Gordon Sondland, the Portland hotelier turned diplomat embroiled in the Congressional Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry, on Monday, Nov. 4, changed his prior testimony to Congress significantly.
But it's unclear if his new recollections will mute the criticism he's faced — or increase the claims that he committed perjury.
Sondland's Oct. 17 opening statement before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence initially was considered damning of President Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, as Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives sought to prove that Trump withheld congressionally mandated military assistance to Ukraine to extract partisan advantage in the 2020 election.
In the weeks since Sondland's testimony, however, several other witnesses have presented detailed accounts that more directly implicate Sondland in the events in question, sparking accusations that the longtime businessman was not truthful. Those new details caused Sondland on Monday to submit a new sworn statement modifying his earlier testimony, saying other witness statements had refreshed his memory, according to documents posted Tuesday, Nov. 5, on the House's website.
In his revised testimony, submitted Nov. 4, Sondland admited to personally delivering a demand that Ukraine government officials issue a statement saying it would conduct a corruption investigation of Burisma, the Ukrainian firm for which Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's son worked. Otherwise, Sondland told the Ukrainians, the United States "likely" would not release more than $400 million in military assistance to the beleaguered country, which has battled for years a Russian invasion of its eastern border.
"I now do recall a conversation on September 1, 2019, in Warsaw with Mr. Yermak," Sondland said in his revised testimony. "This brief pull-aside conversation followed the larger meeting involving Vice President Pence and President Zelensky, in which President Zelensky had raised the issue of the suspension of US. aid to Ukraine directly with Vice President Pence. After that large meeting, I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said that resumption of US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks."
Sondland's new sworn testimony, however, continued to be fuzzy on key details of the high-stakes communications of just a few months ago, saying he based the ultimatum only on his "presumption" that there was a quid pro quo involving military assistance. Though it was only a "presumption," he felt confident enough to communicate the quid pro quo to the Ukrainian president, and others as well.
"I always believed that suspending aid to Ukraine was ill-advised, although I did not know (and still do not know) when, why, or by whom the aid was suspended," he said. "However, by the beginning of September 2019, and in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement."
On social media, Trump critics have hailed Sondland's new testimony as supporting impeachment while at the same time criticizing Sondland.
"Too little too late to avoid perjury charges?" wrote Ryan Goodman, a former U.S. Department of Defense lawyer on Twitter. "This was Trump's strongest witness. Wow."
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