Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, entered the House intelligence committee hearing on impeachment as the Democrats’ best hope of bringing the hammer to President Donald Trump’s head.
He left atop a wave of presumption.
In other words: The anticipated big bombsheller dropped a big nothingburger.
He started by insisting Trump was guilty, through his attorney Rudy Giuliani, of demanding Ukraine announce an investigation into the 2016 elections, into Joe and Hunter Biden, into the Burisma Holdings company that paid Hunter Biden a reported $50,000 per month to serve as a board member. And so on. He finished by saying that all this insistence was actually presumption and assumption.
Based on what he thought and how he interpreted, he presumed Trump was guilty of a quid pro quo. He assumed that’s what Giuliani meant.
Here’s the you-gotta-be-kidding-me moment, though: Sondland even testified to the fact that he was told explicitly by Trump — directly, not through another source; not by another’s mouth — that he, the president, did not want a quid pro quo.
The exact quote?
Sondland said when he asked the president what he wanted in respect to Ukraine, that Trump (who was in a bit of a grumpy mood that day) said: “I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell [President] Zelensky to do the right thing.”
But not so fast, says a Trump-hating press. The left must have its pound of flesh.
“Sondland’s impeachment testimony proves Trump foreign policy is run by corrupt clowns,” USA Today said in a headline.
“Gordon Sondland Leaves Us With No Other Option,” The New York Times wrote. “The case is simple, and the evidence supporting impeachment is now crystal clear.”
“Sondland ‘absolutely convinced’ delay in aid was linked to investigations,” CBS News wrote.
“Sondland confirms quid pro quo in impeachment hearing,” CNN reported.
What a joke.
Here’s the truth: Sondland confirms he presumed quid pro quo was the president’s intent. Sondland assumed Trump wanted aid withheld in return for Ukraine stating publicly its government was kicking off an investigation into Team Biden, circa 2016.
But impeachment is not a matter for assumption and presumption.
Democrats seem to be trying to weave together a string of anecdotal evidence based on second- and third-person hearsay, presumption, assumption and interpretation — that last, of not just words but thoughts and motivations and mindsets of the president — and hoping, based on repetition, that an impeachable offense sticks. But that’s neither just, nor justice.
And shame on the media for playing along.
“[Adam] Schiff: Trump Doesn’t Need To Say Words ‘I Am Bribing The Ukrainian President,’ ” NBC News reported, in context of describing the standards to prove quid pro quo, or bribery, or whatever, and impeach.
No. No Trump doesn’t.
But the witnesses the Democrats bring to testify that Trump committed an impeachable offense should have something more than a presumption. After all, this is America. There is no such thing as thought crime — but there is such a thing as innocent until proven guilty.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.