Politics: 4 takeaways from Gordon Sondland’s and Kurt Volker’s testimonies - - PressFrom - US
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Politics 4 takeaways from Gordon Sondland’s and Kurt Volker’s testimonies

22:10  05 november  2019
22:10  05 november  2019 Source:   washingtonpost.com

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We got two of the most important transcripts of the Ukraine investigation on Tuesday, with the House releasing the depositions of European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. Both were instrumental in managing President Trump’s and Rudolph W. Giuliani’s insistence that Ukraine launch investigations that could benefit Trump politically. They formed two of the so-called “three amigos” in charge of that process, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Donald Trump, Gordon Sondland are posing for a picture: President Trump is joined by Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, second from right, as he arrives at Melsbroek Air Base in Brussels in July 2018.© Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP President Trump is joined by Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, second from right, as he arrives at Melsbroek Air Base in Brussels in July 2018.

Below are some key takeaways.

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1. Sondland strongly confirms a quid pro quo — but doesn’t connect it to Trump

We knew that Sondland’s lawyer clarified his testimony to the Wall Street Journal, saying Sondland did in fact confirm a quid pro quo.

And now we see that clarification was apparently sent to the impeachment inquiry, too — on Monday. In it, Sondland says there was no other “credible” explanation other than a quid pro quo and confirms the testimonies of acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor and National Security Council aide Tim Morrison and the public comments of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), all of whom said Sondland had described an explicit quid pro quo.

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Sondland said that in “the beginning of September 2019, and in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of [hundreds of millions of dollars of military] aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement” that the Trump team asked Ukraine to make about the investigations. He added that “it would have been natural for me to have voiced what I had presumed to Ambassador Taylor, Senator Johnson, the Ukrainians and Mr. Morrison.”

Sondland also says, as Taylor and Morrison testified, that he told a top Ukrainian official that the “resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

Importantly, though — and this is key — Sondland doesn’t say this directive came from Trump. He instead says he was acting on his presumption. That could provide Trump a layer of insulation.

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At the same time, though, even as Sondland has said Trump insisted to him there was no quid pro quo, everything about the situation he describes indicates there was a quid pro quo in everything but name.

2. Sondland thought the Biden setup was illegal

Sondland, a Trump appointee and Trump donor too, clearly wasn’t exactly looking to blow the lid off this scandal. But at certain points, he did suggest that the kind of quid pro quos that have been the subject of much debate — and have been confirmed by no fewer than six people, including him now — would indeed be bad and probably illegal.

Sondland’s main defense has been that, while he did push for an investigation into the company that employed Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, Burisma Holdings, he didn’t know the situation involved the Bidens.

When he was asked why he was drawing that line, he acknowledged it was because that setup was bad.

“Because I believe I testified that it would be improper to do that,” he said.

A member then asked him, “And illegal, right?”

“I’m not a lawyer, but I assume so,” Sondland said.

Sondland added: “Again, I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know the law exactly. It doesn’t sound good.”

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Whether Sondland thinks this was illegal doesn’t mean it is — just as Morrison saying Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky wasn’t illegal doesn’t mean it wasn’t. But the fact that even Sondland, a Trump ally, is acknowledging the gravity of this is telling. And it makes it much more difficult for the Trump team to argue there’s nothing to see here.

This is a central figure, saying what we’ve learned actually happened was something he believed was illegal.

3. Sondland’s defense of himself still makes no sense

We already knew based on Sondland’s opening statement that his defense was ignorance on the Biden-Burisma stuff.

As I wrote though, that badly strains credulity. Giuliani’s efforts to obtain such an investigation was reported publicly in early May, and he said at the time that this was explicitly about the Bidens. Trump himself also floated all of this publicly on May 19. Yet Sondland said in his opening statement that he was unaware of the connection on May 23 and even as late as August.

The idea that someone intimately involved in Ukraine like Sondland wouldn’t know why there was such interest in Burisma — and didn’t care to find out — seems impossible. And when pressed on this Sondland didn’t really have good answers:

3 big takeaways from Bill Taylor’s full transcript

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Q: Well, but Mr. Giuliani was talking about Burisma and the Bidens. And it’s your testimony today you had no idea of any Biden connection to Burisma, it came as a complete revelation when you read the call record in September?
SONDLAND: I don’t recall when I finally—when the light finally went on that Burisma and the Bidens were connected, but certainly not early on at all. I can’t tell you the day that finally I said, oh, Burisma equals Biden. I have no idea when that was.
Q: But I think you suggested in your opening statement that you didn’t know until you read the call record, and it was an epiphany that the President wasn’t simply interested in this energy company—which, by the way, he doesn’t mention in the call record—but he was really interested in an investigation involving the Bidens.
SONDLAND: No, I think I said that I didn’t know what was in the call until I saw the call record. I had no idea that he had brought up the Bidens in the call until I saw the call report.
Q: But I think you were also suggesting that until you read that call record—and correct me if I’m wrong—until you read that call record, you never put two and two together that actually Burisma involved the Bidens, correct?
SONDLAND: I don’t recall when I finally put it together. I don’t recall what the date was or the place was or the time was. I don’t recall.

That doesn’t exactly sound like sticking to your opening statement. Sondland had to clarify on the quid pro quo, and he might need to clarify this too. There’s just no way this is true unless he was burying his head in the sand.

4. Volker undercuts Sondland’s defense, says Giuliani pushing ‘debunked’ claims

While that may be Sondland’s defense, it’s clearly not Volker’s. Volker testified that it was clear as day what Giuliani was up to.

He also agreed that theory pushed by Trump and Giuliani that Biden’s pressure on Ukraine to remove a prosecutor general was aimed at helping his son:

Q: So is it your testimony that you understood that Rudy Giuliani’s desire for the Ukrainian Government to investigate Burisma had to do with potential money laundering or other criminal conduct by the company itself, and not in connection to either Joe or Hunter Biden?
VOLKER: No. I believe that Giuliani was interested in Biden, Vice President Biden’s son Biden [sic], and I had pushed back on that, and I was maintaining that distinction.
Q: So you were maintaining that distinction, because you understood that that whole theory had been debunked and there was no evidence to support it, right?
A: Yes.

Yet more Trump team arguments undercut by sworn testimony.

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