Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who has emerged as a central figure in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, will be deposed by lawmakers Tuesday about his activities as President Trump urged Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.
Text messages made public last week show that Sondland, whose portfolio does not include U.S.-Ukraine relations, inserted himself into the effort to obtain a commitment from Ukraine to launch the investigations. At the time, the government in Kiev was eagerly awaiting the release of nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid and the arrangement of a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In one text message, Sondland wrote that Trump “really wants the deliverable,” referring to a clear demonstration from Ukraine that it would undertake the investigations.
Sondland worked closely with Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, to shape U.S. foreign policy around Trump’s desire to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, as well as an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 presidential election to undermine Trump’s candidacy.
Lawmakers heard last week from Volker after he resigned his position and turned over his communications to Congress. Sondland remains in his post and has turned over the documents that lawmakers want to the State Department instead, setting up a fight between the legislative and executive branches over access to the information.
Sondland, 61, appears never to have held a position in government before being named the ambassador to the E.U. in June 2018. He built his fortune acquiring and managing luxury hotels in the Pacific Northwest and gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund via shell companies that obscured his involvement.
The text messages released last week show what appear to be Sondland’s effort to minimize political fallout from the administration’s dealings with the Ukrainians.
On Sept. 9, William B. “Bill” Taylor, the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, texted Sondland: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Hours later, Sondland, who had been aggressively pursuing a public agreement for Ukraine to launch the investigations, replied, “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”