The ambassadors painfully humiliating new testimony reveals the real story behind the suspension of aid to Ukraine, says Guardian columnist Richard Wolffe

In every good disaster movie, we get to meet the easily dispensable character: someone who mixes just enough stupidity with just enough mediocrity to be cannon fodder for the impending calamity.

In the epic shipwreck of Donald Trumps impeachment, that man is Gordon Sondland.

Sondland first entered this feature-length catastrophe as an ironic counterpoint to the doomed buffoon who has alternately dismayed and disgusted us for the last three years.

To Trump himself, Sondland was once a Never Trumper who first globbed on to the low-energy Jeb before shifting his undying loyalty to little Marco. When neither of those Republican gods were able to confer any honor upon his wealthy shoulders, Sondland did what any principled conservative would do: he wrote a $1m check to Trump and asked for an ambassadorship.

To the rest of the world, the entirely expendable Sondland bears an uncanny resemblance to Trump himself. What kind of genius thinks you can lie to an impeachment inquiry by denying the whole quid pro quo deal with Ukraine? Who could ignore the risk that so many witnesses would spill their guts about your central role in the stitch-up of an American ally in desperate need of national security assistance?

Step forward, ambassador. Its time for your brief moment of infamy before you depart this drama, to return only as the answer to an obscure Jeopardy question.

Flanked by several lawyers, Sondland decided to review his initial testimony to the impeachment investigation that there was no quidding and quoing going on. Sondland explained, in four painfully humiliating pages of new testimony, that on second thoughts there was about $400m of military aid that was entirely quid to the quo of Trumps kooky obsession with smearing the Biden family.

By the beginning of September 2019, and in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement, Sondland confessed.

Trump said he wanted nothing. Nothing except getting the new Ukraine president to do what he wanted. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

This is how to put it delicately? somewhat at odds with Sondlands classic text message to his fellow quid-pro-quo gangbangers just a few months ago, when he said: The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quos of any kind. That was shortly before he added, I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.

As the fans of Jilted John know all too well, Gordon is a moron. However, diehard fans of Trump may not be familiar with this masterpiece of 1970s pop music, and have spent most of the last several weeks investing great authority in Gordons texts.

This would normally be as humiliating as Sondlands suddenly perfect recall when faced with possible charges of perjury and/or obstruction of Congress. But these are not normal times or normal characters: the giants of Fox News and the congressional Republican party are immune to shame. Losing credibility is a small price to pay when they lost their minds a long time ago.

There were clues that Sondland might not be on the level. The ambassador to the European Union was dabbling in the affairs of a country that is not, in fact, part of the EU. He spent lavishly on upgrading his Brussels residence but found that the locals didnt enjoy his efforts to berate them.

He formed part of a group called the three amigos who displaced the actual Ukraine experts inside the Trump administration. The original Three Amigos were naturally buffoon-like frauds who strayed into a foreign country while pretending to deliver justice.

There is something poignant about Sondland, but somehow his vulnerabilities make him seem less likable. For the ambassador was desperate to win the approval of someone who truly cares for nobody but himself: one Donald Trump.

After his crystal clear text, Sondland felt he needed to gain even more crystal clarity about Trumps intentions by calling up the Great Oz himself. I know in my few previous conversations with the president, hes not big on small talk, so I would have one shot to ask him, Sondland explained in his newly accurate testimony. I asked him one open-ended question: What do you want from Ukraine?

The reply was as brief as it was contradictory. Trump said he wanted nothing. Nothing except getting the new Ukraine president to do what he wanted. And that was the end of the conversation, Sondland testified. I wouldnt say he hung up on me, but it was almost like he hung up on me.

It sounded almost like Sondlands heart broke a little.

Elsewhere in Europe, the foot-soldiers of anarchy are less soft and more brash. They are simple tourists visiting Salisbury cathedral, admiring the spire and the clock while armed with a little novichok nerve agent. They are quirky tea-drinkers at a central London hotel, sprinkling radioactive polonium all across Europe.

Trumps hitmen are even less professional. There is now an overwhelming body of evidence that the quid pro quo was as real as the cover-up; that Trump corruptly used national security aid for personal gain by forcing a foreign government to interfere in an American election.

That there were strings attached to American aid is not new. As soon as those strings were tied to Trumps election, it morphed into something worth locking up in a secure file where only a whistleblower could alert the world that maintains some sense of law and order.

No amount of salacious media-biased headlines, which are clearly designed to influence the narrative, change the fact that the president has done nothing wrong, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement on Tuesday.

She is correct, this press secretary who refuses to brief the press. The headlines wont change the narrative about the presidents guilt. But the testimony surely will.

Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist



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