But the new story that Trump and his loyalists are telling about Sondland is deeply flawed: It elides a mountain of evidence that’s already out there on the public record, as will be explained below.
What’s morbidly amusing about Sondland’s fate is he did all he could to protect Trump. At first, Sondland gamely backed up Trump’s claim that frozen military aid for Ukraine was never tied to Trump’s demand that Ukraine launch “investigations” to help him politically.
Then, when credible witnesses demolished Sondland’s story, he conceded in revised testimony that he did communicate to Ukraine that the two were linked — but still insulated Trump from culpability by saying he merely “presumed” that was the case.
Yet despite those efforts, Sondland is now enduring the wrath of Trump’s loyalists. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham says Sondland’s revised statement was “full of crap” and may have been influenced by “Democratic operatives” on the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting the impeachment inquiry.
Meanwhile, other Trumpists are working to undercut Sondland in another creative way.
This second staffer, like the first, overheard Trump talking to Sondland about the “investigations” Trump wanted.
The new spin from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and others is that, because Sondland didn’t mention this call in his testimony, that means his claim that he informed Ukraine that military aid was contingent on doing Trump’s political bidding can’t be trusted either.
But this new tale falls apart under scrutiny.
First, Trump’s July 26 call with Sondland suggests he had a direct line open with Sondland to get briefed on every step of the plot’s implementation, which makes it more likely, not less, that Sondland was operating at Trump’s direction when communicating the extortion plot to Ukraine.
Indeed, Sondland’s contemporaneous conversations while the scheme unfolded also strongly suggest this is the case — and a look at them wrecks the new line of Trumpist spin.
Sondland’s earlier conversations
Sondland had three conversations that are of interest here: Two with William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and one with Tim Morrison, a White House foreign policy adviser.
- On Sept. 1, Sondland told Taylor he had communicated the quid pro quo demand to a top Zelensky aide, as Taylor testified. Sondland also said he’d “made a mistake” in failing to realize the military aid was indeed conditioned on Ukraine publicly committing to the investigations Trump wanted, adding Trump wanted Zelensky “in a public box” on the matter.
- On Sept. 7, Taylor learned from Morrison of a conversation Morrison had with Sondland. In it, Sondland told Morrison of a conversation that he, Sondland, had just had with Trump himself. Sondland recounted to Morrison that Trump informed him Zelensky must personally commit to the investigations before a “microphone.” Morrison has confirmed Taylor’s account. Remember, this came as multiple alarmed officials were trying to get Trump to release the military aid.
- On Sept. 8, Taylor testified, Sondland again told Taylor about a conversation that he, Sondland, had just had with Trump himself. Sondland recounted that Trump was adamant that Zelensky had to “clear things up and do it in public.” This led Sondland to then tell the Ukrainians that if this didn’t happen, they’d be at a “stalemate” — i.e., they wouldn’t get the military aid.
In his revised testimony, Sondland didn’t deny these conversations took place. He only said he didn’t remember how many times he spoke to Trump. And he confirmed communicating the extortion message to Ukraine.
Now try to imagine how those conversations could have occurred if Sondland and Trump had not communicated about this quid pro quo and Sondland merely freelanced it, as the new GOP spin claims.
This would mean either that Sondland invented these two conversations with Trump at the time. Or it would mean Sondland twice disastrously misread Trump’s own words to him, mistakenly believing Trump intended a quid pro quo when he didn’t, and then proceeded to extort Ukraine himself entirely out of a misreading of Trump’s pure motives.
How likely do you think any of those things are?