House impeachment hearings continue with EU ambassador Gordon Sondland today.
Lawmakers plan to grill Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on Thursday about a private discussion he had with top Ukrainian officials in the White House in which he explicitly mentioned the Ukrainian gas company linked to Hunter Bidenhttps://t.co/RisiWENu0G
— Christina Lutz 🇪🇺 (@ChristinaLutz17) October 17, 2019
We now know that a covert diplomatic unit called #ThreeAmigos were secretly executing an end run around #DepartmetOfState dictating diplomatic policy in #Ukraine.#RickPerry, @RudyGiuliani and Gordon #Sondland were in charge of operation mariachi. https://t.co/YceDaAs8jy pic.twitter.com/gHRwBBFXox
— Chuck Russell (@iamChuckRussell) October 17, 2019
There’s more than “3 Amigos” involved even as that meme has been used to describe Kurt Volker, Gordon Sundland, and Rick Perry’s roles in the Ukraine Arms for Dirt scandal. Only Rick Perry remains to provide amigo testimony whereas the criminal investigation of shadow secretary of state Rudy Giuliani continues, and a host of witnesses and documents remains to be assembled despite WH lack of cooperation. Several aides have now described Sondland as a potential counter-intelligence risk.
In discussing trade, Sondland would complain that the EU was “ripping off” the US, said Jeremy Shapiro, a research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, who interacted with Sondland. Shapiro says that Sondland would also threaten his European counterparts with a “Chinese-style stand-off” if they didn’t cooperate on trade.“When he speaks he’s forceful, blunt and un-diplomatic and it aggravates people,” said Shapiro.[…]Sondland is now a key player in an impeachment inquiry examining whether the President tried to use US military aid as leverage in his effort to get a foreign country to investigate a political foe.On Thursday, Sondland, who remains in his post as ambassador, will testify behind closed doors to the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees that are leading the Democratic impeachment inquiry into Trump and Ukraine. Their investigation was spurred by a whistleblower complaint alleging Trump sought help from Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s position on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma Holdings.
Sondland is a crucial witness for Democrats’ impeachment case. Lawmakers have already interviewed multiple current and former State Department officials, and Sondland has popped up in their testimony in several instances, including text messages turned over to Congress in which Sondland and a top US diplomat in Ukraine debate whether $400 million in military and security aid was being withheld in connection with Ukraine opening an investigation.
“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” acting US ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor texted to Sondland on September 9.
Once confirmed, Sondland was viewed as a problem by the national security teams at the White House and at the State Department, two administration officials told CNN. Sondland did not feel bound by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or national security adviser John Bolton. He could call the President whenever he wanted, and did, they said.
In her testimony to Congress this week, Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top Russia adviser, said that she regarded Sondland as a security risk, a source familiar with her testimony tells CNN. Hill told Congress that Sondland frequently used his personal cell phone to conduct official diplomatic business, and that she worried his lack of experience could be exploited by foreign governments.
A sampling of State Department contracts reveals that since September 2018—just a few months after Sondland’s Senate confirmation—the embassy in Brussels has been awarded $95,109 for a pergola, $13,301 for a pool-Jacuzzi heating system, $33,625 on wooden household furniture, $208,683 on a professional kitchen remodel, and two bathroom renovations, one costing $53,809 and the other $82,354. Additionally, the State Department spent $103,748 on a hotel, to ostensibly serve as an alternate residence to the embassy while the building undergoes renovations for months of September and October of this year. (In a statement, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that updates to the residence had been funded in 2019 “as part of its regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.”)