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Sondland, considered a key witness, testifies today.

Byline: Aaron C. Davis and Rachael Bade The Washington Post

WASHINGTON Only a handful of subordinates to a U.S. president have ever found themselves in the unenviable position of deciding whether to publicly implicate the commander in chief in impeachment proceedings John Dean, Monica Lewinsky and others whose names are seared into American history.

No one, however, has faced quite the dilemma now confronting Gordon Sondland.

The evidence gathered to date points to Sondland as the witness who, more than any other, could tie President Donald Trump directly to the effort to persuade Ukraine to launch investigations that might benefit him politically.

Today, with cameras rolling, the millionaire Republican donor-turned-ambassador could solidify the case against Trump, though doing so would require that he revise his previous testimony or acknowledge significant omissions. Or he could stand by his statements and face withering questioning from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee over inconsistencies between his testimony and that of a growing number of witnesses.

"The impeachment effort comes down to one guy, Ambassador Sondland," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who like many Republicans has argued that only a first-person account of Trump leveraging U.S. power for personal gain could give Democrats grounds to impeach. "All the other testimony has a Sondland core to it and a Sondland connection."

Sondland's future and possibly his freedom could also rest on whether lawmakers believe he is telling the whole truth about his role and that of the president. Lawmakers in previous inquiries have referred witnesses to the Justice Department if they believe they have lied under oath.

One Republican appeared to raise such a possibility in a brief interview Monday night particularly if Sondland backs away from his testimony that Trump did not direct a quid pro quo.

"I expect Ambassador Sondland to tell us the same thing he said in his deposition," said House Intelligence Committee member Michael Conaway, R-Texas. Asked what would happen if he does not, he said: "Well, there are legal ramifications for that, for changing your [testimony]. He's got to have good reasons."

Sondland's potential legal exposure is rooted in seven hours of closed-door testimony he provided to congressional investigators Oct. 17. Sondland said then that he had little contact with Trump and knew of no link between a freeze on U.S. aid to Ukraine and investigations sought by Trump into the energy company Burisma, where former Vice President Joe Biden's son held a board position, or into a widely discredited theory that Ukraine had circulated misinformation to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Sondland told Congress that he would not have assisted in any effort by the president to press Ukraine to investigate a potential 2020 challenger and that he would have viewed such an effort as inappropriate.

Already, Sondland has reversed himself on a key point. In supplemental testimony, he wrote that the accounts of witnesses who testified after him had "refreshed" his memory.

Though he previously said he knew of no link, Sondland wrote that on Sept. 1 he warned a top Ukrainian official that $400 million in U.S. assistance would probably flow to the country only if its president publicly promised to launch the investigations. Sondland said he had come to "presume" that the White House had linked the aid to the investigations and so shared that presumption with the Ukrainians.

In recent weeks, additional inconsistencies have emerged between Sondland's account and those of at least a half dozen other Foreign Service and national security officials, all of whom will testify publicly before Congress by the end of the week.

Witnesses have said Sondland pressured Ukrainian officials over the investigations, including at a White House meeting July 10. Sondland last month said he recalled no such exchange.

The prospect that Sondland could further revise his initial testimony and more directly implicate the president or that he could hold fast adds an element of unpredictability to an already unprecedented impeachment investigation.

Where the probes into President Richard Nixon's culpability in the Watergate scandal and President Bill Clinton's lies about an affair with an intern were recounted in lengthy reports compiled by special prosecutors, Attorney General William Barr's dismissal of concerns about Trump's actions left Democratic lawmakers to conduct their own investigation. As a result, the Trump inquiry from the start has played out almost in real-time.
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Title Annotation:Nation_
Author:Aaron C. Davis and Rachael Bade The Washington Post
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Geographic Code:4EXUR
Date:Nov 20, 2019
Words:725
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