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Ambassador Sondland is ambassador to the EU. So why was he involved in Ukraine, a country that is not even in the EU? I understand that Ukraine is considering joining the EU but why was he so heavily involved there? Is that standard practice or highly irregular?

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Yes, it's "irregular" (but "not as outlandish as it could be")

Ambassador Taylor, in the opening statement of his public testimony before congress referred to the diplomatic channel of which Sondland was a part as the irregular channel (quoting from the transcription by rev.com):

At the same time, however, I encountered an irregular, informal channel of US policy-making with respect to Ukraine, unaccountable to Congress, a channel that included then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and, as I subsequently learned, Mr. Giuliani. I was clearly in the regular channel, but I was also in the irregular one to the extent that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland including me in certain conversations. Although this irregular channel was well-connected in Washington, it operated mostly outside of official State Department channels.

The counsel for the minority asked Ambassador Taylor about the irregular channel (see this clip by PBS):

I want to turn to the discussion of the irregular channel you describe. And, in fairness, this irregular channel of diplomacy, it's not as outlandish as, as it could be, is that correct?

And Ambassador Taylor replies, smiling:

It is not as outlandish as it could be

And after a bit the counsel for the minority asks:

And the second member of the irregular channel is Ambassador Sondland, who is senate confirmed, ambassador to the EU, so his involvement here, while not necessarily part of his official duties to the EU, it certainly is not outlandish for him to be interested and engaged pursuant to the president or Secretary Pompeo's direction.

And Taylor replies:

It's a little unusual for the US ambassador to the EU to play a role in Ukraine policy.

The counsel for the minority then goes on to ask:

And you know it might be irregular but it's certainly not outlandish.

Bill Taylor nods in reply.

  • 1
    Frankly, mr. Taylor's face and voice has put a clear italics on "could be" when he answered :) – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Nov 15 at 10:08
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    Bill Taylor unconvincingly nods in reply while struggling to find the words to reply to the leading statement of counsel. – James Nov 15 at 12:26
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    Reading transcript is not enough, you need to watch the video. It is very obvious that Taylor thinks "yes, sending Bozo the clown would be bit more outlandish, if you want that". But it is definitely not by the book, and Taylor is by-the-book guy. – Peter M. - stands for Monica Nov 15 at 15:52
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Ambassador Sondland is a hotel magnate who Donald Trump elevated to Ambassador to the EU as a reward for large campaign contributions during Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. The actual Ambassador to Ukraine, Maria Yovanovitch, was a career diplomat and a longtime member of the US Foreign Service with a degree in Russian Studies from Princeton.

While Ambassador Sondland was not involved with anything but the most rudimentary business involving Ukraine, he is currently indebted to Trump via the contribution-for-position quid pro quo they engaged in, and thus served as a much more trustworthy channel for Trump.

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    I'm not saying you're wrong but I doubt this is all down as hard fact anywhere so I'm guessing it isn't much more than conjecture on your part. Some evidence for things like "[he was] elevated to Ambassador to the EU as a reward for the large campaign contributions" and "when Trump requires illegal acts from his subordinates, he prefers to ask those people who owe him favors" would make this more of an answer than an opinion piece. – Lio Elbammalf Nov 14 at 14:57
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    @LioElbammalf: It's been a longstanding observation that US ambassadors can be divided into career diplomats and donors. This is not new to Trump's presidency; it's accepted by Republicans and Democrats alike. I don't think there's a real need for evidence that Sondland is a donor instead of a career diplomat. – MSalters Nov 14 at 15:17
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    @MSalters but it's a step further to imply that the ambassador thus owes the president favors. One might say that by getting the ambassadorship the president and his donor are even and no more favors are owed. To imply that an ambassador, who has taken the oath of office would be more loyal to the president is rather bold, right? – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 14 at 15:22
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    @MSalters Well, that Slate link is subtitled "A Mafia expert explains why Trump feels so much like a mobster." The Washington Post link is titled "Trump's creepy, autocratic obsession with autonomy". They're opinion pieces that don't even pretend to be news articles. – Just Me Nov 14 at 15:30
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    @JJ for Transparency and Monica: OTOH, if you've just paid a million dollars or so for a prestigious ambassadorship, are you likely to throw it away by going against the man who can fire you on a whim? – jamesqf Nov 14 at 16:50
2

The question itself asks the answerers to project interpretations onto a situation that none of us have been a part of and all of us have skewed interpretations for relative to the sources of information we derive our views from.

Is it uncommon that an Ambassador of another region was involved in another Ambassador's matters at the behest of the US President? Yes. Is it illegal? No. Was there potential reason to do so? Yes, given the behavior of Maria Yovanovitch.

Understand that US Ambassadors work for the Executive branch of government (the President). An Ambassador working counter to the agenda of the head of the Executive Branch, and very publicly at that, might be principled but certainly isn't appropriate. Just as Gen. Petraeus was removed by Obama for publicly speaking out against the President, it is entirely legitimate for Trump to do the same.

Working with the US government for 20 years and in large corporations, it is not at all uncommon for someone who can be trusted to be put in an 'oversight' or 'dual-hatted' position to address a problematic institution--in this case, the Ukrainian team.

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