Sondland's testimony probably speeds up House Democrats' motions to call the president and send the matter to the Senate for assessment, but at this point the odds of conviction remain long, without a significant change of public opinion away from the president.  Sondland became the latest in a series of witnesses who have said that any effort to pressure a foreign government to investigate a potential political rival is at least erroneous and perhaps worse. It raises the question of Republicans, who have been united in claiming that nothing wrong has taken place, will now change this position in any way to recognize the injustice of the president while claiming that it is not an impossible crime.
At a minimum, Sondland turned down some of the defenses offered by Republicans during hearings and outside the auditorium, especially with his assertion that the terms required by Zelensky for an Oval Office visit amounted to a quid pro quo. [1
9659002] He talked about a phone call in September in which the president said he did not request such a quid pro quo, a call that Republicans repeatedly cited as evidence that Trump did not seek such a thing from Zelensky.
But Sondland offered some context to what has been said before about that statement by the president. He explained that regardless of the president's words, he did not know if Trump was truthful in their brief conversation, and even though he still believed there had been a quid pro quo that had held up vital military aid and a coveted oval Office visit for the Ukrainian president.
The President had based his defense on the rough print of a July 25 telephone conversation with Zelensky, claiming that there was no explicit request during the call, describing the call as "perfect." But Sondland described a systematic and long-term effort, led by the president and led by his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to clarify to the Ukrainian leader what he required of him to get what he sought from the president.
"We followed the president's order," Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee.
Rather than calling this a rogue intervention by Giuliani or a run-around on the existing diplomatic and Sondland apparatus's national security apparatus, Sondland said that everything was well-known over the administration's higher levels, partly because he had personally communicated regularly with Secretary of State Mike Pomo. about what happened.
"Everyone was in the loop," he said.
Unlike many of the others who have testified during the past week, Sondland is not part of the executive branch bureaucracy. He is a wealthy businessman who contributed $ 1 million to the President's Opening Committee and ended up as an ambassador for E.U. In that sense, he is an ally president and blamed Trump for having put him where he is today.
Wednesday's testimony was the third time he has offered evidence in the anxiety study – once behind closed doors, then in a written statement in which he revised some of his original statements. On Wednesday, he said, his memory had been further renewed by other people's testimonies and a review of some of his own and others' e-mails and text messages, although he said he had been denied access to many of his documents by the State Department.
He arrived at Wednesday's hearing before an obvious dilemma, which was to risk an accusation of lying to Congress by materially contesting testimony that had taken place after his earlier statements, or by openly contesting the president's version of events and thereby risking anger of the president's allies as well as many he serves in the administration. He chose to take on the president.
With each new statement to the Intelligence Committee, Sondland has been more clear about the president's role. It culminated with his performance on Wednesday. But what made his testimony as important as it turned out was that he widened the circle of those whom he said were aware of what was going on. He said Pompeo, Vice President Pence, acting chief of staff at the White House Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton were all aware of what was going on.
If Sondland provided any lifeline to Republicans, it was his acknowledgment that Trump never personally told him that he demanded investigations about 2016 and Bidens in exchange for an Oval Office meeting or the resumption of military aid. But he was explicit that he and others were told to follow Giuliani's leadership in dealing with the new government in Ukraine and, he said, the former New York mayor asked a quid pro quo of the Ukrainians – an Oval Office meeting in exchange for announcement of investigations.
"Mr. Giuliani expressed the wishes of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president, "he said.
It was later, he said, that he concluded that military aid to the Ukrainians was part of this quid pro quo.
Sondland raised questions about the testimony of other administrative officials who have been critical of the president. And some of his claims were questioned by those he mentioned as in the loop, including by a spokesman for Pence. But none of those at the highest levels in the administration that Sondland identified as aware of the press campaign have been heard from in sworn testimony in an open auditorium.
It includes Giuliani, who was the president's point person in Ukraine, as well as Pompeo, who have been particularly silent when career officials in his department have offered testimony describing the press campaign that Sondland says was directed by the president.
Trump tried to distance himself from the importance of Sondland's words, claiming he did not know the ambassador well. Nevertheless, Sondland described a friendly and jocular relationship with the president based on a shared use of salt language. "That's how President Trump and I communicate, many words with four letters," he said.
Sondland also confirmed that he could call the White House on an open telephone line from a restaurant in Kiev the day after Trump had spoken to Zelensky and spoke directly with the president. While saying that he could not remember the entire contents of the conversation, he did not deny other testimony that he told the president that Zelensky would do everything he asked.
Whether the House inquiry will hear from any of the most direct contact with the President on these issues is still an unanswered question given their opposition to date. Sondland has significantly weakened Trump's protests and put the president's Republican defender in a much more difficult position. That way, Wednesday was far from just another day in Washington.