Impeachment hearings continue with million-dollar donor diplomat

Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment inquiry, implicated Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his testimony Wednesday where he said bluntly that a ‘quid pro quo’ was at work in regards to U.S. policy to the Ukraine.

Sondland implicated everyone but himself in a pressure campaign on the Ukraine to open an investigation into the president’s political rivals. At first, the quid pro quo was a White House meeting for the new Ukrainian president. Then military aid was withheld – and Sondland said that he came to the conclusion it was in the quid pro quo too.

‘At all times, I was acting in good faith. As a presidential appointee, I followed the directions of the President,’ he said in his testimony.

His bombshell testimony revealed that top level Trump administration officials knew what was happening at the time.

‘They knew what we were doing and why,’ Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee. ‘Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.’

And he said bluntly it was a ‘quid pro quo.’

‘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. ‘With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.’

And he said U.S. officials working on Ukraine policy did so at Trump’s direction – a direct implication that the president wanted a foreign government to investigate his top political rival in the 2020 presidential election.

‘We followed the president’s orders,’ he said.

Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment inquiry, is testifying Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill before the House Intelligence Committee

Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment inquiry, is testifying Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill before the House Intelligence Committee

Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment inquiry, is testifying Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill before the House Intelligence Committee

In his prepared opening statement, Sondland implicated Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, sayying: 'At all times, I was acting in good faith. As a presidential appointee, I followed the directions of the President'

In his prepared opening statement, Sondland implicated Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, sayying: 'At all times, I was acting in good faith. As a presidential appointee, I followed the directions of the President'

In his prepared opening statement, Sondland implicated Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, sayying: ‘At all times, I was acting in good faith. As a presidential appointee, I followed the directions of the President’

Sondland testified that he did not believe it was 'improper' for Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to be involved in foreign policy despite holding no formal role in the Trump administration

Sondland testified that he did not believe it was 'improper' for Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to be involved in foreign policy despite holding no formal role in the Trump administration

Sondland testified that he did not believe it was ‘improper’ for Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to be involved in foreign policy despite holding no formal role in the Trump administration

Sondland repeatedly blames Trump for forcing him, special envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to work with Rudy Giuliani, despite all of them thinking it was a bad idea.

‘Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,’ he said.

‘We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President’s orders,’ he added.

But he said they did not believe it was ‘improper’ for Giuliani to be involved in foreign policy despite holding no formal role in the Trump administration. Giuliani is Trump’s personal attorney.

He described instructions they received from the former New York City mayor.

‘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. Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to the Ukrainians. Mr. Giuliani also expressed those requests directly to us. We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements,’ he said.

He described an effort on Giuliani’s part to link U.S. aid and an Oval Office meeting with Trump for Ukraine President Zelensky to an investigation into the Bidens and the 2016 election.

Giuliani pushed for a probe of Joe Biden’s actions as vice president in regards to encouraging the Ukraine to dismiss its top prosecutor – which Giuliani claims was done to benefit Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that had Hunter Biden on its board until earlier this year.

The Bidens have denied any wrong doing – Joe Biden pointed out he was following U.S. and international policy – and no charges have been put against them.

Additionally Giuliani pushed an unproven theory it was the Ukraine that hacked the Democratic National Committee’s server in the 2016 election and made it look like Russia.

‘Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President,’ Sondland said.

He admitted that at a July 10 White House meeting with Ukrainian officials he mentioned the ‘the prerequisites of investigations before any White House call or meeting.’

But he disputed accounts Bolton ended the meeting.

‘Their recollections of those events simply don’t square with my own or with those of Ambassador Volker or Secretary Perry,’ he said.

‘I recall mentioning the pre-requisite of investigations before any White House call or meeting. But I do not recall any yelling or screaming as others have said. Instead, after the meeting, Ambassador Bolton walked outside with the group, and we all took pictures together on the White House lawn,’ he said.

Sondland repeatedly blamed Trump for forcing him, special envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to work with Rudy Giuliani, despite all of them thinking it was a bad idea

Sondland repeatedly blamed Trump for forcing him, special envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to work with Rudy Giuliani, despite all of them thinking it was a bad idea

Sondland repeatedly blamed Trump for forcing him, special envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to work with Rudy Giuliani, despite all of them thinking it was a bad idea

Sondland will face questions on a report he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appraised of Ukraine pressure campaign

Sondland will face questions on a report he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appraised of Ukraine pressure campaign

He will implicate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  and former National Security Adviser John Bolton

He will implicate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  and former National Security Adviser John Bolton

Sondland faces questions on a report he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appraised of Ukraine pressure campaign. He implicated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and former National Security Adviser John Bolton (right)

'We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,' Sondland said in his testimony

'We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,' Sondland said in his testimony

 ‘We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,’ Sondland said in his testimony 

Sondland testified that Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney knew about linking a Biden probe to Ukraine aid

Sondland testified that Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney knew about linking a Biden probe to Ukraine aid

Sondland testified that Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney knew about linking a Biden probe to Ukraine aid

Sondland testified that Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney knew about linking a Biden probe to Ukraine aid

Sondland testified that Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney knew about linking a Biden probe to Ukraine aid, saying ‘everyone was in the loop’ 

Sondland testified that while he wasn’t explicitly sure the nearly $400million in U.S. aid to the Ukraine was being held up in exchange for the investigations, he operated as if that were the case.

‘I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer. 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,’ he said.

‘In the absence of any credible explanation for the hold, I came to the conclusion that the aid, like the White House visit, was jeopardized,’ Sondland said. ‘My belief was that if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention’ to launch the investigations Trump wanted, ‘then the hold on military aid would be lifted.’

He rejected testimony that he, Giuliani and Perry – nicknamed the ‘three amigos’ – were engaged in a ‘shadow’ foreign policy.

‘We made every effort to ensure that the relevant decision makers at the National Security Council and State Department knew the important details of our efforts. The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false,’ he said.

Sondland said he was not the July 25 phone call with Trump and Zelensky but heard it went ‘well.’ He said he only learned the details when the White House released the transcript in September.

But he did share details of a call he had with President Trump on July 26 in a restaurant in Kiev.

He said he did not remember the details but did not dispute witness accounts.

‘Other witnesses have recently shared their recollection of overhearing this call. For the most part, I have no reason to doubt their accounts. It is true that the President speaks loudly at times. It is also true that we discussed A$AP Rocky. It is true that the President likes to use colorful language. While I cannot remember the precise details — again, the White House has not allowed me to see any readouts of that call – the July 26 call did not strike me as significant at the time. Actually, I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations,’ he said, ‘particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the President’s 14 concerns. However, I have no recollection of discussing Vice President Biden or his son on that call or after the call ended.’  

Last week State Department official David Holmes testified he was having lunch with Sondland in Kiev on July 26 when the ambassador dialed up the president on his cellphone and Holmes could hear Trump’s voice.

Holmes said Sondland told Trump that Zelensky ‘loves your ass’ to which Trump responded: ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’

‘He’s gonna do it,’ Sondland replied, according to testimony Holmes gave lawmakers on Friday afternoon behind closed doors.

Wednesday’s hearing opened with yet another blistering opening statement from House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff about the contours of the effort to get Ukraine to conduct investigations.

‘The knowledge of this scheme was far and wide and include among others secretary of state Pompeo as well as the vice president,’ Schiff said at the top of the hearing.

He blasted the State Department for withholding notes and call readouts, although Sondland cited new information in his opening statement.

Schiff said he can see why Pompeo and Trump ‘have made a concerted and across the board effort and this impeachment inquiry.’ But he said they ‘do so at their own peril,’ and cited the Nixon impeachment.

Ranking Republican Rep. Devin Nunes began by attacking Democrats for waging ‘scorched earth political warfare.’

‘Ambassador Sondland, you are here today to be smeared,’ he told the witness.

He accused Democrats of ‘selling this absurdity as an impeachable offense.’

‘They know exactly what kind of damage they’re inflicting on this nation, but they’ve passed the point of no return,’ he said, bringing up earlier cautious statements by Speaker Nancy Pelosi on impeachment.

‘They stoked a frenzy among their most fanatical supporters that they can no longer control,’ he said. 

'The knowledge of this scheme was far and wide and include among others secretary of state Pompeo as well as the vice president,' Rep Adam Schiff (center) said at the top of the hearing

'The knowledge of this scheme was far and wide and include among others secretary of state Pompeo as well as the vice president,' Rep Adam Schiff (center) said at the top of the hearing

‘The knowledge of this scheme was far and wide and include among others secretary of state Pompeo as well as the vice president,’ Rep Adam Schiff (center) said at the top of the hearing

Sondland said he was not the July 25 phone call with Trump and Zelensky but heard it went 'well' and only learned the details when the White House released the transcript in September

Sondland said he was not the July 25 phone call with Trump and Zelensky but heard it went 'well' and only learned the details when the White House released the transcript in September

Sondland said he was not the July 25 phone call with Trump and Zelensky but heard it went ‘well’ and only learned the details when the White House released the transcript in September

Sondland is one of nine witnesses testifying this week in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump

Sondland is one of nine witnesses testifying this week in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump

Sondland is one of nine witnesses testifying this week in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump

Sondland cites a July 10 WhatsApp exchange to back up his concerns about what Giuliani was dong. Notably, the former New York City mayor uses much stronger language that President Trump does in his own call with Zelensky, where the president asks for a ‘favor’ – investigaitons.

Giuliani, operating in what prior witnesses called a separate unofficial channel, puts it as a demand.

The message went from Giuliani to Ambassador Bill Taylor about his communication with Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko.

‘In WhatsApp messages with Ambassador Volker and I, Ambassador Taylor wrote to us as follows: ‘Just had a meeting with Andriy and Vadym,’ referring to Ukraine Foreign Minister Vadym Pristaiko,’ Sondland said.

‘Taylor said the Ukrainians were, quote: ‘Very concerned about what Lutsenko told them — that, according to RG’ – meaning Rudy Giuliani – ‘the ZEPOTUS meeting will not happen.’ Volker responded, ‘Good grief. Please tell Vadym to let the official USG representatives speak for the U.S. [L]utsenko has his own self-interest here,’ Sondland said.

Sondland expressed his alarm that Giuliani was in contact with Ukrainians ‘without our knowledge.

‘Mr. Giuliani was communicating with the reportedly corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor Lutsenko and discussing whether a Zelensky-Trump meeting was going to happen, again without our knowledge’ – he said, bringing up the key policy issue diplomats had been working on.

Then, he provided further information about Mike Pompeo.

He said with this ‘alarming news,’ Taylor briefed a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ulrich Brechbuehl.

‘Even as late as September 24, Secretary Pompeo was directing Kurt Volker to speak with Rudy Giuliani. In a WhatsApp 12 message, Kurt Volker told me in part: ‘Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S.’ S means the Secretary of State,’ he said.

As the questioning portion of the hearing begins, lawmakers from both parties will pounce on Sondland’s bombshell testimony. 

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier Trump tapped as his ambassador to the EU, is more directly entangled than any witness yet in the attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier Trump tapped as his ambassador to the EU, is more directly entangled than any witness yet in the attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier Trump tapped as his ambassador to the EU, is more directly entangled than any witness yet in the attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens

Democrats are likely to hammer Sondland on his changing story - he sent in a clarification on his closed-door testimony after reports on other witnesses' testimony leaked

Democrats are likely to hammer Sondland on his changing story - he sent in a clarification on his closed-door testimony after reports on other witnesses' testimony leaked

Democrats are likely to hammer Sondland on his changing story – he sent in a clarification on his closed-door testimony after reports on other witnesses’ testimony leaked

Rep. Adam Schiff  (left)said he can see why Pompeo and Trump 'have made a concerted and across the board effort and this impeachment inquiry.' But he said they 'do so at their own peril,' and cited the Nixon impeachment

Rep. Adam Schiff  (left)said he can see why Pompeo and Trump 'have made a concerted and across the board effort and this impeachment inquiry.' But he said they 'do so at their own peril,' and cited the Nixon impeachment

Rep. Adam Schiff  (left)said he can see why Pompeo and Trump ‘have made a concerted and across the board effort and this impeachment inquiry.’ But he said they ‘do so at their own peril,’ and cited the Nixon impeachment

Sondland faces questions on his evolving account of President Trump's administrations dealing with the Ukraine

Sondland faces questions on his evolving account of President Trump's administrations dealing with the Ukraine

Sondland faces questions on his evolving account of President Trump’s administrations dealing with the Ukraine 

Lawmakers will press the ambassador to the European Union on his evolving accounts of dealings with the Ukraine, on his phone call with President Donald Trump in a Kiev restaurant that other officials overheard, and a report he kept Pompeo apprised of a pressure campaign on the Ukraine. 

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier Trump tapped as his ambassador to the EU, is more directly entangled than any witness yet in the attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and an unproven theory it was the Ukraine, and not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election. 

Yet Sondland has already amended his testimony once – ‘I now do recall,’ he said, talking to Ukraine about investigations. 

He is appearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning as The New York Times reported he kept Pompeo apprised of key developments in the campaign to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into making public commitments to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election that would satisfy President Trump. 

Democrats are likely to hammer Sondland on his changing story – he sent in a clarification on his closed-door testimony after reports on other witnesses’ testimony leaked. 

Republicans will try to portray Sondland as an official gone rogue – someone who was doing what he thought Trump wanted without hearing that directly from the president. 

Sondland’s ties to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will also be fodder for both parties. 

He is a key witness for both sides in that he was most of the meetings that have became subject to questions during the impeachment inquiry, along with bragging about his close relationship with the president.  

Sondland’s closeness to Trump, is of particular concern to the White House.

Trump has recently tried to suggest that he barely knows his hand-picked ambassador, but Sondland has said he has spoken several times with the president and was acting on his direction.

The envoy is likely to face tough questions from lawmakers of both parties about Trump’s July 25 call when he asked Zelensky for the political investigations at the same time as U.S. military aid for the ally was being stalled.

Pompeo was also on that call.  

Democrats are investigating allegations Trump held up the nearly $400 million in aid until the Ukraine agreed to investigate.

The White House and Republicans argue the aid was released to the Ukraine, although Democrats point out that happened after a report a whistleblower flagged concerns about Trump’s comments on that July 25 call with Zelensky. 

Sondland routinely bragged about his proximity to Trump and drew alarm from the foreign service and national security officials as part of a back channel of diplomacy that included Sondland, Giuliani, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry – dubbed the ‘three amigos.’

MUCH MORE THAN A HUNCH: A total of eight witnesses are testifying in hearings overseen by Rep. Adam Schiff of California (center) this week

MUCH MORE THAN A HUNCH: A total of eight witnesses are testifying in hearings overseen by Rep. Adam Schiff of California (center) this week

MUCH MORE THAN A HUNCH: A total of eight witnesses are testifying in hearings overseen by Rep. Adam Schiff of California (center) this week

Last week State Department official David Holmes revealed one of those interactions to impeachment investigators.

He was having lunch with Sondland in Kiev on July 26 – the day after Trump’s phone call with Zelensky – when the ambassador dialed up the president on his cellphone and Holmes could hear Trump’s voice.

Holmes said Sondland told Trump that Zelensky ‘loves your ass’ to which Trump responded: ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’

‘He’s gonna do it,’ Sondland replied, according to testimony Holmes gave lawmakers on Friday afternoon behind closed doors.  

Sondland was known for telling others ‘he was in charge of Ukraine’ – despite the fact he was ambassador to the European Union and the Ukraine was not a part of the EU.

Former National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill described Sondland exerting his authority.

‘And I asked, well, on whose authority?’ said Hill, who will testify Thursday. ‘And he said, the President.’

Sondland’s appearance follows the testimony Tuesday of four national security and diplomatic officials, including a career Army officer who described Trump’s call with Zelensky as ‘improper.’

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told lawmakers Tuesday morning it was his 'duty' to report his concerns about the call, as he deflected Republican attacks, including from the White House on his loyalty and career in public service

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told lawmakers Tuesday morning it was his 'duty' to report his concerns about the call, as he deflected Republican attacks, including from the White House on his loyalty and career in public service

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told lawmakers Tuesday morning it was his ‘duty’ to report his concerns about the call, as he deflected Republican attacks, including from the White House on his loyalty and career in public service

Longtime diplomat Kurt Volker (left) and National Security aide Tim Morrison (right) testified Tuesday afternoon in Week Two of the impeachment hearings

Longtime diplomat Kurt Volker (left) and National Security aide Tim Morrison (right) testified Tuesday afternoon in Week Two of the impeachment hearings

Longtime diplomat Kurt Volker (left) and National Security aide Tim Morrison (right) testified Tuesday afternoon in Week Two of the impeachment hearings

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told lawmakers it was his ‘duty’ to report his concerns about the call, as he deflected Republican attacks, including from the White House on his loyalty and career in public service.

It wasn’t the first time Vindman had registered his concerns over Ukraine policy. He testified about a July 10 meeting at the White House when Sondland told visiting Ukraine officials they would need to ‘deliver’ before the administration would agree to a meeting Zelensky wanted with Trump.

‘Ambassador Sondland referred to investigations into the Bidens and Burisma in 2016,’ Vindman testified, referring to the gas company on whose board Hunter Biden had a seat.

At the White House, Trump said he had watched part of the day’s testimony and slammed the ongoing impeachment hearings as a ‘disgrace.’ Over the weekend, Trump assailed Williams as part of the ‘Never Trumpers’ who oppose his presidency, though there is no indication she has shown any partisanship.

Former National Security Council official Timothy Morrison told investigators that he witnessed a key September conversation in Warsaw between Sondland and a top aide to Zelensky. Afterward, Sondland said he had relayed to the Ukrainian that U.S. aid might be freed if the country would announce the investigations, Morrison testified.

Another diplomat, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, shifted his own account of the July 10 meeting to say Sondland did, in fact, discuss investigations with the visiting Ukrainians.

‘I think all of us thought it was inappropriate; the conversation did not continue and the meeting concluded,’ Volker said.

A series of text messages Volker provided to lawmakers showed conversations between him, Sondland and other leaders in which they discussed a need for Ukraine to launch investigations, including into Burisma.

Volker said meeting with Giuliani was just part of the dialogue, and he had one in-person meeting with him, in which Giuliani ‘raised, and I rejected, the conspiracy theory that Vice President Biden would have been influenced in his duties as vice president by money paid to his son.’

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