Mr. Sondland, a contributor to the Trump inaugural committee, offered new evidence for these conclusions, including email traffic with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and other senior officials. He described a Sept. 1 meeting before which he informed Vice President Pence of his conclusion that military aid to Ukraine would be held up until Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced investigations of a gas company linked to Joe Biden’s son and of Ukraine’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.
The ambassador also made clear that Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Mulvaney are blocking the release of documents and testimony that would further confirm the pressure campaign — and likely implicate them personally. One logical consequence of his testimony ought to be the release of the documents and the appearance before Congress of Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Pence, along with other key actors named by Mr. Sondland.
The scene during the impeachment hearings in Washington
That is particularly true because Republicans harped on gaps in Mr. Sondland’s account and had the gall to cite the absence of documents as a reason for skepticism. Mr. Sondland said he concluded “because two plus two equals four” that military aid to Ukraine frozen by Mr. Trump was linked to the demands for investigations, but he said no one had explicitly told him that. He said that in several conversations, Mr. Trump did not spell out the quid pro quo and at one point denied that there was one. More senior officials could clarify the president’s state of mind — including Mr. Mulvaney, who already said once in public that the military aid had been linked to Mr. Trump’s political demands.
The principal transaction described by Mr. Sondland was the trade-off of a White House meeting sought by Mr. Zelensky for a public announcement by him of investigations into the 2016 election and the gas company. Mr. Sondland said he and other officials were “directed” by Mr. Trump to work with lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and that Mr. Giuliani in turn said the president wanted the statement.
Emails Mr. Sondland supplied back his testimony that Mr. Pompeo knew and approved of this seamy deal. Moreover, Mr. Sondland testified that “based on my communications with Secretary Pompeo, I felt comfortable” telling a senior aide to Mr. Zelensky that military aid also would likely be withheld until the investigations were announced.
Notably, Mr. Sondland said he believed it was not necessary for Mr. Zelensky to actually carry out the investigations — only that he announce them. Mr. Giuliani, after all, likely knew there was nothing to the allegations he was spreading about Joe Biden or Ukraine’s role in the election; he had been told that explicitly by the administration’s own special envoy to Ukraine. His aim, and that of Mr. Trump, was simply to tarnish Mr. Biden and the Democrats by having a foreign government lend credence to false charges.
Mr. Sondland’s testimony produced a denial from Mr. Pence’s chief of staff and a deflection from Mr. Pompeo. Congress, including Republicans, should insist on more. Mr. Trump will not be exonerated from the serious charges laid out by Mr. Sondland by rhetoric from congressional Republicans. If they actually believed the president is innocent, they would seek the relevant documents and sworn testimony of the top aides who now dodge accountability.