White House official's testimony will directly contradict a Trump ambassador's claims to Congress about Biden
When Ambassador Bill Taylor's bombshell testimony to Congress broke last week, many argued that it contradicted the prior claims made to lawmakers by Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, who has been an ally of the president, raising the possibility of he could be charged for making false statements. I argued that, based solely on the public evidence, there wasn't yet strong evidence that a perjury charge against Sondland could be proven in case.
But new testimony forthcoming this week from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, released Monday night, offers several claims that directly contradict Sondland, throwing the truthfulness of his testimony into even more doubt, and seriously raising the possibility that he broke the law.
On the core issue of the allegations against President Donald Trump, Vindman's testimony doesn' change the picture too much. His main contribution, it seems, will likely be that he was an Army officer immediately aware of Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and that he was deeply concerned by the president's attempts to get the foreign country to investigate Vice President Joe Biden. This testimony, even if it doesn't present new information, could have a powerful impact.
But one place where Vindman does provide new information is his account of a July 10 meeting with Sondland, who served as a key player in Trump's Ukraine scheme, despite it not falling under his official responsibilities. Vindman describes the meeting with Ukrainian officials, U.S. officials, and Sondland, in his testimony. At one point, he says, Sondland brought up the fact that Trump wanted Ukraine to carry out certain investigations before having a meeting with Zelensky. Vindman continues:
Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Amb. Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Dr. [Fiona] Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.
Following the debriefing meeting, I reported my concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel. Dr. Hill also reported the incident to the NSC’s lead counsel.
These claims directly contradict Sondland's testimony at multiple points.
For example, despite the fact that Sondland was pushing for Ukraine to pursue investigations throughout the summer, he told Congress that he was unaware that the investigation into the oil company Burisma, where Biden's son Hunter served on the board, has any relation to the former vice president or his family.
"I did not know until more recent press reports that Hunter Biden was on the board of Burisma," Sondland told Congress earlier in October. "Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens."
This seems flatly false, if Vindman's claims are accurate. But not only did Sondland deny knowing about the push to investigate the Bidens, he also denied getting any negative feedback about his work with Ukraine, which Vindman says he and Hill provided.
"While I have not seen Dr. Hill's testimony, I am surprised and disappointed by the media reports of her critical comments. To put it clearly: Neither she nor Ambassador Bolton shared any critical comments with me, even after our July 10, 2019 White House meeting," Sondland told Congress.
He also explicitly ruled out the possibility that Vindman, a member of the National Security Council, raised any concerns about the July 10 meeting:
But if Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, or others harbored any misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me, then or later. We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting; and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.
Now, contradictory testimony on its own should be troubling for both witnesses involved. This immediately looks worse for Sondland, though, because, based on the totality of the evidence, it would seem he likely has the most to hide. But conflicting testimony on its own might not prove a criminal case.
What should really concern Sondland is this part of Vindman's testimony: "Following the debriefing meeting, I reported my concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel. Dr. Hill also reported the incident to the NSC’s lead counsel."
This suggests there may be records of Vindman and Hill's complaints, which could verify both Sondland's knowledge of and involvement in a push to investigate the Bidens, and his awareness of the complaints from the NSC. It would also likely provide yet another witness — the NSC lead counsel — who could potentially corroborate Vindman's claims. If the records exist and back up Vindman's account, they could make a powerful case Sondland lied to Congress.