WASHINGTON — Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, has emerged as a critical witness in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald 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.
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 Trump’s inauguration, he has emerged as a crucial player in Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to announce investigations to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden 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 Sondland’s account, his own revisions and the testimony of others.
Sondland said he “never” believed military aid for Ukraine was linked to investigations, but he later confirmed he had told the Ukrainians it was.
A witness testified that 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 Trump wanted. Timothy Morrison, a former top National Security Council official who dealt with Ukraine, said that 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 Biden’s son Hunter.
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 anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland said in his new statement.
It matters because Democrats are investigating how 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.
Sondland never told impeachment investigators about a July conversation he had with Trump in which they discussed investigation into the Bidens.
A witness testified that Sondland had a phone call with Trump in July while at a restaurant in Kyiv. David Holmes, a diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, testified that he was sitting at an outdoor table with Sondland when he spoke to Trump about President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine and that he could hear Trump’s voice.
“President Zelenskiy ‘loves our ass,’ ” Holmes said he heard Sondland tell the president.
“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘He’s going to do the investigation?’ ” Holmes said.
“’He’s going to do it,’ ” Holmes said Sondland responded, adding that the ambassador said Zelenskiy would do whatever Trump wanted.
Sondland testified that he spoke with Trump before Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy 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,” Sondland said. “I said we’re headed to Kyiv to go see Zelenskiy, and he was like, ‘Oh, great,’ whatever. That was sort of the end of the call. We never discussed anything substantive.”
Sondland also testified: “I think I called him and said I’m headed to Kyiv to meet President Zelenskiy 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 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 Trump’s desire for investigations he saw as politically advantageous.
Sondland said he did not understand that Trump was demanding an investigation into the Bidens, but other witnesses testified that he was well aware.
Witnesses testified that in a July meeting at the White House, Sondland told senior National Security Council staff and Ukrainian officials that the Ukrainians would have to commit to the investigations to receive an Oval Office meeting with 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,” Vindman said.
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 Sondland knew that the request from the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for the Ukrainians to investigate Burisma Holdings were essentially political in nature and not a product of more general concerns by the president about corruption in Ukraine, as Trump has insisted.
There is a significant gap between Sondland’s story and what the former ambassador to Ukraine testified Sondland told her about how to keep her job amid a smear campaign against her.
A witness testified that Sondland suggested to Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, that praising the president on Twitter would help after Giuliani and others publicly criticized her as disloyal to 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.
Sondland testified “I honestly don’t recall,” when asked whether he had spoken with Yovanovitch about her job.
It matters because Democrats are investigating why Trump pushed to have 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 Sondland’s role in the efforts to lean on the Ukrainians, investigators want to know what he knew about Yovanovitch’s effort to preserve her job and any involvement he had in those efforts.