters, above and beyond the decibel level required to be heard over the whir of Marine One’s rotors.
“I don’t know him very well”, Trump went on to insist. “I haven’t spoken to him very much”.
To be clear, that isn’t just misleading, it is comically false. Sondland had a direct line to Trump. Indeed, the two have a famously cozy rapport, on full display during the already infamous July 26 call, during which Trump, shouting so loudly that Sondland had to hold the phone away from his ear while dining in a Kyiv restaurant, asked “So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’”
“He’s gonna do it'”, Sondland responded. “Zelensky loves your ass”.
That description of the conversation (originally recounted by Taylor aide David Holmes), was verified by Sondland on live television Wednesday. “Sounds like something I would say. That’s how President Trump and I communicate, a lot of four-letter words. Three letters in this case”, he remarked.
But beyond that, don’t let it be lost on you that Sondland donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee.
In September, Trump described Sondland as a “highly respected” man.
Now, he barely knows the guy.