US Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified Wednesday there was a quid pro quo for Ukraine to announce investigations into President Donald Trump’s political opponents that came from the President’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani at the “express direction of the President.”
What’s more, Sondland provided House impeachment investigators with emails and texts showing it wasn’t just him and Giuliani pushing for the investigations outside government channels — Trump’s inner circle knew what was going on, too. He even said he raised concerns with Vice President Mike Pence that the freezing of $400 million in security aid to Ukraine was linked to the investigations.
Sondland’s testimony is the most damning evidence to date directly implicating Trump in the quid pro quo at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. His public remarks show a link between US security aid and a White House meeting and Ukraine publicly announcing investigations that would help the President politically. From the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing, Sondland’s comments dragged some of Trump’s senior most officials — including Pence, his chief of staff and his secretary of state — into the scandal.
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said. “It was no secret.”
In his remarkable opening statement before the fourth day of public impeachment hearings, Sondland told House impeachment investigators that Trump “wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election.”
“Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to the Ukrainians,” said Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union. “Mr. Giuliani also expressed those requests directly to us. We all understood that these pre-requisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements.”
Sondland said that Trump’s senior aides, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, were all aware that Zelensky was briefed days ahead of the July 25 call to commit to doing investigations.
“Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the Presidential call,” Sondland said. “As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to ‘run a fully transparent investigation’ and ‘turn over every stone’ were necessary in his call with President Trump.”
Sondland said that he told Pence before his September 1 meeting with Zelensky that he “had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations.” Sondland said that Pence “nodded” in response, but he did not remember if he gave any further reaction.
Trump repeatedly said he told Sondland over the phone that he wanted “nothing” on Ukraine.
“I say to the Ambassador in response: I want nothing, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo,” Trump said, reading from notes that appear to be written in Sharpie. “Tell Zelensky, President Zelensky, to do the right thing.”
Trump also downplayed his connection to Sondland, saying he “came in late” as a backer of his 2016 campaign. “This is not a man I know well,” Trump said. “Seems like a nice guy, though.”
Giuliani also downplayed his connection to Sondland, saying in a tweet that Sondland was “speculating” and he had “VERY little contact” with him.
And Pence’s office also distanced the vice president from Sondland, too. Pence chief of staff Marc Short said the vice president “never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations.”
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