What did Mike Pence know, and when did he know it? According to Gordon Sondland, he told the vice president on September 1 that he believed that military aid to Ukraine had been stalled as leverage for investigations into corruption. Sondland included this in his opening statement:
Not surprisingly, Adam Schiff drilled down into this immediately during Sondland’s live testimony. The testimony itself is rather weak sauce, even if did prompt a strong response from Pence’s office:
— act.tv (@actdottv) November 20, 2019
Note here that this testimony has the same weakness as Sondland’s statement. Even taking this at face value, Sondland’s testifying that (a) he believed that there was a linkage between the military aid and the investigations, (b) Pence “nodded” when Sondland aired his opinion, and (c) the topic of aid came up in Pence’s conversation with Ukraine. That’s not very compelling in terms of a dictated quid pro quo. Sondland’s testimony is just that Pence “nodded” at the notion, not that he got any indication of confirmation or even factual knowledge of Sondland’s belief.
Pence’s office didn’t let it slide, however. In a statement sent out widely to media via e-mail, including Hot Air, chief of staff Marc Short blasted Sondland’s testimony as false. The conversation that Sondland described “never happened,” according to Short:
“The Vice President never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations.
“Ambassador Gordon Sondland was never alone with Vice President Pence on the September 1 trip to Poland. This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened.
“Multiple witnesses have testified under oath that Vice President Pence never raised Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden, Crowdstrike, Burisma, or investigations in any conversation with Ukrainians or President Zelensky before, during, or after the September 1 meeting in Poland.”
This should be rather easy to determine. Does anyone have the security logs for Pence in Poland, which would likely document Pence’s movements and those around him? Surely Pence had his staff around during this trip, too. If Sondland wasn’t alone with Pence, then his story begins to look a little suspect.
But even if he was alone with Pence, this still doesn’t prove much of anything. Sondland didn’t testify that Pence told him anything about a quid pro quo, just that he “nodded” at Sondland’s concerns over the potential for one. As Short notes, no one has suggested that Pence pushed anything of the sort; indeed, testimony already exists that Pence never linked anything to aid, nor was inclined to do so.
Short and Pence better hope it stays that way, of course, but in this they are helped by Sondland’s continually changing recollections. Key parts of his story keep evolving, which Sondland blames on a lack of cooperation from State over his notes and his documents. That may well be the case, but it’s not making Sondland look more reliable as time wears on.
Update: Republicans on the panel are already making hay over Sondland’s shifting recollections:
Sondland says he doesn’t remember things because he has lots of meetings with many important people and they “tend to sort of blend together.” He says he’s not a notetaker. “You’re a trifecta of unreliability,” GOP counsel Castor says. Sondland says he “filled in a lot of blanks”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 20, 2019