Accuracy in Media

Gordon Sondland was the most damaging witness yet for President Donald Trump in the House impeachment inquiry, according to the mainstream media.

The New York Times produced three pieces for its opinion sections saying so – “Donald Trump’s Gordon Problem – Republicans tried to throw Gordon Sondland under the bus. He took Trump with him,” by Michelle Goldberg; “Sondland Has Implicated the President and His Top Men,” an unsigned editorial; and “Gordon Sondland Leaves Us With No Other Option” by Noah Bookbinder.

At Time, the headline on Brian Bennett’s news story read: “Gordon Sondland May Have Just Sealed President Trump’s Impeachment” and the lead: “Gordon Sondland’s public testimony on Nov. 20 may very well mark the moment President Donald Trump’s impeachment by the House reached an irreversible momentum.”

At the Washington Post, “Sondland’s bombshell testimony leaves Trump’s Republican allies scrambling,” by Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Kayla Epstein, led its coverage of the hearing.

CNN featured two stories on the topic – “The huge Gordon Sondland revelation almost everyone missed” and “Gordon Sondland just saved himself – and jeopardized Donald Trump’s presidency,” both by Chris Cillizza.

But that doesn’t appear to be what happened. In fact, by the end of the day, Sondland appeared to be yet another witness in the impeachment drama who had only secondary knowledge of events and guessed at the motives, only to have been proven incorrect.

Under questioning from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Sondland said: “I finally called the president, I believe it was on the 9th of September. I can’t find records and [the State Department] won’t provide them to me, but I believe I just asked him an open-ended question, Mr. Chairman.

“’What do you want from Ukraine? I keep hearing all these different ideas and theories and this and that. What do you want? It was a very short abrupt conversation – he was not in a good mood – and he just said, ‘I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing,’ something to that effect.”

This, Sondland went on to say, explains his note to Ambassador Bill Taylor that Taylor was misinterpreting events and a quid pro quo is not what the president wants. “My reason for telling him this was not to defend what the president was saying, not to opine on whether the president was being truthful or untruthful, but simply to relay I’ve gone as far as I can go. This is the final word that I heard from the president of the United States.”

Later, under questioning from Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, Sondland admitted he was “presuming” Trump wanted to tie an aid package to the announcement of investigations. “So no one told you?” Turner asked. “Guiliani didn’t tell you. Mulvaney didn’t tell you. Pompeo didn’t tell you. Nobody else on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying aid to these investigations … is that correct?”

Sondland said, “I think I testified …” but Turner responded, “No, answer the question. Is it correct? No one on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying aid to investigations, yes or no?” Sondland responded: “Yes.”

But to the Post, the “bombshell testimony” was what Sondland provided before he was forced to admit his earlier claims had been based on presumptions. The White House’s defense – President Trump read his statement to reporters on the White House lawn before departing for Texas and declared the impeachment bid to be over – was of the caught-off-guard variety, the Post reported.

“The White House and President Trump’s allies scrambled on Wednesday to contain the damage” from Sondland’s “new allegations,” it wrote. “The bombshell testimony … forced the White House, which was not aware of his testimony in advance, to quickly recalibrate its defense of the president’s actions.”

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