U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will reportedly not only comply with a subpoena to testify this week in the House impeachment inquiry, but will also state that his “no quid pro quo” text was not his idea, but instead was sent at the direction of President Trump. The Washington Post late yesterday reported that second point, that Sondland will state that Trump told him in a phone call to send that now-well-known text.
On September 9, acting ambassador to the Ukraine William Taylor expressed his growing unease with what appeared to be a quid pro quo with the Ukraine aimed at getting the Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, while the Trump administration was simultaneously delaying $400 million in security assistance to the Ukraine. Taylor, as reported in many places, including in Business Insider, on that day texted Sondland, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” and then Sondland, after a 5 hour delay in which we now know he spoke with Trump on the telephone and reportedly was directed by Trump how to reply, replied, “The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” Sondland reportedly also will testify that he does not know if what Trump told him is the truth, i.e. he will say it was at Trump’s direction that he sent the email, but that he doesn’t know whether or not there was or was not in fact a quid pro quo situation. According to The Hill:
President Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, plans to tell Congress this week that a text he sent denying a quid pro quo between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July phone call was dictated by Trump himself. The Washington Post reported Saturday that a source familiar with the ambassador’s planned testimony told the newspaper that Sondland plans to testify that Trump told him in a phone conversation to tell the acting ambassador to Ukraine that he didn’t “want a quid pro quo … didn’t want anything from Ukraine” in exchange for military aid. Regarding whether that is actually true, the person said, Sondland will not take an opinion and instead will tell lawmakers that he worked at the direction of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to secure a statement from Ukraine’s government confirming a criminal investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
Much has been made of the possibility of a quid pro quo, either direct or implied, including the dangling of a White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as well as the withholding of that $400 million in aid at the same time. However, there does not need to be a quid pro quo for it to be wrong for Trump to try to enlist foreign assistance in his reelection campaign. That is wrong with or without the additional layer of the quid pro quo. By Trump’s own admission he asked Zelensky for a “favor”, the investigating of Joe and Hunter Biden, and getting favors granted obviously puts you in someone’s debt, i.e. they are likely to want something in return.
Ambassador Sondland is expected to testify on Thursday before all three House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry. He had even been willing to testify voluntarily last week, before the State Department shut that down by directing him not to appear. That move by the State Department was countered by the House issuing a subpoena for Sondland’s testimony, which takes legal precedence over the instructions of the State Department. Some Trump officials have even defied subpoenas for their testimony, but Sondland will reportedly comply.