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Even envoy who helped Rudy now agrees: Whistleblower wasn't blowing smoke

Gordon Sondland, center, the U.S. ambassador to the

Gordon Sondland, center, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, arrives for his House deposition on Oct. 17. Credit: EPA / Jim Lo Scalzo

'I now recall'

Donald Trump repeatedly quoted the first story from Gordon Sondland — the loyal megadonor he made an ambassador — as if it was a get-out-of-impeachment card. "The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind,” Sondland texted the top diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, who smelled a plot to hold U.S. military aid hostage.

Sondland largely stood by that account — at least as it concerned what he knew and what Trump told him — when he testified under oath behind closed doors to the House impeachment inquiry on Oct. 17. But now he says contradictory accounts from other witnesses have helped jog his memory.

In an addendum to his deposition, Sondland acknowledged that not only was there a quid pro quo, but he personally delivered the message to Andriy Yermak, the top aide of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland said in his revision.

Trump and Rudy Giuliani wanted Zelensky to publicly announce an investigation into Ukrainian activities by Joe Biden and his son and Trump's allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Sondland testified that when he spoke with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Giuliani, "Pompeo rolled his eyes and said: 'Yes, it's something we have to deal with.’ ”

Trump personally picked Sondland, a hotelier and million-dollar donor, as ambassador to the European Union and tasked him with boosting Giuliani's shadow Ukraine squeeze play. Given that background, it's going to be even harder for the president to try to make a "never Trumper" label stick to Sondland as he sought to do with Taylor, a West Point graduate and career diplomat, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a career Army officer.

The impeachment committee also released the deposition from Kurt Volker, a former special envoy for Ukraine, who said Giuliani fed Trump's suspicions with "debunked" claims, relied on a Ukrainian prosecutor with no credibility and whose "negative narrative about Ukraine" hurt the relationship U.S. officials were trying to build. Click for transcripts of the Sondland and Volker depositions.

McConnell: Senate wouldn't convict

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that if an impeachment trial was held now, his chamber would acquit Trump, and he doesn't expect that to change.

"I will say I’m pretty sure how it’s likely to end,” McConnell told reporters. “If it were today I don’t think there’s any question — it would not lead to a removal.

"So the question is how long does the Senate want to take? How long do the presidential candidates want to be here on the floor of the Senate instead of in Iowa and New Hampshire?”

The Kentucky Republican added that he has yet to speak with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on how the Senate would handle a trial, but they would likely look to how the Bill Clinton impeachment was handled as a model.

Blowing off the cover

Given all the sworn testimony corroborating the original complaint, not to mention all else that has come out about the Trump-Giuliani Ukraine schemes, the whistleblower's place in the drama has receded to tipster, not principal accuser. But Trump and some of allies insist the whistleblower must be unmasked.

An unverified name has circulated in right-wing media circles in recent days. At a rally with Trump on Monday night, Kentucky's Sen. Rand Paul told the crowd he has seen the name but wouldn't say it. Instead, strangely, he tried to put the onus on mainstream news media to "do your job and print his name."

But several senior Senate Republicans said they oppose exposing the identity of the person who ignited the impeachment drive. 

“We should follow the law. And I believe the law protects whistleblowers,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. “The whistleblower statute is there for a reason. And I think we need to respect the law where whistleblowers are concerned," said Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota.

Janison: 'Boss Trump'

Trump has spoken of admiring statesmen like Winston Churchill. But Newsday's Dan Janison writes that the Ukraine scandal is the latest episode to suggest truer role models are old-time party machine bosses like the late Meade Esposito of Brooklyn. Trump looks past the graft conviction.

"Meade Esposito in his own way was a very, very honest guy," Trump said in 2016. "When he gave you his word on something, it was done.”

The president's favor-trading approach to Ukraine is very much in the Esposito mold. You want our shiny, beautiful missiles? Help me throw stink bombs at Democrats at home.

As Virginians headed to the polls on Tuesday, Trump set out to remind them who was coming through with the old pork barrel. “Virginia, with all of the massive amount of defense and other work I brought to you, and with everything planned, go out and vote Republican today,” he tweeted.

The Democrats wrested control of both houses of the Virginia legislature. Sometimes the bosses lose.

Trump's city of ruin

Trump is a newly declared Florida man, but New York was still "our" city in his tweet roasting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio over a new bail reform law, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

“So sad to see what is happening in New York where Governor Cuomo & Mayor DeBlasio are letting out 900 Criminals, some hardened & bad, onto the sidewalks of our rapidly declining, because of them, city,” he said. “The Radical Left Dems are killing our cities. NYPD Commissioner is resigning!”

Trump’s attack appears to stem from a New York Post report published Sunday that indicates about 880 city inmates would be eligible for early release before the bail reform law goes into effect statewide on Jan. 1. 

NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill resigned Monday. He had opposed the law, saying it would "have a significant negative impact on public safety.” O'Neill said he was leaving because of a private-sector job offer he “couldn’t pass up.”

Trump's states of embarrassment 

Republicans lost widely-watched races in Kentucky and Virginia where the president tried to make Election Day about himself, possibly a disturbing sign for the GOP going into federal races next year.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a steadfast Trump booster, refused to concede defeat even as his Democratic challenger Andy Beshear claimed victory on Tuesday night. 

Meanwhile Democrats took full control of the Virginia legislature after the president sent out warnings against such a result. As usual, Trump responded with false claims hyping his purportedly positive impact on both races.

Junior: My play dates with Jacko

Donald Trump Jr. is using his new book, "Triggered," to answer those who call his dad a racist. Trump Jr. wrote that when he and Eric were kids, the pop star Michael Jackson lived in Trump Tower and would come over to play video games with them.

"Given all the things my father has been called, particularly a ‘racist,’ it sure sounds odd that he’d let his son vacation with a black man or hang out with Michael Jackson, doesn’t it? If he’s a racist, he’s sure not very good at it.”

The Jackson visits aren't a new story. Trump recalled in a 2016 radio interview with Howard Stern that Jackson said to him about Eric: "Trump, Trump, your son is very beautiful. I must take him to Neverland." He added, "I thought this was the nicest thing. I said, 'Isn't this nice? He's the nicest guy. He wants to take my son to Neverland.’ ”

But Eric couldn't go to Jackson's Neverland ranch in California because of school, "and now I'm very happy about it," the senior Trump said.

What else is happening:

  • Trump offered to send U.S. military forces to Mexico to help its government wage "war" against drug cartels after the ambush murder of nine members of an American family from a fundamentalist Mormon community there.
  • The president is scheduled to return to his ex-hometown on Nov. 12 to speak before the Economic Club of New York, according to a White House official. See Figueroa's story for Newsday.
  • Trump is willing to back a monthlong government funding bill to avoid a potential shutdown until at least December, his director of legislative affairs, Eric Ueland, said Tuesday.
  • Jennifer Williams, a senior national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence is likely to comply with a request to testify on Thursday in front of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry, CNN reported, citing multiple sources. She was among those who listened in on the Trump-Zelensky call.
  • The Trump administration opposes Turkey sanctions adopted by the House last week, as well as a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide by Turkey a century ago, arguing the actions will hurt relations with a NATO ally, Bloomberg News reported.
  • Elizabeth Warren released a plan on the needs of the military and veterans. It includes pledges to roll back Trump administration policies that bar transgender troops and to not deport noncitizens who have served in uniform, or their families.

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