Trump claims he 'hardly knew' ambassador he has praised repeatedly

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Trump is now distancing himself from Gordon Sondland, after Sondland said Trump demanded a quid pro quo from Ukraine.

Donald Trump on Friday sought to distance himself from a key figure in the impeachment probe, claiming he doesn't really know a U.S. ambassador who has testified that Trump demanded a quid pro quo from Ukraine.

"Let me just say, I hardly know the gentleman," Trump said of Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union.

Sondland amended his testimony to House impeachment investigators last month, telling them that Trump demanded Ukraine investigate Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee if they wanted to receive hundreds of millions in vital security aid from the United States.

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A transcript of that testimony was released by the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry this week.

Trump has since claimed that Sondland said there was no such quid pro quo arrangement, ignoring the publicly available transcript. "This is the man who said there was no quid pro quo, and he still says that," Trump said Friday.

Trump's assertion that he "hardly" knows Sondland is contradicted by his own past praise for the ambassador, who donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration in January 2017.

Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 4, Trump called Sondland "highly respected."

"The text message that I saw from Ambassador Sondland — who’s highly respected — was: There's 'no quid pro quo.' He said that," Trump said, referring to a trove of messages between Sondland and top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, made public last month.

Sondland has since testified to the House committees leading the impeachment probe that a quid pro quo did exist and that aid to Ukraine was conditioned on an investigation into Trump's 2020 rival Joe Biden.

Again, on Oct. 8, Trump tweeted that Sondland was "a really good man and great American."

"I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see," he wrote.

At the time, the White House was trying to stonewall House efforts to compel Sondland to testify before the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees. Trump claimed then that the impeachment effort was simply part of a broader partisan "witch-hunt" to undermine his presidency.

Trump has a history of trying to distance himself from people in his immediate orbit who become tangled up in legal or political controversy.

Trump tried previously to downplay the role Paul Manafort — his former campaign chairman who is currently serving prison time after being convicted of tax and bank fraud discovered during the course of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation — claiming that Manafort played only a small role in the Trump campaign. Manafort led the campaign during a crucial part of the Republican primary.

And since the impeachment inquiry kicked off, Trump has tried to distance himself from his own personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was a key figure in the effort to force Ukraine to investigate Trump's political rivals.

Two of Giuliani's associates were recently indicted on campaign finance charges, and according to the Wall Street Journal, Giuliani himself has been under investigation by federal prosecutors for months.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.