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 TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed 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 BidenDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Media organization fights Trump administration over Ukraine documents FOIA Buttigieg releases list of campaign bundlers 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 CastroHispanic Democrats demand flu vaccines for detained migrants Pelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills 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 vow court victories won't slow impeachment timeline Most US birds are facing extinction unless we take action Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' 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 SchultzOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Wasserman Schultz makes bid for House Appropriations Committee gavel Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families 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 KrishnamoorthiOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Turf war derails push on surprise medical bills | Bill would tax e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaign | .5M ad blitz backs vulnerable Dems on drug prices Lawmakers introduce bill taxing e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaigns The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday 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) MalinowskiVulnerable Democrats feel heat ahead of impeachment vote Democrats reach cusp of impeachment Pelosi's whiplash moment brings praise and criticism 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 PerryBillboards calling on House Republicans to 'do their job' follow members home for Thanksgiving Yovanovitch impeachment testimony gives burst of momentum to Democrats House Republicans prepare for public impeachment proceedings with mock hearing 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 SchiffSupreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote McConnell, White House lawyer huddle on impeachment strategy 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.