Advertisement
  1. Opinion

There was a quid pro quo and everybody knew it | Editorial

Trump’s ambassador provided clarity in the impeachment inquiry Wednesday.
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland listens to the closing statement of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. [ANDREW HARNIK | AP]
Published Nov. 20
Updated Nov. 20

President Donald Trump’s hand-picked ambassador to the European Union told the House impeachment inquiry Wednesday what Republicans on Capitol Hill appear determined to deny at all costs: It was apparent Trump withheld military and political support from Ukraine in an attempt to force that country’s new government to investigate Trump’s domestic political rivals. Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony decimates the Republican talking points and raises the stakes for Congress to decide whether the president should be impeached.

Sondland detailed how the president instructed him and others to work with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to establish preconditions with Ukraine before Trump would grant its new president a White House meeting or authorize the release of nearly $400-million in congressionally-appropriated U.S. military aid that Ukraine desperately needed to defend itself from Russian-backed separatists. Trump wanted Ukraine to publicly announce it would investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential contender, and Biden’s son, and that it would pursue the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine - not Russia - interfered in America’s 2016 election.

Sondland’s testimony built on earlier disclosures by State Department officials and national security aides who reported their concerns that Trump was extorting foreign assistance for his personal political benefit. Yet unlike the career diplomats and military professionals whom Trump and congressional Republicans have attacked as partisans or second-hand sources, Sondland was a major financial supporter of the president and spoke to him often as ambassador. Sondland said he worked with Giuliani “at the express direction of the president.” While Sondland testified that he and others opposed linking Ukraine policy to an investigation of the Bidens, "We knew that these investigations were important to the president.”

“Was there a quid pro quo?" Sondland asked rhetorically, in his opening statement Wednesday. “The answer is yes.”

Sondland also painted a far broader picture of who was aware of the situation. He implicated Vice President Mike Pence, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and other senior officials. “Everyone was in the loop," Sondland testified. “It was no secret.” Giuliani and Sondland also made it clear directly to Ukrainian officials that the resumption of aid hinged on the investigations. The ambassador said he - like others in the State Department - objected to withholding the military assistance, which “was critical to Ukraine’s defense and should not have been delayed,” but that ultimately, “We followed the president’s orders.”

This testimony by a Trump insider who communicated directly with the president as the scandal unfolded should dispel any fanciful defense that Trump’s intentions were benign or that the impeachment inquiry is a contrived political grievance. Like other witnesses before him, Sondland testified despite orders from the White House and State Department not to appear. The Trump administration also refused to give Sondland access to his phone records, emails and other documents that he sought to reconstruct the record. This is not the conduct of an administration with nothing to hide.

At some point soon, even congressional Republicans will have to confront the facts: The president withheld vital military aid and an important meeting to a desperate ally in an attempt to force that ally to help the president’s own political fortunes. Now he has obstructed the impeachment inquiry and intimidated congressional witnesses. What should be the appropriate response by Congress and the American people?

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A huge number of homes owned by Baby Boomers will sell in the next 20 years. How will the trend affect the Florida housing market? CAMERON GILLIE  |  NAPLES DAILY NEWS
    The enormous generation born between 1946 and 1964 owns about 40 percent of the homes across the country.
  2. The Reed at Encore, one of Tampa's signature affordable housing projects
    Here’s what readers had to say in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  3. Standardized test scores paint a bleak picture of stagnation, not progress.
  4. Focus on better standard pay and creating classrooms where their students can thrive.
  5. Pastor Jeremiah Saunders poses for a photo among the ruins of his church that was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, on Sept. 11, 2019. RAMON ESPINOSA  |  AP
    Where does “strong” begin and, more important, where does it end? So asks this columnist.
  6. Elementary school students go through the lunch line in the school's cafeteria in Paducah, Kentucky. ELLEN O'NAN  |  AP
    Why, just think of all the savings from cutting school lunch programs, writes Daniel Ruth.
  7. Conservative critics of the Pasco school district's stance on LGBTQ issues have complained to the School Board for a year, and show no indication of backing down. They've been wearing t-shirts saying 'Pasco kids at risk' — something district officials strongly reject. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    Students offer a lesson in civility and acceptance.
  8. Rep. Crist champions a way to cut down on spam callers.
  9. Attorney General William Barr speaks with members of the press before participating in a law enforcement roundtable at the Flathead County Sheriff's Posse in Evergreen, Mont. PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Attorney General Barr should not threaten communities that question police conduct
  10. Charlie Crist
    The state can accomplish the goals of Amendment 4 right now, says Rep. Charlie Crist
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement