WASHINGTON – Gordon Sondland seemed to feast on his new-found political power when he first snagged a plum ambassadorship and landed in Brussels as America’s top diplomat to the European Union.
Appointed to the post by President Donald Trump after he donated $1 million to the president’s inaugural committee, Sondland had a direct line to the Oval Office. And he wasn’t shy, or even careful, about using it.
He apparently flaunted his ability to dial Trump’s phone number at will and told more seasoned administration officials to move aside as he usurped their portfolios – particularly when it came to Ukraine, even though it’s not part of the EU.
Now, Sondland’s relationship with Trump, and his extensive dealings with Ukraine have put the former hotelier, and his boss, in a precarious position.
On Wednesday, Sondland takes center stage in the House Democrats’ impeachment probe when he gives public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
For impeachment investigators, he serves as a unique witness; he was Trump’s point-man in the effort to push politically motivated investigations in Ukraine, and he seemed to have the most extensive, direct dealings with the president on the matter.
“Sondland will be the first individual in this inquiry to give open testimony about direct contacts with Mr. Trump on the issue of the investigations, military assistance (to Ukraine) and the relationship with Zelensky,” said Aaron David Miller,
who served as a top State Department negotiator for past presidents of both parties and is now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The wealthy Portland hotelier has already told lawmakers he relayed a quid pro quo to a top Ukraine official, telling him U.S. military aid to Ukraine was likely contingent on a public statement by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, committing to the investigations Trump wanted.
These included one into former Vice President Joe Biden and another into a debunked theory about Ukraine’s involvement in 2016 election interference.