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Sondland to Testify Wednesday          11/20 06:23

   Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment 
inquiry, is likely to be unpredictable when he faces questions about his 
evolving accounts of the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine and a 
newly revealed summertime phone call with President Donald Trump.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness 
in the impeachment inquiry, is likely to be unpredictable when he faces 
questions about his evolving accounts of the Trump administration's dealings 
with Ukraine and a newly revealed summertime phone call with President Donald 
Trump.

   Sondland, a wealthy hotelier Trump tapped as his ambassador to the European 
Union, is more directly entangled than any witness yet in the Republican 
president's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and 
Democrats in the 2016 election. Yet Sondland has already amended his testimony 
once --- "I now do recall," he said, talking to Ukraine about investigations.

   Sondland's appearance at Wednesday morning's hearing, and his closeness to 
Trump, is of particular concern to the White House as the historic impeachment 
inquiry reaches closer to the president, pushing through an intense week with 
nine witnesses testifying over three days in back-to-back sessions.

   Trump has recently tried to suggest that he barely knows his hand-picked 
ambassador, but Sondland has said he has spoken several times with the 
president and was acting on his direction.

   The envoy is likely to face tough questions from lawmakers of both parties 
about Trump's July 25 call when he asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy 
for the political investigations at the same time as U.S. military aid for the 
ally was being stalled.

   Sondland routinely bragged about his proximity to Trump and drew alarm from 
the foreign service and national security apparatus as part of an irregular 
channel of diplomacy led by the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

   Last week State Department official David Holmes revealed one of those 
interactions to impeachment investigators, saying he recalled it "vividly."

   The political counselor was having lunch with Sondland in Kyiv when the 
ambassador dialed up the president on his cellphone and Holmes could hear 
Trump's voice.

   "I then heard President Trump ask, quote, 'So he's going to do the 
investigation?'" Holmes testified. "Ambassador Sondland replied that 'He's 
going to do it,' adding that President Zelensky will, quote, 'do anything you 
ask him to.'"

   Sondland was known for telling others "he was in charge of Ukraine" despite 
being the U.S. envoy in Brussels, said another witness in the impeachment 
probe, former White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill.

   "And I asked, well, on whose authority?" said Hill, who will testify 
Thursday. "And he said, the President."

   Sondland's appearance follows the testimony Tuesday of four national 
security and diplomatic officials, including a career Army officer who 
described Trump's call with Zelenskiy as "improper."

   Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told lawmakers it was his "duty" to report his 
concerns about the call, as he deflected Republican attacks, including from the 
White House on his loyalty and career in public service.

   It wasn't the first time Vindman had registered his concerns over Ukraine 
policy. He testified about a July 10 meeting at the White House when Sondland 
told visiting Ukraine officials they would need to "deliver" before the 
administration would agree to a meeting Zelenskiy wanted with Trump.

   "Ambassador Sondland referred to investigations into the Bidens and Burisma 
in 2016," Vindman testified, referring to the gas company on whose board Hunter 
Biden had a seat.

   At the White House, Trump said he had watched part of the day's testimony 
and slammed the ongoing impeachment hearings as a "disgrace." Over the weekend, 
Trump assailed Williams as part of the "Never Trumpers" who oppose his 
presidency, though there is no indication she has shown any partisanship.

   Former National Security Council official Timothy Morrison told 
investigators that he witnessed a key September conversation in Warsaw between 
Sondland and a top aide to Zelenskiy. Afterward, Sondland said he had relayed 
to the Ukrainian that U.S. aid might be freed if the country would announce the 
investigations, Morrison testified.

   Another diplomat, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, shifted his 
own account of the July 10 meeting to say Sondland did, in fact, discuss 
investigations with the visiting Ukrainians.

   "I think all of us thought it was inappropriate; the conversation did not 
continue and the meeting concluded," Volker said.

   A series of text messages Volker provided to lawmakers showed conversations 
between him, Sondland and other leaders in which they discussed a need for 
Ukraine to launch investigations, including into Burisma.

   Volker said meeting with Giuliani was just part of the dialogue, and he had 
one in-person meeting with him, in which Giuliani "raised, and I rejected, the 
conspiracy theory that Vice President Biden would have been influenced in his 
duties as vice president by money paid to his son."


(KR)

 
 
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