“Everyone was in the loop,” Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified yesterday, referring to the White House’s Ukraine scheme. “It was no secret.” For good measure, the megadonor-turned-diplomat added, “Again, everyone was in the loop” – a phrase he repeated twice.
The next obvious question is who, exactly, is included in “everyone.” It’s fair to say Vice President Mike Pence, who’s already faced some awkward questions as part of the controversy, suddenly finds himself back in the spotlight. As NBC News’ report noted, Sondland’s testimony has put the vice president “squarely in the middle of the saga.”
Sondland said Wednesday he directly told Vice President Mike Pence of his concerns about a possible link between the release of military aid to Ukraine and the announcement of the investigations by Ukraine into Burisma Holdings and the 2016 election. He noted that this occurred when Pence was in Warsaw, Poland, for a Sept. 1 meeting with Zelenskiy. Sondland was there, as well.
“I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations. I recall mentioning that before the Zelenskiy meeting,” Sondland testified. He added that Zelenskiy, during his meeting with Pence, “raised the issue of security assistance directly with Vice President Pence” and that Pence said “he would speak to President Trump about it.”
Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, insisted soon after that the purported conversation “never happened.”
Of course, there’s also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose emails Sondland shared with Congress, and whom Sondland claims to have kept informed of Team Trump’s “activities” in Ukraine. In fact, according to the ambassador, Pompeo was still directing U.S. officials in Ukraine to deal with Rudy Giuliani as recently as Sept. 24.
A New York Times report added overnight, “No matter what he does, Mr. Pompeo will almost certainly face charges that, at best, he abetted Mr. Trump in enlisting a foreign nation to help his 2020 campaign as the price for aid in a grinding war involving Russia in eastern Ukraine. At worst, Mr. Pompeo will be seen as coordinating and approving the demands that Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, announce investigations into dubious claims about the Biden family and 2016 election interference as the price for an Oval Office meeting and a resumption of American military aid.”
A State Department spokesperson said in a statement that Sondland “never told Secretary Pompeo that he believed the President was linking aid to investigations of political opponents” and that “any suggestions to the contrary is flat out false.”
Nevertheless, Politico published this headline late yesterday: “What did Pompeo know and when did he know it?” As a rule, that’s not the sort of thing powerful and ambitious cabinet secretaries want to see.
And really, that’s just the start. The “loop” Sondland referenced also includes “everyone” from White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry, former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton to Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.
The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus made the point overnight that Sondland’s testimony yesterday “makes exquisitely clear that the House, in exercising its impeachment power, is entitled to hear from a series of witnesses who have so far either refused requests to testify or not been summoned.” Marcus’ list, naturally, included Pence, Pompeo, Mulvaney, Bolton, Perry, and Giuliani.
Welcome to “All the President’s Men” for a new generation.