Last month, President Donald Trump described Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, as “a really good man and great American” in a tweet. Trump said that he didn’t intend to let Sondland testify before impeachment investigators about the administration’s shady dealings with Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Sondland testified. And Trump suddenly barely knows the guy.
Sondland delivered a bombshell opening statement in which he implicated everyone from Trump to Rudy Giuliani to Vice President Mike Pence to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a “quid pro quo.” He testified he believed White House officials wouldn’t allow a state visit and hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid would be withheld until Ukrainian officials delivered “a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma.”
On Wednesday, Trump — who nominated Sondland for an ambassadorship after Sondland gave $1 million to his inaugural fund — said to reporters outside the White House, “I don’t know him very well.”
“I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. Seems like a nice guy though,” Trump said of Sondland. “He was with other candidates. He actually supported other candidates. Not me. Came in late.”
TRUMP on Gordon Sondland, who he described as "a really good man and great American" last month and who gave $1 million to his inaugural: "I don't know him well. He was with other candidates ... not me. Came in late." pic.twitter.com/oy9TUbwPpf— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 20, 2019
Trump then read a “response” to Sondland’s testimony that was handwritten on a sheet of paper and included the phrases, “I WANT NOTHING. I WANT NOTHING. I WANT NO QUID PRO QUO. TELL ZELENSKY TO DO THE RIGHT THING.”
.@POTUS is now standing on South Lawn reading - from handwritten notes - quotes from Sondland testimony: pic.twitter.com/9LqG1k4Bpt— Hallie Jackson (@HallieJackson) November 20, 2019
Trump’s comments were reminiscent of how he and his representatives have previously distanced themselves from associates as soon as the association became problematic. In October 2017, when campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos struck a plea deal for lying to the FBI and started cooperating, Trump downplayed him on Twitter as a “low level volunteer” who “few people knew.”
....came to the campaign. Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar. Check the DEMS!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2017
Meanwhile, other Trump associates characterized Papadopoulos as nothing more than a “coffee boy.”
Trump similarly distanced himself from his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, after Cohen implicated him in felonies in a federal court.
Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2019
The handwritten notes Trump read to reporters on Wednesday indicates that he thinks his comment will be “the final word” about Sondland.
Trump appears to believe that his statement just now will be “the final word from the pres of the U.S.” pic.twitter.com/gQ7J0pn8Jq— Sam Stein (@samstein) November 20, 2019
Sondland, for his part, primarily placed blame for the Ukraine fiasco on Giuliani, but said he viewed him as “expressing the desires of the president of the United States.” So even though he doesn’t want to, the president will now certainly face questions about what he knew regarding the quid pro quo and when he knew it.
Then, during the afternoon session, Sondland undercut the president’s claim about not knowing him that well by testifying that he and Trump have spoken about 20 times.
Trump wasn’t alone in quickly trying to distance himself from Sondland. Vice President Mike Pence responded to his testimony in the same way.
NEW: Pence chief of staff pushes back, says VP Pence *never* had a conversation with Sondland about investigations into Bidens, Burisma or conditional release of military aid. pic.twitter.com/28FL905CpB— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) November 20, 2019
The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.