WASHINGTON — With his block-lettered talking points in hand and visible for every White House photographer to see, President Trump sought to rebut the testimony of his current EU ambassador, Gordon Sondland, as Sondland testified on Capitol Hill in the fifth public impeachment hearing.
To understand Trump’s response, you have to know that Amb. Sondland told Congress he had a call with the president on September 9th. Sondland said he had gotten mixed signals from the Trump administration about what it sought from the Ukrainian government, and so he pressed Trump on what he wanted. Sondland said he knew by then the administration had frozen nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine to help in an ongoing regional conflict with Russia. According to Sondland, Trump repeatedly told him on the call “I want nothing” and there was no quid pro quo. Sondland then relayed the president’s words to the new Ukrainian ambassador, William Taylor, who had become concerned about the administration’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. “My reason for telling (Taylor) this was not to defend what the president was saying,” Sondland testified, “not to opine whether the president was being truthful or untruthful, but simply to relay I’ve gone as far as I can go” in trying to understand what Trump wanted from the Ukrainians.
The timing of Sondland’s call matters: That same day, the inspector general for the Intelligence Community notified the House and Senate that an anonymous whistleblower had filed a complaint, which the public would soon learn describing the broad contours of Trump’s campaign to force Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election. It’s likely Trump knew the committee had received the complaint, and that that knowledge informed his call with Sondland.
On Wednesday, as Sondland testified on Capitol Hill, Trump responded to Sondland’s testimony by recreating that September 9th call. Trump told reporters that he told the ambassador, “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky, [Ukranian] President Zelensky, to do the right thing.”
Trump went on to say he hadn’t spoken much to Sondland and didn’t know Sondland very well. Trump also pointed out that Sondland had apparently supported a different Republican candidate in the 2016 election before he supported Trump.
Then Trump again recounted his phone call with Sondland — “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing” — before leaving for an official trip to Texas.
Here is the full transcript of Trump’s response to Sondland’s testimony:
“So thank you very much, we’re going to Austin, Texas. Apple is opening up a fantastic facility. They’re spending a tremendous amount of money. And I’ve been asking Tim Cook from the day I got to elected from the campaign, I’ve been asking Tim Cook if they would, if they would — we want to see Apple build there, that way there’s no tariffs. When companies come to our country and they build, there’s no tariffs.
The economy is doing unbelievably well. We continue to talk to China. China wants to make a deal. The question is do I want to make a deal, because I like what’s happening right now. We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars.
Just a quick comment on what’s going in terms of testimony with Ambassador Sondland. I just noticed one thing — that means it’s all over.
“‘What do you want from Ukraine?’ he asks me, screaming. ‘What do you want from Ukraine,’ he (Sondland) asks me, screaming. ‘What do you want from Ukraine? I keep hearing all these different ideas and theories.’
This is Ambassador Sondland speaking to me, just happened. To which I turned off the television. ‘What do you want from Ukraine? I keep hearing all these different ideas and theories. What do you want? What do you want?’
It was a very short and abrupt conversation he had with me. They said (at Wednesay’s hearing) he (Trump) was not in a good mood. He just said — now he’s talking about what’s my response — he’s going, ‘What do you want, what do you want. i hear all these theories, what do you want?
And now here’s my response that he just gave. Ready? Do you have the cameras rolling?
‘I want nothing. That’s what I want from Ukraine.’ That’s what I said. ‘I want nothing.’ I said it twice.
So he goes, he asks me the question, ‘I keep hearing all these things, what do you want?’
He finally gets me — I don’t know him very well, have not spoken to him much, this is not a man I know well. Seems like a nice guy. I don’t know him well. He was with other candidates. Actually supported other candidates. Not me, came in late.
But here’s my response. Now, if you weren’t fake news, you’d cover it properly. I say to the ambassador in response, ‘I want nothing, I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky, President Zelensky, to do the right thing.’
So here’s my answer: ‘I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.’ Then he (Sondland) says, ‘This is the final word from the president of the United States. I want nothing.’
Thank you, folks. Have a good time. I’m going to Texas.”