John Dean, Nixon’s White House Counsel, agrees with us here in Zoom land. Dean noted on CNN that Ambassador Sondland is the most consequential witness in the impeachment inquiry, and he is scheduled to testify on Wednesday. Whether Sondland will testify or not won’t be known until he sits in the chair and answers questions.
Within the official U.S. government (meaning, excluding Giuliani) Sondland played the role of Trump’s “point man” with respect to implementing the Ukraine “shakedown.” Sondland dealt directly with Trump, providing updates to Trump, while also seeking Trump’s guidance as to the next move.
Sondland was the one Trump tasked with making the “demand” to Ukraine, according to The Daily Beast:
It’s been widely noted in testimonies by multiple House impeachment witnesses that Sondland interrupted the conversation between Bolton and the Ukrainians when he suggested that the Kyiv officials open investigations into Hunter Biden and the gas company he worked for if they wanted President Volodymyr Zelensky to land a White House meeting with Donald Trump.
Sondland is going to have to explain himself and his demand. We know exactly where it originated. In that sense, he can point the most damaging finger right at Trump, or simply convict himself on charges of extortion.
Sondland is not a lifelong player in the political game, nor is he a career foreign service officer. He purchased his place at the table with a one million dollar donation to Trump. In other words, Sondland doesn’t have much experience navigating troubled political waters, nor dicey criminal behavior. He has also already been caught lying to Congress, and thus is the only witness (so far) who comes to the public hearings already potentially liable for a crime. The Stone verdict, coming as it did last Friday, must act as a red strobe light in Sondland’s mind.
John Dean adds up all the above to arrive at the conclusion that Sondland plays a unique and perhaps definitive role in the impeachment inquiry.
“That’s a — you kind of have a huge influence on any witness who might be on the edge. And Sondland is. He has now been refocused a couple times. He’s come up in the hearings. He’s — he is — his life and future is on the block this week. He has a lot of very important conversations. He is the one witness who could give up this president and change the entire dynamics of these hearings.”
Zoomers who were with us over the weekend will note that we came to the same conclusion, using the same rationale.
Taking it a step further, Sondland is in enough trouble that we may have our first invocation of constitutional rights in this proceeding.
“Whether he will or not, I don’t know. But I think he’s got to be thinking about it,” added Dean. “He may also — there is a possibility he’ll take the Fifth Amendment. He feels jeopardy from his earlier testimony. His lawyers might well be asking for immunity for him. That could then open up a whole other door.”
If Sondland made an offer of proof that involved a promise to come clean as to what Trump wanted done, how Trump presumed to do it, and all the details, it would be worth granting Sondland immunity, at least from prosecution for his lies to Congress. I am not even sure how Congress could grant prosecutorial immunity, it would be something that would need to be looked into.
Sondland must strongly consider a deal. Witnesses have noted that he carried Trump’s water in meetings with Ukraine, as set forth here in the Daily Beast article:
Sondland continued to not just relay, but demanded ferociously, that the Ukrainians open the Biden investigations, saying it was the only chance for Washington and Kyiv to develop any further meaningful relationship, two individuals with knowledge of Sondland’s overtures said.
Sondland raised his voice several times in his attempt to persuade the Ukrainian officials sitting across from him, including Andriy Yermak, a close aide to Zelensky, and Zelensky’s then-national security adviser Oleksandr Danylyuk. One individual told The Daily Beast that Sondland “got very emotional,” adding that “there was lots of yelling.” Another individual called the meeting “erratic” and said the Ukrainians began to ignore Sondland and instead turned to Fiona Hill, who ran the National Security
There is no separating Sondland from Trump with respect to conspiring to extort Ukraine. Sondland needs a deal in order to testify truthfully. Indeed, in watching television this morning, questions arose as to whether Sondland will even show up. He must show up, and Democrats must do whatever is necessary to get Sondland’s testimony on the record.
Regardless, Sondland is in a world of trouble, his life truly is on the line. As of now, he is set to testify Wednesday, and I suspect Trump will be watching with interest. I know we will be.
Sondland can end Trump’s presidency. I wonder if Trump understands this. Probably.
Something caused a medical emergency to arise on Saturday.
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