A key actor in President Donald Trump's alleged effort to pressure Ukraine for dirt on his political rivals will be in the hot seat Wednesday as Democrats build their case for impeaching the US leader.
Numerous witnesses have fingered Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, as a central conveyor of Trump's demands that Ukraine investigate potential 2020 rival Joe Biden in exchange for unfreezing US aid to the country.
In earlier closed-door testimony Sondland repeated almost 100 times that he "can't remember" and "can't recall" when pressed over his dealings with Trump and Ukraine.
Initially maintaining that he was unaware that US military aid was being held up in exchange for a probe, he later made a humiliating about-face, amending his testimony to state that he did in fact know this was the case.
In the second week of televised hearings in the House Intelligence Committee, the hotel tycoon-turned-diplomat is expected to be confronted with powerful evidence that could force him into refusing to answer, or dramatically testifying against the US leader.
Trump pressure 'improper'
Sondland's testimony will come a day after Republicans struggled to defend Trump against mounting allegations of abuse of power and charges that he sought to "extort" Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
During nine hours of testimony Tuesday, four witnesses described how Trump, Sondland and Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought for months to persuade Ukraine to investigate both Biden and a baseless claim that the Kiev government helped Democrats in the 2016 US elections.
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a respected member of the White House National Security Council, told the committee that Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelensky -- seeking a "favor" to investigate Biden and the vague 2016 election meddling claim -- was "inappropriate," "improper" and a "partisan play."
"Frankly I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Vindman said.
"It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and a political opponent."
Sitting next to Vindman, Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, said she too had doubts about the "unusual" July 25 call, which they both monitored from a separate room.
"The references to specific individuals and investigations such as former vice president Biden and his son, struck me as political in nature, given that the former vice president is a political opponent of the president," she told the panel.