But which specific quid pro quo was real? It might not be the one Adam Schiff needs. Some of this had already leaked out ahead of our first post this morning about Gordon Sondland’s testimony, but his written opening statement deserves a thread of its own. As NBC News reports, it’s a legit bombshell that might force Republicans into the uncomfortable — but not untried — position of defending quid pro quos. Sondland will testify that everyone at the White House and State Department knew that a quid pro quo existed tied to an investigation of the Bidens, and that it came from the top. But what was the quo?
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 20, 2019
Not the aid, mind you. We’ll get back to that later, but Sondland knows he’d better be prepared for the challenges to come from this statement:
Sondland’s 19-page opening statement — plus texts and emails not previously made public — is filled with new details and disclosures he omitted from both his over nine-hour hour closed-door deposition and a sworn declaration he made later. He will say his memory had been refreshed by other witnesses’ testimony, but lawmakers are likely to grill Sondland over his failure to produce the information previously and whether his testimony can be trusted after changing so many times.
But the email and text records Sondland is providing to Congress on Wednesday may corroborate some of his new account.
All the problems started with Rudy Giuliani, with whom Sondland and the rest of the diplomatic team would have preferred not to work:
"Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States," Sondland said. "Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt." https://t.co/rEoy7Nnhjo pic.twitter.com/qdiB5HrEqx
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 20, 2019
The problem with Giuliani is that no one knew the extent of his dealings in Ukraine for Trump’s purposes, Sondland explains. His statement insists that he was not conducting a “rogue” policy, but following the express policy of the administration as transmitted by Giuliani:
Sondland throws Rudy Giuliani under the bus, but he’s not the only one under the wheels. Giuliani told the diplomats involved, including himself, and Ukrainian officials that key Ukrainian desires would be tied to the Burisma probe, and represented that as Trump’s own position. “We all understood that these pre-requisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements,” Sondland writes, which curiously leaves out the military aid. That is not the only dodge on this point in Sondland’s statement.
Mike Pompeo knew what was going on, and more importantly, Sondland says he knew why as well:
Sondland also tosses Mick Mulvaney under the bus:
Sondland also expressly told Pompeo’s aides that the Burisma investigation was tied to an invitation to the White House, if not the aid:
“Again,” Sondland writes, “everyone was in the loop.”
With that said, however, Sondland never actually ties Trump to a quid pro quo for the aid. He gets all the way down to the one-yard line, and then spikes the ball. The closest Sondland comes to tying military aid to a specific policy of quid pro quo for a Burisma probe is that it became “my belief” that the two were tied together:
Sondland seemed sanguine enough to insist that the “quid pro quo was real” when it came to the Trump phone call and the White House meeting. Why not go all the way and claim he knew for sure it was real when it came to the aid? One can deduce that Giuliani and Mulvaney were more discreet on that point, and for good reason. Congress had authorized the military aid and had some authority over how it got transmitted, while Trump can do what he wants with his own time and access to the White House. A quid pro quo for personal access to Trump is much less problematic for the president, politically at least if not legally, than interfering with aid appropriated and earmarked by Congress.
Sondland therefore might advance the political argument against Trump, but this isn’t going to do much for a legal justification for impeachment. This is where the Rudy Giuliani gap comes into play, and now maybe a Mike Pompeo gap as well. Sondland seems intent on leaving the two of them holding the bag over the quid pro quo and forcing Adam Schiff’s hand in getting one or both to testify. It’s still hearsay, but it’s getting a lot closer to Trump.
Update: An astute observation from my friend Olivier Knox:
I'm not a lawyer, this is chiefly a political process, I've never been a congressional investigator, but it seems to me that "came to believe" may be one of today's big battlegrounds.
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) November 20, 2019
“Came to believe” is legally meaningless. It’s not testimony — it’s color commentary. Politically, however, it’s likely to be a little more impactful.
Update: This is a big problem for Schiff:
He says Pres. never spoke about military aid as a condition to him "EVER" but he came to learn by Sept 8th that 'EVERYONE" knew and "I was absolutely convinced it was"
— Kelly O'Donnell (@KellyO) November 20, 2019
This isn’t even hearsay on the quid pro quo for military aid. It’s opinion and gossip.