In the most compromising public statement given in the impeachment proceedings against US President Donald Trump, US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told parliamentarians on Wednesday that he lobbied Ukraine for investigations against the Democrat. Joe Biden and his son Hunter, by order of the president.
"There was express guidance from the president," Sondland said, to work with Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and follow Giuliani's orders in the venture.
Also according to Sondland, Giuliani determined that, in exchange for military aid, the Ukrainians should announce an investigation against Trump's opponents. "Mr Giuliani was expressing the wishes of the president of the United States," said the ambassador.
Sondland said that both Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were aware that the release of military aid to the country would be conditional on Ukraine acting against Biden and an investigation into possible aid from Ukrainian agents to the Democrats in the 2016 election.
This is the first time such high-ranking figures in Republican management have been directly implicated in the scandal. "Everyone was on the circuit. It was no secret," said Sondland, who also said he was greeted by Pompeo for the "great work" he had been doing in his relationship with Ukraine.
The ambassador admitted that there was "a clear quid pro quo" underway. That is, Trump conditioned a visit by the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to the White House to the public announcement by the Ukrainians of the investigation against Biden.
Sondland, however, said he did not recall hearing directly from Trump that military aid would be linked to the public announcement of investigations, but said he assumed this was the case and acted on that presumption, without meeting any objection from other US authorities. .
By saying that he responded to Trump's orders through Giuliani, Sondland weakens the Republican thesis that the president's lawyer acted on his own, as a "freelancer" rather than as a US foreign policy operator.
What did Democrats and Republicans do with Sondland's words?
In addition to its content, which places President Trump and his assistants as the artisans of a taxpayer exchange for an investigation that would personally benefit the Republican, Sondland's testimony is powerful for two reasons: first, because he would be a qualified witness , a primary source of events, unlike other witnesses already heard, such as Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who served in Ukraine and was removed from office by Trump before negotiations with the Ukrainians took place.
Second, because he is historically linked to Republicans, he donated $ 1 million to Trump's inaugural party, and an Oregon-based hotel business owner was eventually given the president the post of ambassador, who he says he always wished .
Faced with Sondland's admission of a quid pro quo, Democrats tried to get him to qualify the president's conduct as corrupt, something the ambassador refused to say by saying he was not "a lawyer to characterize conduct."
Since public testimony began last week, Trump opponents have been trying to change the scandal's lexicon, characterizing as "corruption", "bribery" and "extortion" the behavior of the Trump administration towards Ukrainians.
The strategy is twofold: making the accusations against the president more understandable to the general public, who may be in front of the TV watching the testimony live, and classifying Trump's actions within the scope of the crimes of responsibility foreseen by the US Constitution to revoke a mandate presidential.
Republicans questioned the truth of Sondland's words and argued that he had mistakenly assumed that he had received orders that were never given.
"No one on Earth has told you that the president conditioned military aid on the investigation, have they?" Asked Republican Rep. Mike Turner, who Sondland nodded. Trump's allies disqualified the ambassador's unreliability, who had no notes on his own work, and said several times that he could not quite remember the circumstances of his actions.
They also recalled that the military aid was released without the Ukrainian government making an investigation announcement against Biden, which would overturn the narrative of a quid pro quo. And they recalled an exchange of messages between Sondland and Trump, in which the agent stated that "he wanted nothing from Ukraine, no quid pro quo."
What is the impact of Sondland's statement on the process?
Although his speech began in a bombastic way, the ambassador was moderating the speech over the hours of testimony and taking the weight off his own words.
"Sondland has become a punching bag for Democrats and Republicans. Its testimony has been exaggerated and in that context is a setback for Democrats," says Michael Cornfield, political scientist at George Washington University.
According to a member of the Republican Party communications team, Democrats have tried to turn Sondland's words into a "moment ago!", A window of opportunity that could take Trump's political hold.
"But that's not exactly what we saw. I still don't think there are a lot of people paying much attention to it, apart from the political elite of Washington D.C., and for now it's not clear who wins with public opinion," says the aide.
By embracing public testimony about the case of Ukraine, Democrats have been trying to convince the public that if Trump should not be removed from office, at least he does not deserve to be reinstated by the vote in the 2020 election. The possible trial of an impeachment would be made by the Senate, where Trump gets the most votes. Therefore, it is unlikely to fall.
"The potential effect on disrupting the Republican candidacy may be the most significant result of the deterrent effort," says Princeton political scientist Keith Whittington.
"It is possible that these testimonies will convince Republican voters and lead party senators to support impeachment against their own president, but that is still very unlikely," says Whittington.
Unlike Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, who have also faced impeachment proceedings, election behavior experts say there is much less volatility among voters today, implying that, however powerful the words of Sondland, their convincing power over voters is limited.
Opinion polls show that while nearly 70% of Democratic voters support Trump's impeachment, only 6% of Republicans want the same.
"It's still too early to gauge the impact of this statement, but most voters have definitely decided on what to do. We have a much more polarized society than we had in the 1970s or 1990s and that keeps people from changing their minds." "I think the process may discourage people who previously voted for Trump to go again, but I don't think it will change preferences," says Cornfield.
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