Nothing about Gordon Sondland’s handling of the Ukraine affair—either as the ambassador to the European Union or as a witness in the impeachment inquiry—has appeared methodical or subtle.
But in his testimony today, Sondland seems to have found his sense of care. Systematically but consistently, he is undermining all of the pillars of President Donald Trump’s defense that he did not extort political assistance from Ukraine.
Was it a quid pro quo? “The answer is yes.” Were Sondland and others acting on their own? “We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements.”
There’s still one more defense: that however clumsy or inappropriate Trump’s pressure on Ukraine was, it is forgivable, or at least not impeachable, because he was sincerely attempting to fight corruption in Ukraine, which is a long-standing policy goal of the United States. How, his allies ask, could anyone take issue with his demands to investigate wrongdoing?
There are flaws in this defense—Trump showed little interest in corruption in any other venue, or in connection with any other company than Burisma, for which former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on the board. But Sondland’s testimony is aiming straight at the Achilles’ heel of this defense.