The U.S. ambassador to the European Union told lawmakers that the Trump administration pushed to make a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens a condition for getting security aid and a White House meeting – and assessed that it ‘doesn’t sound good.’
He also provided a four-page revision to his earlier testimony where he said he told the Ukrainians they would not get millions of needed U.S. security aid until the country provided a ‘public anticorruption statement’ that is key to the Democratic impeachment inquiry. He said he had ‘refreshed my recollection.’
Gordon Sondland, the wealthier hotelier who donated $1 million to Donald Trump’s inauguration, told lawmakers behind closed doors that he considered such an arrangement ‘problematic.’
He then got asked if it was also ‘illegal.’
Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, arrives to the Capitol for his deposition as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. The House Intelligence panel has made the transcript of his interview public
‘I’m not a lawyer, but I assume so,’ Sondland replied, according to excerpts posted by the House Intelligence Committee.
He told lawmakers he couldn’t put an exact date on when he understood the full scope of what he was a part of, having learned about the push on Ukraine as it went along.
‘It kept getting more insidious as [the] timeline went on, and back in July, it was all about just corruption,’ he said.
The arrangement he described included demands that Ukraine’s prosecutor investigate the 2016 elections and the Burisma company linked to the Bidens. ‘Ultimately, those were demands, were they not?’ Sondland was asked. ‘Ultimately, yes,’ he replied.
The Trump-nominated diplomat was then asked if the effort by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to push and investigation of a Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden served on the board was ever proper.
‘I mean, I think I testified to that at the beginning, that it would not be proper,’ he said.
‘And illegal?’ he was asked. ‘Again, I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know the law exactly. It doesn’t sound good,’ he concluded,’ in an early excerpt obtained by CNN.
Sondland also told lawmakers the investigation of the Bidens was tied to millions of U.S. military aid, adding to evidence of what Democrats say was a ‘quid pro quo.’
Biden’s revised statement stated that he told the Ukrainians $391 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine was being held up and tied to a public statement on ‘anticorruption’ issues – which according to other witnesses is a proxy for an investigation of a company linked to the Bidens.
Former US Special Envoy for Ukraine,Â Kurt Volker walks away after attending a closed door meeting for the second time at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2019 in Washington, DC
‘I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,’ he said in the revised statement, the New York Times reported.
In other revelations from Tuesday’s release:
– The committee also released new text messages from U.S. officials. In one, Bill Taylor, who would become the top U.S. official in Ukraine, tells diplomat Kurt Volker about concerns about becoming Charge d’Affairs. ‘George described two snake pits, one in Kyiv and one in Washington,’ said, referencing deputy secretary of state George Kent. ‘So what’s new?’ Volker quipped. Taylor replied: ‘Yes, but he described much more than I knew. Very ugly.’
– In a May Oval Office meeting with Volker, Sondland, and Energy secretary Rick Perry, Sondland testified that the president repeatedly directed them to Rudy Giuliani. He didn’t even—he wasn’t even specific about what he wanted us to talk to Giuliani about. He just kept saying: Talk to Rudy, talk to Rudy.’
– Sondland said he discussed the Giuliani issue with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. ‘And Pompeo rolled his eyes and said: Yes, it’s something we have to deal with,’ he said.
– In his original testimony said he doesn’t recall when ‘finally I said, oh, Burisma equals Biden. I have no idea when that was,’ in reference to the company Giuliani wanted probed.
Sondland also describes his September phone call with President Trump, after Bill Taylor told him it would be ‘crazy’ to hold up security aid to Ukraine for help with a political campaign.
‘And I know in my few previous conversations with the President he’s not big on small talk so I would have one shot to ask him. And rather than asking him, “Are you doing X because of X or because of Y or because of Z?” I asked him one open-ended question: What do you want from Ukraine?’ Sondland testified.
That led to a foul-tempered rant from the president denying a quid pro quo.
‘And as I recall, he was in a very bad mood. It was a very quick conversation. He said: I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing. And I said: What does that mean? And he said: I want him to do what he ran on. And that was the end of the conversation. I wouldn’t say he hung up [on] me, but it was almost like he hung up on me,’ he said.
Three Democratic House Committee chairmen said in a statement Tuesday: ‘The testimony of Ambassadors Volker and Sondland shows the progression of efforts by the President and his agent, Rudy Giuliani, to use the State Department to press Ukraine to announce investigations beneficial to the President’s personal and political interests.’
They continued: ‘As early as May 2019, President Trump directed the Ambassadors to work with Giuliani on Ukraine policy, and over the course of the summer, an effort was made to extract a public statement from the new Ukrainian president that the Ukrainian government was investigating Burisma or the Biden family and a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 U.S. elections.
‘It is clear from their testimony that, in exchange for the statement, President Trump would award the Ukrainian president with a highly coveted White House meeting and, later, with millions of dollars in critical military aid being withheld. Ambassador Sondland called this changing U.S. policy toward Ukraine a ‘continuum’ that became ever more ‘insidious’ over time,’ they said.
‘Finally, with the release of the full production of text messages provided to the Committees by Ambassador Volker, and an additional declaration by Ambassador Sondland, the President’s scheme comes into clearer focus.’
At the same time, Volker’s own testimony reveals he explicitly rejected the existence of a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
‘I think it’s critically important that the message to the American people is very clear. And that message that I heard you very loud and clear today is that there was no quid pro quo at any time ever communicated to you. Is that correct?’ Rep. Mark Meadows, a Trump ally from North Carolina asked him during testimony.
‘Not to me, that is correct,’ he said.
The House Intelligence panel on Tuesday released two more transcripts under new procedures for the impeachment inquiry – this time the statements of President Trump‘s ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker.
The contours of their testimony are already known. But the committee has yet to put out a transcript of what he told lawmakers during his October deposition.
Sondland, a hotelier who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, testified that the president gave his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, a special portfolio on Ukraine policy.
Sondland, in his opening statement, said he worked with Giuliani but also revealed discomfort with the task he was charged with carrying out.
‘We were also disappointed by the president’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani,’ he said. ‘Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine,’ Sondland said.
Text messages released by the committee showed Volker, a longtime diplomat, saying he thought it was ‘crazy’ to hold up nearly $400 million in needed U.S. security aid for Ukraine ‘for help with a political campaign.’
He was discussing the alleged quid-pro-quo where the Trump administration held up the money, as well as a White House meeting, to force Ukraine to investigate Trump rivals Joe and Hunter Biden.
Documents released Monday reveal former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yavanovitch felt ‘threatened’ by Trump’s comments on infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky.
The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine told congressional investigators that an acting assistant secretary of State told her Secretary of State Mike Pompeo planned to ask Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity about her qualifications to remain a senior diplomat.
Yovanovitch testified that she was at the time painted as a disloyal agitator – an untrustworthy dissident who told Ukrainian officials that President Donald Trump should be treated as an impeachment-ready lame duck.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified that Sondland told her to tweet positively about President Trump to counteract a campaign against her
A series of officials have testified about an unofficial diplomatic channel running through former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani
President Trump has continued to rail against the impeachment inquiry as a ‘witch hunt,’ while going after a whistle-blower who first made allegations about his Ukraine policy
Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told Yovanovitch to ‘Go big or go home,’ meaning that she should publicly profess her support for the president she told lawmakers,
She didn’t, alienating Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani who led a push to oust her. Yovanovitch went home when Trump recalled her in June, ending her diplomatic career.
‘He said, you know, you need to go big or go home. You need to, you know, tweet out there that you support the President, and that all these are lies and everything else,’ she said of one conversation.
‘And, you know, so, you know, I mean, obviously, that was advice. It was advice that I did not see how I could implement in my role as an Ambassador, and as a Foreign Service Officer.’