Gordon Sondland, President Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, offered a first-hand account on Wednesday of how the president’s personal lawyer demanded a “quid pro quo” from the Ukrainian government in exchange for an official White House meeting.
In an appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, Sondland testified he and other high-ranking Trump officials operated at the president’s “express direction” as they pressed Ukranian officials to announce an investigation meant to damage Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. Sondland also said he came to believe the Trump administration had put a hold on badly needed security aid for Ukraine until the Ukrainian president made the public statement Trump wanted about the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory involving the 2016 election.
Sondland’s testimony topples two already flimsy Republican arguments in the impeachment inquiry: that there was no quid pro quo and that Democrats had not produced a witness with a first-hand account of the efforts to set up such an arrangement. The testimony also implicates several top Trump administration officials. In his remarks, Sondland repeatedly said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney were well aware of the effort to push Ukraine’s new administration to announce investigations into Joe Biden and Hunter Biden as well as into a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: ‘Was there a quid pro quo?'” Sondland said. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
Sondland said that “Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and others that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election,” and that he “expressed those requests directly to the Ukrainians.”
Giuliani also expressed those requests to Sondland and others working for the U.S. “We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements,” he said.
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said of the quid pro quo. “It was no secret.”
Sondland’s testimony demolished another key defense of the GOP’s: that Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate the Bidens and a 2016 election conspiracy theory as part of the U.S.’s stated foreign policy of encouraging Ukraine to crack down corruption writ large. Sondland insisted that Trump didn’t care about Ukrainian opening actual investigations into the Bidens and the last election — he only wanted Ukraine’s president to announce the investigations in the form of a public statement that would damage Joe Biden’s standing and his presidential campaign.
“He had to announce the investigations,” Sondland said, referring to Ukrainian President Zelensky. “He didn’t actually have to do them, as I understood it.”
'Mr. Giuliani's requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for Zelenskiy,' EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland testifies at the #impeachmenthearings. Live updates: https://t.co/mf44H4az2S pic.twitter.com/C0LOhCoh7F
— Reuters (@Reuters) November 20, 2019
Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment on Sondland’s remarks.
Though Sondland made it clear Giuliani conveyed to Ukraine that a White House meeting for President Zelensky was contingent on the investigations, Republicans pressed him on whether the security aid for Ukraine was also part of the quid pro quo. Sondland said he “presumed” the aid was held up as a way to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and the 2016 election, but was unable to offer first-hand knowledge this was the case.
REP. MIKE TURNER (R-Ohio): “So you really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations?”
SONDLAND: “Other than my own presumption.”
TURNER: “Which is nothing!”
But Sondland’s testimony made clear that he had good reason to believe the hold on Ukraine’s aid was tied to the investigations — namely, there was no other conceivable reason for freezing the aid. “In the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, as Mr. Giuliani had demanded,” Sondland said in his opening remarks. “I shared concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid with Senator Ron Johnson. And I also shared my concerns with the Ukrainians.”
Democrats were direct in their efforts to validate Sondland’s presumption. Majority counsel Daniel Goldman described it as a “two plus two equals four kind of conclusion,” and Sondland agreed with this assessment.
Sondland was just as direct in a later exchange with Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.
SCHIFF: “Pretty much the only logical conclusion to you that given all of these factors, that the aid was also a part of this quid pro quo?”