Sondland emerges as key target after Vindman testimony

House Democrats are weighing whether to take action against U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who some lawmakers believe misled impeachment investigators during his closed-door deposition earlier this month.

Upon hearing from a series of career foreign service and national security officials, some Democrats say Sondland lied to three House committees investigating President TrumpDonald John TrumpSessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines Priest among those police cleared from St. John's Church patio for Trump visit Trump criticizes CNN on split-screen audio of Rose Garden address, protesters clashing with police MORE’s contacts with Ukraine, particularly in regard to pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch two investigations that would help Trump politically.


Now, some Democrats want Sondland to return to Capitol Hill to testify about the conflicting accounts of his involvement, while others are saying he should be charged for misleading the House committees.

The latest development comes after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the director for European affairs on the National Security Council (NSC), on Tuesday testified for roughly 10 hours before House investigators. Vindman said Sondland had direct involvement in pressuring Zelensky for investigations into both the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPresidents and 'presidents' Biden to blast Trump's church photo op in Philadelphia speech Rudy Giuliani calls on Cuomo to remove Bill de Blasio MORE, one of Trump’s top 2020 political opponents.

Some Democrats said Vindman’s testimony uncovered a crime: Sondland, they charged, had lied under oath.

"He clearly lied to the committee. They should pursue charges against him,” said one Democratic lawmaker involved with the impeachment inquiry.

Other Democrats, while they didn’t call for a specific course of action, said they also believed Sondland was not truthful and should return to Capitol Hill to face questions about these conflicting accounts.

“Based on all the testimony so far, I believe that Ambassador Gordon Sondland committed perjury,” tweeted Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroCHC says George Floyd death shows 'tiny fraction' of what people of color confront in their daily lives Julián Castro launches PAC to support progressive candidates Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic MORE (D-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

“During the Russia investigation, I said there were four witnesses I would like to have back. Now there are five,” said. Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyDemocrats call for probe into ouster of State Dept. watchdog Bipartisan lawmakers call for global 'wet markets' ban amid coronavirus crisis EPA defends suspension of pollution monitoring in letter to Congress MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.  “I don’t know that it is going to happen. We are on such a tight schedule, and there are so many other things to do. I would like to have him back, or I would’ve liked to have had him after a couple of these witnesses we’ve had recently.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOvernight Defense: Trump extends deployment of National Guard troops to aid with coronavirus response | Pentagon considers reducing quarantine to 10 days | Lawmakers push for removal of Nazi headstones from VA cemeteries VA secretary stops short of agreeing to remove Nazi headstones Lawmakers call on VA to remove swastikas from headstones in veterans cemeteries MORE (D-Fla.) offered a similar assessment Tuesday, saying she has “more concerns” about Sondland’s credibility following Vindman’s opening remarks.

“His lapses in memory of specific events, conversations weren’t credible, and now I have heard a lot of details about the same meetings that he described in which I have more questions,” she told reporters outside the closed-door deposition room. “I’d like to hear more from [Sondland] because what I’ve subsequently heard from other witnesses causes concern about his veracity and his testimony, causes more concern than I already had.”

The Florida Democrat added that she found Vindman’s testimony meshed with that given by other witnesses, saying that it "filled in more puzzle pieces."

Sondland, a wealthy Trump donor, has no prior diplomatic experience, and Democrats have been suspicious of his version of events since his appearance before impeachment investigators on Oct. 17. Sondland's legal team declined to comment on points raised in Vindman's opening statement.

Since then, Democrats have raised more alarms about Sondland’s testimony, particularly after William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, testified last week that he believed the Trump administration had withheld nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in an effort to get Zelensky to open the Biden and 2016 probes. Sondland, echoing Trump, had asserted there was no such quid pro quo.

“I walk away with the impression Mr. Sondland will have some explaining to do,” Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHouse subcommittee says Trump administration did not adequately screen travelers from Italy, South Korea for COVID-19 Lawmakers push for mental health funding for providers in next aid package FDA grants emergency approval to Swiss firm's coronavirus antibody test MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said at the time.

Vindman is the 10th witness to appear before the three committees leading the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, which was launched five weeks ago following a whistleblower allegation that Trump had leveraged U.S. aid to pressure foreign leaders for political favors.

While Vindman told lawmakers he is not the whistleblower, according to his opening remarks, his statement does support central parts of the whistleblower's narrative surrounding Sondland’s role in the administration’s pressure campaign.

Text messages released to Congress by another witness earlier in the month revealed that Sondland had sought to secure a commitment from Zelensky to launch anti-corruption investigations before Trump would meet with the Ukrainian president.

Sondland testified that he was unaware of any efforts to have Zelensky open a Biden probe, but he also said Trump insisted during a short phone call with him that there was no quid pro quo for aid, according to his prepared remarks for testimony.

Vindman’s opening statement also directly contradicts Sondland’s opening statement claim that no NSC officials came to him and raised “misgivings about the propriety” of their Ukraine policy.

“I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push,” Vindman’s opening statement reads. “Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.”

A chief complaint from Democrats following Sondland’s Oct. 17 deposition was what they characterized as a lack of specificity — one lawmaker called it “selective amnesia” — as he relayed events related to the administration’s pressure campaign on the Ukrainians.

Indeed, Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiGun control group rolls out House endorsements Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary House passes massive T coronavirus relief package MORE (D-N.J.), a former State Department official, said Sondland’s testimony was not so much in conflict with other witness accounts as it was just less precise.

"Some witnesses may have conveniently forgotten certain details, but that doesn't mean that there's a contradiction," Malinowski, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said. "I think what we heard from [Sondland] fully corroborates what we heard from others, just in less detail in some key places."

Trump’s Republican allies, meanwhile, have defended Sondland, pointing to his testimony as more evidence that there was no quid pro quo underlying Trump’s Ukraine dealings.

The GOP lawmakers are also pressing hard to disclose the whistleblower’s identity, arguing that impeachment is too grave a matter to hinge on anonymous allegations.

"There are 350 million Americans," said Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryKey races to watch in Tuesday's primaries House Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground states Trump lends support to swing district Republicans MORE (R-Pa.), "and somehow one guy, anonymously, is able to start the impeachment proceedings on a president of the United States, and nobody knows who he is or where he came up with the information."

Democrats strongly disagree. And Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFlynn urged Russian diplomat to have 'reciprocal' response to Obama sanctions, new transcripts show The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, pledged after Vindman’s lengthy deposition that they would make every effort to ensure Trump and his allies don’t use their House depositions to “exact political revenge” against the whistleblower.

“The president's comments and actions have jeopardized the whistleblower's safety. The president's allies would like nothing better than to help the president out this whistleblower. Our committee will not be a part of that,” Schiff said. “They have the right to remain anonymous.”

Rebecca Klar contributed.