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Gordon Sondland ‘updates’ his testimony to confirm a quid pro quo

[Gordon Sondland]

Attorney Scott Pilutik wrestles with the news of the day, from a lawyerly perspective…

[Regarding this NY Times article: Sondland Updates Impeachment Testimony, Describing Ukraine Quid Pro Quo]

Even before EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified I pointed out that he appeared to be positioning himself to Have It Both Ways, a strategy that is almost always doomed, in all areas of life, but especially so when you’re as far out of your league as Gordon Sondland is.

Then his testimony was followed up by a parade of career officials contradicting him, officials whose qualifications went beyond merely paying $1 million to the Trump campaign, as Sondland had done.

So today Sondland issued “updates” to his testimony after his “recollection” was “refreshed” by the testimony of a steady stream of non-liars, to avoid a potential contempt of Congress scenario.


One of Sondland’s updates blows up a key White House talking point, i.e., that the withholding of foreign aid wasn’t connected to Trump and Giuliani’s demand to investigate the Bidens and validate Paul Manafort’s hallucinatory criminal defense strategy of absolving Russia for its 2016 election interference. (It was.)

Also, uh, yeah it was a quid pro quo.

“My original testimony, that I thought the aid was tied to a Ukrainian nonprofit aquarium that outfitted octopi with tiny helmet cams (Squid GoPro) was, in retrospect, understandably naive on my part.”

Immediately after Taylor texted Sondland to suggest that it was crazy to “withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Sondland called Trump and 4 plus hours later responded to Taylor, stating that the “President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” Here’s Sondland’s testimony about how that phone call with Trump went.


What’s interesting in that exchange is a thing that comes up a lot with Trump. He operates like a mob boss insofar as he rarely ever overtly states on the record what he’d like someone to do. Rather, he hints at the desired result, gets angry when it’s not done, and contends plausible deniability when that thing blows up because there’s no record of him ever requesting x. It’s more an innate self-preservation instinct than intelligence, but it’s something Trump is very well practiced at. We saw the same thing with Michael Cohen’s testimony:

Cohen said that Trump never overtly asked him to lie to Congress. His communications were more subtle than that, Cohen said, and the longtime Trump lawyer knew exactly what his boss wanted him to say.

“He wanted me to cooperate,” Cohen said, describing a meeting he had with Trump and one of his lawyers, Jay Sekulow. “He wanted to make sure, ‘There is no Russia. There is no collusion. There is no deal.’ He goes, ‘It’s all a witch hunt. This stuff has to end.’

“He’d been saying that to them for many, many months. At the end of the day, I knew exactly what he wanted me to say … He doesn’t tell you what he wants. ‘Again, Michael, there is no Russia, no collusion.’ I know what it means because I’ve been around him so long. Stay on point, the party line that he created.”

As to the White House now turning on Vondland, Trump’s conception of loyalty is a one-way street. If they have to crush Sondland to make a point they won’t hesitate. But the thing is, there are numerous people now similarly situated as Sondland, i.e., they’ve testified against Trump and remain in their jobs essentially still working for Trump. And it’s not immediately clear to me what angle could be worked where making Sondland the fall guy makes any sense at all.

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