/Why Discrepancies in Gordon Sondland’s Testimony in the Impeachment Inquiry Loom Large
Why Discrepancies in Gordon Sondland’s Testimony in the Impeachment Inquiry Loom Large

Why Discrepancies in Gordon Sondland’s Testimony in the Impeachment Inquiry Loom Large

Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union set to testify in a public hearing Wednesday, has a lot of explaining to do.

Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Michael S. SchmidtNicholas Fandos

WASHINGTON — Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, has emerged as a critical witness in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. But when he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, he will have to answer for several inconsistencies that have emerged in his story so far.

Mr. Sondland answered questions privately for more than nine hours in an interview last month with the House Intelligence Committee. Weeks later, he amended his testimony with a lengthy sworn statement. A hotelier and megadonor to Mr. Trump’s inauguration, he has emerged as a crucial player in Mr. Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to announce investigations to discredit former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats. His own statements have called into question his credibility, after several other witnesses have raised doubts about his candor.

Here are the discrepancies between Mr. Sondland’s account, his own revisions, and the testimony of others.

A witness testified that Mr. Sondland told a top Ukrainian official that the military aid the country needed to defend itself from the Russians was tied to the Ukranians publicly committing to the investigations that Mr. Trump wanted. Timothy Morrison, a former top National Security Council official who dealt with Ukraine, said that Mr. Sondland told the Ukranians that “the prosecutor general would to go the mic and announce that he was opening” an investigation into Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board of directors at one point included Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.

Mr. Sondland testified that he “never” thought there was any precondition on the aid. But two weeks later, he amended his testimony, saying he had indeed told the Ukrainians that the military aid was tied to the investigations.

“I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Mr. Sondland said in his new statement.

It matters because Democrats are investigating how Mr. Trump sought to pressure the Ukrainians and who the president used to carry out the campaign. A muddy picture of how the administration sought to influence the Ukrainians makes getting to the bottom of that matter more difficult.

A witness testified that Mr. Sondland had a phone call with Mr. Trump in July while at a restaurant in Kyiv. David Holmes, a diplomat at the American embassy in Kyiv, testified that he was sitting at an outdoor table with Mr. Sondland when he spoke to Mr. Trump about President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, and that he could hear Mr. Trump’s voice.

“President Zelensky ‘loves your ass,’” Mr. Holmes said he heard Mr. Sondland tell the president.

“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘He’s going to do the investigation?’” Mr. Holmes said.

“’He’s going to do it,’” Mr. Holmes said Mr. Sondland responded, adding that the ambassador said Mr. Zelensky would do whatever Mr. Trump wanted.

Mr. Sondland testified that he spoke with Mr. Trump before Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with Mr. Zelensky but made no mention of speaking with him the day after the call.

“As I said, I spoke with President Trump before I got on the plane, I believe, to Kyiv and it was a nothing call,” Mr. Sondland said. “I said we’re headed to Kyiv to go see Zelensky and he was like, ‘Oh, great,’ whatever. That was sort of the end of the call. We never discussed anything substantive.”

Mr. Sondland also testified: “I think I called him and said I’m headed to Kyiv to meet President Zelensky and Ambassador Volker. Is there anything you want me to share? And he just didn’t want to discuss it. ‘No, go. I don’t know why you’re going.’ ”

It matters because it shows that Mr. Sondland did not share key details with the committee that point to how enmeshed he had become in the efforts to convey to the Ukrainians Mr. Trump’s desire for investigations he saw as politically advantageous.

Witnesses testified that in a July meeting at the White House, Mr. Sondland told senior National Security Council staff and Ukrainian officials that the Ukrainians would have to commit to the investigations in order to receive an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump.

“What did you hear Sondland say?” an impeachment investigator asked Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the council’s top Ukraine expert.

“That the Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens,” Colonel Vindman said.

Mr. Sondland testified that he “never made the connection between Burisma and the Bidens until the very end.”

“I heard the word ‘Burisma,’ but I didn’t understand that Biden and Burisma were connected,” Sondland said. “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.”

It matters because it indicates that Mr. Sondland knew that the request from the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, for the Ukrainians to investigate Burisma Holdings was essentially political in nature, and not a product of more general concerns by the president about corruption in Ukraine, as Mr. Trump has insisted.




How Does the Impeachment Process Work?

Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.

“Impeachment by its nature, it’s a political process.” “What people think is going to happen can turn out to be very different from what happens.” “Because it has to do with elected officials holding another elected official to account for their conduct.” When the framers of the Constitution created a process to remove a president from office, they were well … kind of vague. So to understand how it’s going to play out, the past is really our best guide. “I think we’re just all in for a really crazy ride.” Collectively, these New York Times reporters have covered U.S. politics for over 150 years. “I’m also a drummer in a band, so …” They’ve reported on past impeachment inquiries. “Yea, I’m lost in Senate wonderland.” And they say that the three we’ve had so far have been full of twists and turns. “The president of the United States is not guilty as charged.” In short, expect the unexpected. First, the process. Impeachment is technically only the initial stage. “Common misconceptions about impeachment are that impeachment by itself means removal from office. It doesn’t. The impeachment part of the process is only the indictment that sets up a trial.” The Constitution describes offenses that are grounds for removing the president from office as bribery, treason and — “They say high crimes and misdemeanors, which, really, is in the eye of the beholder.” “The framers didn’t give us a guidebook to it. They simply said, that the House had the responsibility for impeachment and the Senate had the responsibility for the trial.” One of the things missing from the Constitution? How an impeachment inquiry should start. And that has generally been a source of drama. Basically, anything goes. “In fact, in the Andrew Johnson case they voted to impeach him without even having drafted the articles of impeachment.” For Richard Nixon, his case started with several investigations that led to public hearings. That part of the process went on for two years, and yielded revelation after revelation, connecting Nixon to a politically-motivated burglary at D.N.C. headquarters — “… located in the Watergate office building.” — and its subsequent cover-up. “Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?” “I was aware of listening devices. Yes, sir.” “This was a shocker. Everybody in the White House recognized how damaging this could be.” As the House drafted articles of impeachment, Nixon lost the support of his party. “O.K., I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.” “I was asked to write the farewell piece that ran the morning after Nixon resigned. And this is what I wrote: The central question is how a man who won so much could have lost so much.” So for Nixon, it more or less ended after the investigations. But for Bill Clinton, that phase was just the beginning. “This is the information.” An independent counsel’s investigation into his business dealings unexpectedly turned into a very public inquiry about his personal life. “The idea that a president of the United States was having an affair with a White House intern and then a federal prosecutor was looking at that, it was just extraordinary.” That investigation led to public hearings in the House Judiciary Committee. “When the Starr Report was being delivered to Congress it was a little bit like the O.J. chase, only a political one. There were two black cars. They were being filmed live on CNN. They were heading towards the Capitol. We were watching it and a little bit agog.” Public opinion is key. And the media plays a huge part in the process. This was definitely true for Clinton. “You know it was just a crazy time. We worked in the Senate press gallery.” “All your colleagues are kind of piled on top of each other.” “We had crummy computers, the fax machine would always break. The printer would always break.” After committee hearings, the House brought formal impeachment charges. “It was very tense. I thought that the Saturday of the impeachment vote in the House was one of the most tense days I’d experienced in Washington.” And it turned out, also, full of surprises. “The day of impeachment arrived, everyone’s making very impassioned speeches about whether Bill Clinton should or should not be impeached and Livingston rises to give an argument for the House Republicans. He started to talk about how Clinton could resign.” “You, sir, may resign your post.” “And all of a sudden people start booing and saying, ‘Resign, resign’!” “So I must set the example.” “He announced he was resigning because he had had extramarital affairs and challenged President Clinton to do the only honorable thing, in his view —” “I hope President Clinton will follow.” “— to resign as well, so there was all this drama unfolding even in the midst of impeachment.” Then it went to the Senate for trial. The Constitution gets a little more specific about this part. “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is supposed to preside over that trial.” “Rehnquist, he showed up in this robe he had made for himself, which had gold stripes on the sleeves because he liked Gilbert and Sullivan.” “The Senate is the actual jury.” “You will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws. So help you, God.” “This is a copy of the rules of the Senate for handling impeachment. They’re actually very specific.” “Meet six days a week.” “Convene at noon. The senators have to sit at their desks and remain quiet in their role as jurors. And not talk, which trust me, is going to be a problem for some of the senators who are used to talking all the time.” It’s just like a courtroom trial. There are prosecutors who present the case against the president. “That was perjury.” Only, they’re members of the House, and they’re called managers. Then the senators, or the jurors, vote. And things are still, unpredictable. “The options are guilty or not guilty. But there was one senator —” “Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania.” “Under Scottish law, there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty and not proved.” “— which is not a thing.” “And everybody just looks, you know, how do you even record that vote?” In the end, there were not enough votes to oust Clinton. “What’s amazing about this whole thing to me wasn’t so much the constitutional process. It was that it felt to me like the beginning of really intense partisanship, the weaponization of partisanship.” And here’s the thing: An impeachment charge has never gotten the two-thirds majority it needs in the Senate to actually oust a president from office. “So you could end up having a situation where the president is impeached, acquitted and runs for re-election and wins re-election.” And that would be a first. “This is my ticket to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. I don’t think you’ll find these on StubHub.”

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Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.CreditCredit…Photo illustration by Aaron Byrd

A witness testified that Mr. Sondland suggested to Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine, that praising the president on Twitter would help after Mr. Giuliani and others publicly criticized her as disloyal to Mr. Trump.

“He said, you know, ‘You need to go big or go home. You need to, you know, tweet out there that you support the President, and that all these are lies and everything else,’ ” she testified.

Mr. Sondland testified “I honestly don’t recall,” when asked whether he had spoken with Ms. Yovanovitch about her job.

It matters because Democrats are investigating why Mr. Trump pushed to have Ms. Yovanovitch removed as ambassador, and whether it had anything to do with his broader campaign to pressure Ukraine to pursue the investigations he wanted. Given Mr. Sondland’s role in the efforts to lean on the Ukrainians, investigators want to know what he knew about Ms. Yovanovitch’s effort to preserve her job and any involvement he had in those effo

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