Ambassador Gordon Sondland may be the most dangerous witness for President Donald Trump in the impeachment hearings so far, and that’s in part because he has a lot to lose.
And according to CNN’s Shimon Prokuecz, his scheduled testimony for Wednesday morning is making Republicans nervous:
Multiple GOP sources say they are most worried about what Gordon Sondland will do tomorrow – and whether he will turn on the President. The fear, Republicans say, is that he could undercut the last GOP defense. @mkraju
— Shimon Prokupecz (@ShimonPro) November 19, 2019
There are at least two reasons they’re right to be nervous. First, there’s good reason to suspect the hasn’t been entirely honest with the House Intelligence Community up to this point, and it’s possible he lied, which raises the specter of criminal charges that would be damaging to the president’s case. And second, he’s at the center of Trump’s scheme to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy to investigate the presidents’s political enemies — the action that prompted the ongoing impeachment inquiry — and Sondland appears to be the key nexus between the United States and Ukraine in the relevant time period.
As I’ve documented before, Sondland’s testimony has already shown clear tensions with the accounts of other witnesses — raising the possibility that he has exposed himself to legal jeopardy. He’s also changed his testimony to more closely match those of other witnesses, which is never a good sign for an individual’s credibility. For example, though he initially denied that there was a quid pro quo — an essential element of bribery — surrounding the requests for Ukrainian investigations and withheld military aid, he later said that he had, in fact, explicitly set up such an ultimatum. Since then, more information has emerged that raises serious questions about the fullness of his testimony.
So that forces the question: What will Sondland say when he appears before Congress on Wednesday?
Will he clam up? He might cite the Fifth Amendment or executive privilege to refrain from answering some questions, depending on the circumstances. For example, the evidence indicates that he had many conversations with Trump while working as an emissary to Ukraine. He may try to say that he doesn’t have to talk about his conversations with the president, citing executive privilege. But this could just make him look even more guilty, especially given the fact that he has not been particularly forthcoming about other issues.
Claiming the Fifth to avoid incriminating himself — for example, because he could reveal he made false statements to Congress — would similarly look bad for both him and the president.
It’s not clear how much these claims would cover, and Sondland has already testified extensively about other topics in a way that may have effectively waived his privileges. But it’s possible that, if he stays silent about enough key facts, Republicans will declare victory.
But he might also decide that, since he appears to have already dipped his toe into legal jeopardy and skirted around the truth in an apparent effort to protect Trump, his best course of action from here on out is full disclosure. If this is right, his testimony really could be devastating for the president — even if he doesn’t want it to be.