It is still Wednesday morning as I begin to pen this article. A bit before 9am Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s appearance before the House Intelligence Committee he released the text of his opening statement and the American political world saw the first bomb of the Trump impeachment inquiry land. Let’s explore.
Sondland is a lifelong Republican and longtime significant donor to political candidates of both parties. He donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund and was subsequently named U. S. Ambassador to the European Union. Since he had no diplomatic experience or education those dots are easy to connect.
Sondland is as pro-Trump as anyone. Remember the President – who says he hardly knows him – took a middle of the night call from Sondland. To me Sondland appears to be one of those pragmatic deep pocketed donors. Note his big donation was to the Inaugural fund, not the campaign. He didn’t bet so much as made an investment. His return on investment may entail some free federal housing in the not too distant future.
I caught just enough of the pre-hearing news chatter to know I had to rearrange my morning schedule to the point that I watched the hearings at least through Sondland’s opening statement. He did not disappoint!
The hearing opened a few minutes late due to the empty chairs of Republicans Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan and John Ratcliffe. Presumably they were on the phone with Trump getting their instructions on how to handle Sondland.
Adam Schiff began with an opening statement that a prosecution lawyer might give to a jury. That is exactly what he was doing and the jury is the TV audience. Nunes in his opening statement ran the same play that has failed in the prior hearings. Terms like “Story time” and “Circus” were its features.
At 9:33am Sondland began a statement that concluded at 10:15am. It began with the obligatory recognitions and biography but by 9:43am the bomb crater was apparent. He implicated Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Rudy Giuliani and (later) Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney among others.
Sondland went out of his way to basically say: do what you will with them but please spare me. He appeared both physically and in his statements to be a man trying to avoid prison time. (I don’t think he was successful if that was his goal; but while I can’t see forgiveness he may have done enough to gain leniency.)
In the process (and I assume of necessity) he tried to absolve the other of the three amigos, Ambassador Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. He said they were caught on an increasingly slippery slope, had only the best of intentions and “We followed the President’s orders”. As have several other witnesses to date, he really hung Rudy Giuliani out to dry. He repeated said that Trump told him, “Talk to Rudy”.
His summation reinforced his often repeated message that the three amigos were simply following orders when he said “Our efforts were reported and approved” as he concluded his statement at 10:15am.
Before most working Americans got their morning coffee break the headlines of the day were written and Gordon Sondland was effectively their author. (How does Wednesday night’s debate compete with this?)
Here are my biggest questions: When will the Republicans realize the only “defense” they have left is to admit to the facts but contend that Trump’s actions don’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense and was this the beginning of the (in my opinion) inevitable dam break.
If Sondland should decide to write a book about his diplomatic experiences I have the title – The Worst Million I Ever Spent.
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