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Politics: Ambassador Gordon Sondland chooses to save himself, not Trump

Sondland testimony targets Trump, Pompeo and confirms deal with Ukraine

  Sondland testimony targets Trump, Pompeo and confirms deal with Ukraine The ambassador is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee and will be revealing emails and texts to back up his claims.Under fire from all sides after multiple witnesses contradicted his earlier deposition, Sondland blamed everyone but himself for the pressure campaign on Ukraine now driving impeachment proceedings against Trump. He showed up for his televised hearing with reams of new text messages and emails he said prove the highest levels of the White House and the State Department were in on it.

WASHINGTON — Minutes after he took his seat Wednesday in the House impeachment hearing, Ambassador Gordon Sondland made himself clear: He had come to save his own reputation, not the president’s.

a man wearing a suit and tie: WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony during the fourth day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back U.S. military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals. © Alex Edelman/Getty Images North America/TNS WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony during the fourth day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back U.S. military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals.

What Trump, Pence, Pompeo and others knew, according to Gordon Sondland’s testimony, texts and emails

  What Trump, Pence, Pompeo and others knew, according to Gordon Sondland’s testimony, texts and emails A rundown of who knew what when in the pressure campaign against Ukraine, according to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.Gordon Sondland testified to Congress that he knew there was a quid pro quo, which he communicated to Ukrainian officials. But in putting himself out there, he made sure Congress knew that lots of other high-level officials knew about it, too.

The one-time Trump loyalist — a longtime Republican donor from Oregon who made his fortune in hotels — Sondland told the anxious row of lawmakers that he was testifying “despite directives from the White House and the State Department that I refuse to appear, as many others have done.”

“I agreed to testify because I respect the gravity of the moment and believe I have an obligation to account fully for my role in these events.”

Then, with a batch of emails and fresh recollections in hand, he let loose.

a person wearing a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media about the impeachment hearings on the the South Lawn of the White House in Washington before his departure to Austin, Texas on November 20, 2019. © Gripas Yuri/Abaca Press/TNS U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media about the impeachment hearings on the the South Lawn of the White House in Washington before his departure to Austin, Texas on November 20, 2019.

“Was there a quid pro quo?” he said. “The answer is yes.”

In an Echo of Watergate and John Dean, an Adviser Points to Trump

  In an Echo of Watergate and John Dean, an Adviser Points to Trump WASHINGTON — Gordon D. Sondland had not even finished his testimony on Wednesday before it was being called the “John Dean moment” of the President Trump impeachment drama. With the presidency on the line, a once-trusted lieutenant pointed the finger at Mr. Trump in a proceeding that could lead to Watergate-style charges of high crimes and misdemeanors. For the first time, Mr. Trump’s critics got the sort of viral moments they have craved, crisp accusatory cancer-on-the-presidency lines uttered on camera that can now be played over and over again on social media and cable television, making clear just who was in charge of the campaign to pressure a foreign power to help br

Speaking slowly and clearly from a long prepared statement, he implicated President Trump’s entire inner circle as part of a scheme to demand Ukraine investigate President Donald Trump’s political rivals in exchange for U.S. military aid and a White House visit.

Vice President Mike Pence, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said repeatedly, denying he was heading a “rogue operation.”

“We followed the president’s orders,” he said at another point.

Sondland, who has tried to downplay the scheme for weeks, was facing a dilemma that almost everyone in Trump’s orbit confronts sooner or later: Stick with Trump and risk lasting damage, or break away and hope to survive his wrath.

Sean Spicer, then the president’s press secretary, learned it as soon as Trump took up residence in the White House in 2017, when he followed the president’s demands to lie about the crowd size at the inauguration.

Gordon Sondland makes splash as unlikely star witness in Trump impeachment inquiry

  Gordon Sondland makes splash as unlikely star witness in Trump impeachment inquiry Gordon Sondland, a businessman-turned-ambassador, had a starkly different demeanor than that of others who testified in the Trump impeachment inquiry.Castor waved a two-page list of instances in which Sondland, during previous closed-door testimony, had trouble recalling phone calls, meetings and other details.

His reward? A few supportive tweets and a neon green ruffled shirt when he became a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.” (He was voted off last week.)

Others fared much worse.

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Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his longtime political whisperer, Roger Stone, were all convicted of crimes after trying to protect Trump. They are now hoping for pardons.

Other associates abandoned the president.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime New York lawyer and fixer, sits in a federal prison in Otisville, N.Y., after pleading guilty to tax, banking and campaign finance crimes.

Cohen broke spectacularly with his former boss, painting the president in sworn testimony as a con man, a cheat and a racist. Trump now refers to Cohen as a liar, a failure and a rat.

Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted 10 days as White House communications director before getting the boot, has become a full-time Twitter troll against his former boss.

Others who hitched their reputations to Trump remain inside the administration. Attorney General William Barr helped the president portray the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and possible obstruction as a complete exoneration. Some of his former colleagues were aghast, but Barr has stood fast.

Special adviser Kellyanne Conway, the first in Trump’s circle to argue in favor of “alternative facts” in his defense, has withstood a public dissection of her marriage as her husband, conservative lawyer George Conway, has become a prominent critic and target of Trump.

a screen shot of a person: WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20:  A transcript of a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is displayed as Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony during the fourth day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back U.S. military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals. © Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/TNS WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: A transcript of a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is displayed as Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony during the fourth day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back U.S. military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals.

Sondland’s calculations have been a mystery. Though he was confirmed as ambassador to the European Union, he was trusted by Trump to play a key role in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, a country outside his official portfolio.

In October, Trump described Sondland in a tweet as “a really good man and great American,” and urged him not to testify.

Sondland was close enough to Trump to dial him up on a cellphone from a Kyiv restaurant on July 26. During the five-minute call, which two U.S. Embassy employees overheard at the table, he updated Trump on his efforts to get Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to announce the investigations into Democrats that Trump had demanded.

“He loves your a**,” Sondland told Trump.

“That’s how President Trump and I communicate,” Sondland explained Wednesday, suggesting a locker-room camaraderie. “A lot of four-letter words.”

Last week, Trump said he did not remember Sondland’s call from the Kyiv restaurant “at all.” But, he added, “I guess Sondland has stayed with testimony that there was no quid pro quo.”

Jim Jordan looking at the camera: WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) listens during testimony by Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony during the fourth day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back U.S. military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals. © Alex Edelman/Getty Images North America/TNS WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) listens during testimony by Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony during the fourth day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back U.S. military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals.

But Sondland did not stick with that testimony.

On Wednesday, he gave Trump only a small thread to hang on. He said many of Trump’s demands were channeled indirectly, through his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,” he said, but Trump demanded it.

He said Giuliani, acting on Trump’s behalf, told him that Trump would not meet with Zelenskiy at the White House unless he opened investigations into the 2016 presidential elections and Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that employed Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

But that link was not drawn as clearly when it came to $391 million in security aid that Trump had held up, Sondland said.

“President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings,” Sondland said. “The only thing we got directly from Guiliani was that the Burisma and 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting. The aid was my own personal, you know, guess.”

“Two plus two equals four,” he added.

Sondland tried to frame his efforts as doing his best in a bad situation. He said he fully believed in the official American policy that the United States needed to put its money and its public support behind Ukraine’s efforts to build democracy and combat Russian aggression.

“Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt.”

Before Sondland took the stand, the most damaging revelations in the impeachment probe had come from career government employees, who spoke of a duty to speak out regardless of political party. Trump and his allies labeled them Deep-Staters and Never Trumpers, questioning their character and patriotism.

Sondland, by contrast, is a businessman like Trump and a political appointee, who regarded himself as a peer, addressing the secretary of state as “Mike,” and bantering profanely with the president from a foreign country.

“No witness has so overturned a presidential defense like Ambassador Sondland since John Dean,” said Tim Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University, who noted that Sondland was appointed after he donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.

“He cannot be dismissed as a Never Trumper,” Naftali said. “Never Trumpers don’t give a million dollars. He cannot be dispensed with as some Obama holdover. He cannot be described as someone who didn’t have direct access to the president and is sharing hearsay alone.”

Unlike presidential impeachment hearings in 1974 and 1998, the evidence in the Trump inquiry is unspooling in real time and on live television. Naftali said that presents a unique challenge for the president’s Republican defenders, who have been forced to change their defenses on the fly.

Dean, the former Nixon White House counsel who famously turned on Nixon during the Watergate hearings, largely agreed.

“It’s really nice to see someone put country over party,” he said on CNN on Wednesday, during a break in Sondland’s testimony. “He wants to do the right thing and he’s not going to be influenced by the pressure of the president.”

Trump, watching it all unfold, reacted as he often does when people in his orbit turn on him, by diminishing their significance.

“I don’t know him very well. I have not spoken to him much,” Trump said as he left the White House for a planned trip to Texas while Sondland remained at the witness table. “This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy though.”

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(Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed.)

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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Multiple Women Recall Sexual Misconduct and Retaliation by Gordon Sondland .
Three women say they faced sexual misconduct by Gordon Sondland before he was the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and at the center of the presidential impeachment inquiry. They say he retaliated against them professionally after they rejected his advances. In one case, a potential business partner recalls that Sondland took her to tour a room in a hotel he owns, only to then grab her face and try to kiss her. After she rejected him, Sondland backtracked on investing in her business.Another woman, a work associate at the time, says Sondland exposed himself to her during a business interaction.

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