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“We Followed the President’s Orders”: Gordon Sondland’s Testimony Likely Assures Trump’s Impeachment

The U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, delivered testimony on Wednesday that all but assured President Trump’s impeachment. Sondland explained that he and other senior officials worked with the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, “at the express direction of the President of the United States” to secure an investigation of President Trump’s potential political rival Joe Biden, in exchange for American military aid and a White House visit. “We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt,” he testified. “We followed the President’s orders.”

Sondland said the efforts were known to Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former national-security adviser John Bolton, and other senior members of the Administration. He testified that Giuliani “was expressing the desire of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President.” Sondland read aloud from e-mails that he said confirmed that State Department officials and senior officials in the White House were “all informed about the Ukraine efforts” and that “everyone was in the loop.”

For weeks, Democrats have sought to prove that Trump explicitly conditioned the White House visit and aid on the announcement of a Biden investigation. Sondland left no doubt of that. “I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ ” Sondland said. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, immediately signalled that Sondland’s statement described impeachable offenses. “If the President abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reëlection campaign, and did so by withholding official acts, a White House meeting, or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid,” Schiff said, “it will be up to us to decide whether those acts are compatible with the office of the Presidency.”

Sondland’s testimony also raised the possibility of an article of impeachment regarding obstruction of justice. Sondland said he had not had access to “all of my phone records, State Department e-mails, and other State Department documents” that would have helped him in preparing his testimony. “These documents are not classified,” Sondland said. “They should have been made available.”

Schiff then issued a direct warning to Trump that framed the withholding of State Department documents as comparable to the acts of obstruction that helped bring down President Richard Nixon.“We can see why Secretary Pompeo and President Trump have made such a concerted and across-the-board effort to obstruct this investigation and this impeachment inquiry,” Schiff said. “And I will just say this: they do so at their own peril. I remind the President that Article Three of the impeachment articles drafted against President Nixon was his refusal to obey the subpoenas of Congress.”

Trump and his Republican allies immediately attacked Sondland’s credibility and tried to downplay the importance of his testimony. The ranking Republican member of the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, dismissed the hearings as “story time” and “asinine.” Republicans will emphasize that Sondland testified that the President did not personally order him to carry out the scheme. Sondland nonetheless said that he came to the conclusion that it existed. The audience that matters, though, is Republican members of the Senate, who would serve as jurors in an impeachment trial of Trump. Sondland testified under oath that the President manipulated U.S. foreign policy for his personal benefit, and that the White House is blocking the release of specific documents that corroborate Sondland’s account. For those Republican senators who have tried to maintain some distance from the President, the stakes are perilously high.



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