He testified for hours, the former donor and now U.S. Ambassador to the European Union.
Gordon Sondland was front and center at Wednesday morning’s public impeachment hearing. His testimony connected President Trump directly to the Ukraine scheme, among other revelations.
Sondland is a one-time Trump loyalist who donated $1 million to the president’s campaign, but Democrats are relying on Sondland’s testimony to build a case that Trump used his power to pressure Ukraine to investigate his rivals.
Here are five things to know about Sondland:
1. He is a wealthy political appointee
Wealthy donor-turned-diplomat Sondland donated $1 million to the Trump campaign through his hotel companies, according to CNN. He has no foreign policy experience, unlike the other career professionals who testified publicly during hearings last week and on Tuesday, including former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who received a standing ovation after her testimony Friday.
Sondland is a first-generation American who built his hotel fortune on his own. Politico reported Sondland’s parents fled Nazi Germany.
2. The president ordered Sondland and others to work with his personal attorney to carry out the pressure campaign on Zelenksy, according to Sondland’s testimony
Sondland on Wednesday said he had multiple conversations with Trump about pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pursue an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
The move was spurred by Hunter’s relationship to the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings.
Last week, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent testified the White House completely replaced foreign policy representatives with the so-called “Three Amigos” who were involved in a shadow foreign policy led by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Guiliani, The “amigos” were Sondland, Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry
In his opening statement, Sondland stated “he followed the president’s orders,” implicating Trump in the scheme. The orders came from the top, he said, and the president ordered the amigos to “talk to Rudy.”
Sondland said he and others did not want to work with Giuliani, but did because it was “at the express direction for the president of the United States.” Giuliani “spoke for the president,” he said.
“Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” Sondland said.
If the scheme had panned out, Zelensky would have announced the beginning of the investigation on a CNN program. The appearance was canceled after the military aid was released Sept.11 when the whistleblower report came out.
3. Sondland reversed his initial testimony, admitting a “quid pro quo” and saying that top officials knew
Sondland Wednesday also implicated numerous top officials when he said “everyone was in the loop. It was no secret,” referring to the pressure campaign on Zelensky.
“We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and wishes,” Sondland said during his testimony.
Sondland testified there was a “quid pro quo” and that “a lot of people were aware of it” during his testimony Wednesday.
“Mr. Guiliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelenksy,” Sondland said. “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election, DNC server and Burisma.”
I came into this at Volker’s request. Sondland is speculating based on VERY little contact. I never met him and had very few calls with him, mostly with Volker.
Volker testified I answered their questions and described them as my opinions, NOT demands. I.E., no quid pro quo!
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) November 20, 2019
Sondland said the same thing during his closed-door deposition in October. Then, a four-page sworn statement attached to the transcript, Sondland said he told a Zelensky aide that hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid would not be released to the country unless officials made a “public anti-corruption statement” that had been under discussion “for many weeks.”
5. Sondland said there were no plans to follow through with an investigation
During Wednesday’s public testimony, Sondland said he “presumed” the aid was tied to the investigations, but that Trump did not personally tell him that there were preconditions.
Sondland said the military aid was conditioned only on the announcement, but not the actual investigation.
“He had to announce the investigations. He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understand it,” Sondland said.
Last week, Acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified that Sondland told him that “everything,” including $400 million in military aid appropriated by Congress and a White House visit, was dependent on Zelensky making a public statement about investigating the Bidens.