Presumes a quid pro quo — but proves the opposite.
According to the mainstream anti-Trump media and the House Democrats who are intent on ousting President Trump from office, Gordon Sondland, President Trump’s choice as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, delivered blockbuster testimony against the president. They have latched onto Ambassador Sondland’s very lengthy opening statement that supposedly supports the Democrats’ case of a quid pro quo that was allegedly pushed by Rudy Giuliani at the president’s direction.
After asking rhetorically, “Was there a quid pro quo?” Ambassador Sondland answered his own question. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes. We followed the president’s orders.” Ambassador Sondland added that he later concluded the White House was also withholding $391 million in security aid in return for “some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
Unfortunately for the House Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media, Ambassador Sondland’s answers to cross-examination questions that followed his opening statement seriously undercut the Democrats’ impeachment narrative. Here are four key takeaways:
Amb. Sondland Presumes Quid Pro Quo Without Any Hard Evidence
Ambassador Sondland admitted that his conclusion tying the release of the withheld security aid to Ukraine to “some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks” was only his own presumption, supported by no direct evidence. He conceded, in response to a question from Republican Rep. Mike Turner, that nobody told him that President Trump linked the Ukraine aid to a Biden investigation. “No one on this planet told you that President Trump was tying aid to investigations. Yes or no?” Rep. Turner asked. Sondland replied: “Yes.” In a follow-up question, Rep. Turner asked, “So you really have no testimony here today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations?” Ambassador Sondland replied, “Other than my own presumption.” At another point in his testimony, the ambassador downgraded his “presumption” of a quid pro quo to “my own personal guess.”
Ambassador Sondland replied no when he was asked whether President Trump ever told him personally about any preconditions for anything. That would have included a White House meeting between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky as well as the release of the security assistance. He said that he never heard anything from the president regarding any push for investigations into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election or Burisma. Ambassador Sondland also testified, “I never heard anyone say the investigations had to start, or be completed.” His understanding from others that he spoke with – not the president himself – was that the investigations just had to be announced publicly. As it turns out, there was no public announcement of an investigation before or after the security aid was released. And the investigations at issue were not started.
So much for the blaring headlines that Ambassador Sondland’s testimony proved the Democrats’ case of quid pro quo or bribery. “Presumptions” and “personal guesses” do not constitute proof of anything.
Amb. Sondland’s Critical Call With President Trump Is Exculpatory Evidence
Ambassador Sondland was unable to explain why he left out of his lengthy opening statement what transpired during a crucial telephone conversation that he had directly with President Trump on or about September 9, 2019. In response to Ambassador Sondland’s query to President Trump on that call inquiring what the president wanted from Ukraine, President Trump replied that he wanted nothing from Ukraine except for President Zelensky “to do the right thing” and to carry out the program he had run on, which was transparency and fighting corruption. “This is an exculpatory fact shedding some light on the president’s state of mind,” GOP counsel Steve Castor said to Ambassador Sondland.
After listening to some of Ambassador Sondland’s testimony, President Trump tweeted what he had said on the call. He also referred to what he told Ambassador Sondland after learning that the ambassador was preparing to provide congressional testimony: “‘I WANT NOTHING! I WANT NOTHING! I WANT NO QUID PRO QUO! TELL PRESIDENT ZELENSKY TO DO THE RIGHT THING!’ Later, Ambassador Sondland said that I told him, ‘Good, go tell the truth!’ This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!”
In short, Ambassador Sondland’s conversations with the president regarding Ukraine contradict any notion of corrupt intent on the president’s part. All the Democrats can do is make the absurd assumption of their own that President Trump was speaking in “code.”
Amb. Sondland Testifies On President Trump’s Skepticism Regarding Foreign Aid and Ukraine
Ambassador Sondland testified that President Trump had reservations regarding the amount of U.S. spending on foreign aid and the failure of European countries to do their fair share in providing financial support to Ukraine. His testimony is backed up by the call memo released by the Trump administration regarding President Trump’s July 25, 2019 call with President Zelensky. Ambassador Sondland also testified that at a May 23rd meeting he attended with the president to brief him on the recently elected President Zelensky, “President Trump was skeptical.” Ambassador Sondland added, “He expressed concerns that the Ukrainian government was not serious about reform. He even mentioned that Ukraine tried to take him down in the last election.”
This testimony runs counter to the Democrats’ narrative that President Trump’s motive for placing a hold on the security assistance was to pressure Ukraine into undertaking investigations for his own personal political benefit. The direct evidence that Ambassador Sondland provided in his testimony pointed instead to President Trump’s skepticism about U.S. foreign aid in general, Europe’s free-riding on U.S. spending to support Ukraine, and the president’s skepticism regarding Ukraine’s commitment to anti-corruption reform given its history and reported efforts to undermine his candidacy.
Amb. Sondland’s Testimony On The Bidens
Ambassador Sondland testified that he did not realize that references to Burisma in the context of asking Ukraine to conduct “investigations” meant looking into the Bidens specifically. Ambassador Sondland also said, in response to Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik’s question, that Hunter Biden’s serving on Burisma’s board of directors was clearly “an appearance of a conflict [of interest].”
Nevertheless, Democrat Rep. Sean Maloney badgered Ambassador Sondland concerning the Bidens. He did so towards the end of the ambassador’s testimony, asking repeatedly, “Who would benefit from an investigation of the Bidens?” Displaying increasing frustration, Ambassador Sondland finally responded, “I assume President Trump would.” Rep. Maloney then sought to convert Ambassador Sondland’s assumption in response to a hypothetical question into some sort of a major concession of President Trump’s guilt that had to be pulled out of a reluctant witness. In a condescending manner, Rep. Maloney said, “There we have it. See. Didn’t hurt a bit, did it? Didn’t hurt a bit.” Ambassador Sondland at that point fired back. The ambassador retorted, “Mr. Maloney, excuse me. I’ve been very forthright, and I really resent what you’re trying to do.”
What Rep. Maloney and his Democrat colleagues tried all day to do was to mislead the American people by characterizing Ambassador’s Sondland’s presumptions and assumptions as Perry Mason moments. At the same time, when Ambassador Sondland provided direct firsthand evidence of what President Trump actually said to him that included no references to the security assistance, Burisma or the Bidens, the Democrats’ basic reaction was “Never mind.”
In sum, despite the Democrats’ desperate spin, parroted by the Trump haters in the mainstream media, Ambassador Sondland’s testimony as to what he actually knew firsthand sharply contradicted the Democrats’ impeachment narrative. The Democrats should end their time-wasting exercise now. But they won’t because smearing President Trump and trying to push him out of office are more important to them than serving the American people with legislative accomplishments that can help Americans in their daily lives.