House of Cards

“So, he’s going to do the investigation?” – President Donald Trump, in a phone call to Gordon Sondland in Ukraine

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Why is this man smiling?

Gordon Sondland, the man literally in the middle of the president’s impeachment inquiry, appears happy as he walks to a joint House committee not long ago.

How will he feel walking to the House Intelligence public hearing this week after news that a State Department official testified what he directly heard Trump say in a conversation between Trump and Sondland in Ukraine?

David Holmes, a State Department aide who worked directly under Chargé d’Affaires William Taylor, “testified privately that he was at a restaurant in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, when he overheard Mr. Trump on a cellphone call loudly asking Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, if Ukraine’s president had agreed to conduct an investigation into one of his leading political rivals. Mr. Sondland, who had just come from a meeting with top Ukrainian officials and the country’s president, replied in the affirmative,” The New York Times reports (Nov. 15).

Holmes is a counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, according to the embassy’s website.

In a statement, Holmes’ said, “Mr. Sondland told Mr. Trump that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine ‘loves your ass,’ and would conduct the investigation and do ‘anything you ask him to.’ ”

“After the call ended, Mr. Holmes asked if it was true that the president did not care about Ukraine. Mr. Sondland, he testified, agreed. According to Mr. Holmes’s account, the ambassador said Mr. Trump cared only about the ‘big stuff.’ Mr. Holmes noted Ukraine had ‘big stuff’ going on, like a war with Russia.

“He told Mr. Holmes he meant ‘big stuff’ that benefits the president, like the ‘Biden investigation’ that his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was pushing for because it affected him personally. …

“I came to realize,” Holmes said in his statement, “I had firsthand knowledge regarding certain events on July 26 that had not otherwise been reported, and that those events potentially bore on the question of whether the president did, in fact, have knowledge that those officials were using the levers of our diplomatic power to induce the new Ukrainian president to announce the opening of a particular criminal investigation.”

The revelation now places Sondland, a Trump appointee, squarely in the middle of the impeachment investigation, and Republicans, like Jim Jordan, can no longer hide behind “you weren’t in on the call between Trump and Zelensky,” as he pressed numerous officials who testified. It will be interesting to see what new rationale Jordan comes up with to dismiss, or otherwise discredit a firsthand account that declares that Trump directly asked a foreign government to investigate a political rival.

Further, CNN reports (Nov. 16), that “Former NSC official Tim Morrison testified that he had heard from Sondland that US aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the country announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.”

Holmes’ testimony comes after numerous State Department officials, including a national security whistleblower, supported by an inspector general appointed by Trump, testified as to Trump’s request to condition aid, that had been approved by Congress, until Zelensky publicly announce an investigation in the Bidens.

Sondland is scheduled to testify before an open House Intelligence committee this coming Wednesday.

Lying to Congress – as Trump associate, Roger Stone found out this week when he was convicted of multiple federal crimes – carries a heavy penalty. And it places Sondland in an untenable position: either he tells the truth, or risks going to prison.

Sondland is likely meeting with his attorneys to discuss his how he will testify on Wednesday as to what he knows.

If I were counseling Sondland, I would simply mention the following names:

Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos and now, Roger Stone.

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