The sound of Sondland

Observing the many hours of EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland testifying in the impeachment theater now running on the House Intelligence Committee, I think this is the short version. Gordon Sondland, I presume. Gordon Sondland: I presume.

What a strange performance. Sondland seemed to be a victim of Stockholm syndrome, yukking it up with his captors. Why is this man laughing? That is one question I can’t answer.

Sondland’s presumptions gave the Democrats what they wanted in the form of his “presumptions.” Sondland’s presented his presumptions in the form of a quid pro quo. The Democrats of course celebrated Sondland’s presumptions as the facts of the case. What a way to run a railroad (so to speak).

The Wall Street Journal editorial “Sondland’s unimpeachable offenses” leads with a useful summary: “[Sondland’s] account essentially confirms that Mr. Trump had a negative view of Ukraine, was reluctant to keep supplying U.S. aid, and asked Mr. Sondland and others to work with Rudy Giuliani to press Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce that he was opening an anti-corruption probe….”

Translation: “In other words, the President was directing policy, as he has the right to do, and nearly everyone in security positions seemed to know about it. As we’ve known since Mr. Trump released the transcript of his July 25 phone call with Mr. Zelensky, this may have been the least secret foreign-policy fiasco in memory. We’re almost embarrassed as journalists that we didn’t know about it.”

Sondland testified in his opening statement to a quid pro quo “[w]ith regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting [between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky].”

The Journal editorial comments:

But note that Mr. Sondland says nothing about aid to Ukraine being part of the quid, and under questioning later he said he merely “presumed” there were preconditions for a Trump-Zelensky meeting. He never heard that directly from Mr. Trump, and on one call with Mr. Sondland the President flatly rejected the idea. We also know that on three separate occasions, including the July 25 phone call, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Zelensky to the White House without preconditions.

Mr. Sondland also said, under questioning by Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman, that he wasn’t even sure if Mr. Giuliani cared about the result of any Ukraine investigation—only that Mr. Zelensky publicly declare that one had been opened. “I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or be completed,” Mr. Sondland said. “The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form.”…

The editorial then turns to the November 18 letter sent by Senator Ron Johnson to House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes and member Jim Jordan that I posted here:

The Wisconsin Republican has taken a personal interest in Ukraine since he joined the Senate in 2011, and in a Nov. 18 letter to House Intelligence Members he explains what he saw and heard at the White House and on visits to Ukraine.

Mr. Johnson relates how he returned from Mr. Zelensky’s inaugural to brief Mr. Trump and discovered how hostile the President was to Ukraine. Mr. Johnson supported military aid and thought Mr. Zelensky, as a newly elected President, could do much to reduce corruption. The Senator spent the next months working with others, inside and outside the Administration, to change the President’s mind.

Eventually he prevailed, and the aid was released on Sept. 11. Mr. Johnson says Mr. Trump called him on Aug. 31 and told him, “Ron, I understand your position. We’re reviewing it now, and you’ll probably like my final decision.” This matters because Democrats claim Mr. Trump released the aid only because they were on the impeachment trail.

“To my knowledge, most members of the administration and Congress dealing with the issues involving Ukraine disagreed with President Trump’s attitude and approach toward Ukraine,” Mr. Johnson writes. “Many who had the opportunity and ability to influence the president attempted to change his mind. I see nothing wrong with U.S. officials working with Ukrainian officials to demonstrate Ukraine’s commitment to reform in order to change President Trump’s attitude and gain his support.”

But Mr. Johnson adds that officials cannot substitute their policy for the President’s and that impeachment is doing “a great deal of damage to our democracy”—not least by making presidential phone calls with foreign leaders open to public disclosure.

Sondland’s testimony reintroduced the quid pro quo charge that the Democrats had abandoned. In all the excitement occasioned by Sondland’s opening statement and further elaboration of his “presumptions,” it was easy to lose the thread in which quo followed without quid.

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