US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland arrives on Capitol Hill in what's shaping up to be the most consequential hearing of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and Ukraine.
Sondland is at the middle of the House's investigation into whether the President conditioned US security aid and a White House meeting with Ukraine announcing investigations into the President's political rivals. Sondland told Ukrainian officials on multiple occasions that security aid and one-on-one meeting were conditioned on announcing the investigations, and several other witnesses have testified they were told by Sondland that the President told him they were linked.
Now it's Sondland's turn to explain those conversations.
Since Sondland testified last month, multiple administration officials have provided testimony that contradicted his account. In one instance, Sondland amended his testimony when he recalled the episode in the wake of others' testimony, but more questions abound about Sondland's interactions with the President and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, including a July 26 call with Trump that Sondland did not include in his testimony but a US diplomat subsequently told impeachment investigators he had overheard where Trump asked Sondland if the Ukrainians were "gonna do the investigation?"
Sondland's testimony about that call and his other interactions with Trump has the potential to reshape the impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Multiple GOP sources say they are most worried about what Sondland will do -- and whether he will turn on the President. The fear, Republicans say, is that he could undercut the last GOP defense: That no one heard Trump directly tie military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an announcement of investigations. Republicans plan to question his credibility if he goes that route, but at the moment, lawmakers don't know if he will further revise his testimony.
But Sondland also represents the Democrats' best chance to tie Trump directly to a quid pro quo, since other senior officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney have defied subpoenas to testify in the impeachment inquiry.
"I am going wait to see what he says," said Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat. "I am not throwing out any accusations. I am not passing any aspersions at him right now because the most important thing he can do is just come forward and tell us what he says."
Sondland will also have the chance to respond to testimony by a number of administration officials, current and former, who have criticized his operating style that witnesses described as going outside normal government channels. Former NSC aide Tim Morrison testified Tuesday that his predecessor, Fiona Hill, "coined it the 'Gordon problem.'"
The July 26 call, revealed last week by US diplomat Bill Taylor, is just one of a number of episodes where questions have arisen about Sondland's testimony where Democrats are likely to try to pin Sondland down on what was said. Sondland told Ukrainian officials on July 10, according to multiple witnesses, that the White House meeting they were seeking was conditioned on opening an investigation. Then on September 1, he told Ukrainian aides that the frozen US security aid would be released if the Ukrainian prosecutor general announced the political investigations.
Taylor testified that Sondland told him "everything" was conditioned on the investigations. And that the President had told him on there was "no quid pro quo" but also said that Zelensky should "go to a microphone" to announce the investigation. Morrison on Tuesday corroborated that testimony.
"I understood that's what Ambassador Sondland believed," Morrison said.
"After speaking to President Trump?" Goldman asked.
"That's what he represented," Morrison responded.