For a minute there, it looked like Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, was about to do the smart thing. He’d been called to testify before the House impeachment inquiry about his role in Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal, and he’d agreed to do so. He flew all the way back from Europe just to testify, but then at the last minute Trump told him he wasn’t allowed to, and he stupidly sided with Trump, thus creating far bigger legal trouble on himself. So what happened?
Donald Trump was clearly planning to let Gordon Sondland testify, or else he would have put his foot down sooner, instead of making himself look even more guilty by waiting until the last minute. The timeline of events this morning is interesting. For instance, the Wall Street Journal published an article (originally timestamped at 9:05am) which confirmed that Sondland really did call Trump on the phone in the midst of his infamous text message exchange with the State Department’s Bill Taylor. Then at 9:23am, Trump announced on Twitter that he was blocking Sondland from testifying.
Major newspapers tend to ask the White House for comment before publishing a story, so it’s probable that Donald Trump and his team learned this morning that the WSJ was confirming Sondland’s phone call to Trump. We were all expecting Sondland to confirm this phone call himself during his testimony, but Team Trump has been slow on the draw throughout the impeachment saga, meaning they may not have been aware of what Sondland was going to say until a newspaper told them about it.
In any case, this panic move certainly doesn’t help Gordon Sondland, who just went from material witness to obstruction of justice target; if he doesn’t change his mind and testify soon, he’ll end up going to prison once Trump is gone. This move probably doesn’t help Trump either, because it puts Sondland in such a legally vulnerable place, he’ll probably end up caving eventually – and for now the whole thing just makes Trump look even guiltier.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report