Gordon Sondland will probably never be convicted of perjury because, to paraphrase Dr. Samuel Johnson, the prospect of going to prison so wonderfully concentrates the mind. Mr. Sondland (I hesitate to call him “ambassador”) realizes that perjury is a thing you can take back if you wish to clarify – for the record – what a conscience-improved recollection now sees more clearly – in hindsight.
I hesitate to call Sondland “ambassador” because he came to his position via a one million dollar bribe, paid directly into the pocket of Donald Trump, the world’s most strapped-for-cash billionaire, and not by way of the honorable route followed by Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch or Ambassador Bill Taylor. Sondland did not contribute the million to the Trump campaign, as has been incorrectly reported elsewhere, but to the Trump inaugural. He bought a “VVIP” (Very, Very Important Person) pass to Donald Trump’s inaugural bash. That’s it. If you or I or anyone else had had a spare million back then instead of Sondland we might very well be ambassador to the European Union today, not even to mention a Very, Very Important Person. Those were the days, huh?
Allow me to clarify, I come neither to praise nor to bury Sondland. I do not think he is an evil man, nor do I think he is a noble one. I think he is, more or less, an ordinary man who was given an extraordinary job for which he was way, way out of his depth. You may think, for example, that conducting an orchestra is easy compared to the job of playing an actual instrument, but it is not. In fact, any conductor worth the name had better be the best musician in the room (including any member of the audience) or he or she has no business on the podium. Like the conductor, the job of ambassador is hard work, requiring a skilled, subtle turn of mind and a virtuoso comprehension of the whole of the job at hand. The best ambassadors are always the brightest ones in the room, or at least their equal.
Donald Trump handed Gordon Sondland a stick in exchange for a million dollars and told him to go wave it at the European Union symphony orchestra. Virtuosos like Yovanovitch and Taylor appropriately rolled their eyes and wondered, rightly, who this guy was. Just as the job of conductor of a great orchestra requires a Leopold Stokowski or a Nadia Boulanger, the job of head of any great mission is best served with a Metternich or a Kissinger. Sondland was neither: he was and remains a hotel owner.
After watching Gordon Sondland testify I think I’m with most Americans in hoping he doesn’t go to prison. I have no feelings of vengeance for him, only pity. As is the case with so many Americans, Sondland was duped by Donald Trump. I have an instinctive disdain for people so easily taken in, but I cannot summon any more hatred for them. I need my hatred elsewhere, for Trump’s evil inner circle of liars, lickspittles, thieves and traitors – and for Trump himself, of course.
If what Sondland is saying is true, then he never realized what any fourteen year old with Google could have figured out in five minutes: that Burisma equals Biden just as surely as two plus two equals four. But he didn’t, or at least, he claimed he didn’t. So, to have him tell it, when Rudy Giuliani asked Sondland to pressure President Voldomyr Zelensky into announcing an investigation into irregularities surrounding the American 2016 election and Burisma, Sondland thought there was nothing wrong with that. It all fell neatly under the aegis of corruption investigation. I have no difficulty believing Sondland was dumb enough to believe that, neither do I have any trouble believing that he’s lying when he says he didn’t know any better in order to save himself. I don’t care and I really think none of us should. We have bigger fish to fry, and this one should be thrown back into the water. We don’t need the distraction.
The last time the American people were confronted with the corruption of the executive branch of government on this scale, the Attorney General, the president’s chief of staff and various Oval Office operatives went to prison, but the president got off scot-free. Some people think that because nothing has happened before it somehow is less likely to ever happen. I’m not among them. In the first 18 years of my life, for example, no president of the United States had ever resigned. In the first 13 no human had set foot on the moon. As things stand today, no American president has ever gone to prison. If an American president should ever go to prison it would be yet another American “first.” It’s time for that new first.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.