Gordon Sondland, the Donald Trump administration’s ambassador to the European Union, regularly emailed top administration officials to keep them in the loop about his push to force Ukraine to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden remains the Democratic frontrunner to oppose Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
The Wall Street Journal reviewed the Sondland emails for a report published on Sunday. Sondland gave a closed-door deposition to the congressional impeachment inquiry into Trump on October 17. However, the ambassador is scheduled to appear again in a publicly televised hearing on Wednesday. In that hearing, he is likely to be asked about those emails, many of which were directed to Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
A phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25 is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. In that call, Trump appeared to link military aid to Ukraine to Zelensky’s willingness to open the investigation into Biden — an investigation that could be used by Trump to attack Biden in the 2020 campaign, if Biden becomes the Democratic nominee.
Since the White House released a partial transcript of that call on September 25, a parade of witnesses testifying in the impeachment inquiry has corroborated the allegation that Trump was withholding military aid in order to force Zelensky into pursuing the Biden investigation. The witnesses have also portrayed Sondland — a hotel magnate who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, but who has no previous diplomatic experience — as Trump’s personally designated lieutenant in the pressure campaign against Ukraine.
Sondland appears to have repeatedly spoken with Trump directly about the push for the investigation, taking Trump’s directions before making any moves.
According to the Journal report, just six days before the Trump-Zelensky phone call, Sondland wrote an email to Mulvaney, informing the acting chief of staff that Zelensky was “prepared to receive” the call from Trump and to announce the investigation. Sondland told Mulvaney that Zelensky promised to “turn over every stone” in the investigation of Biden.
Mulvaney replied, saying that he would schedule the call between Trump and the new Ukraine president, who had been elected only three months earlier.
In the impeachment inquiry, Republicans have claimed that because the aid eventually was released, on September 11, and no investigation was ever announced, “there wasn’t a corrupt quid pro quo,” according to Washington Post columnist Aaron Blake.
But the newly uncovered emails show that the plot to force the investigations had been proceeding as planned, and Zelensky had agreed to make the announcement desired by Trump and Sondland.