Democrats, who were expecting the other shoe to drop during U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland’s testimony today, may have heard it fall, but it never really hit the floor.
While it is true that Sondland did provide stunning testimony to Congress affirming a “quid pro quo” for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to secure a meeting and phone call with President Trump, he denied having any direct evidence that those conditions were directly tied to holding back critical security aid, nor that they came directly from the president.
Referring to what he labeled a “potential quid pro quo” involving U.S. military aid to Ukraine and investigations desired by President Trump, Sondland testified that he had never heard that link from the president himself.
One of the key witnesses in the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry against Trump, Sondland claimed he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aware of what was going on and said he specifically told Vice President Pence he “had concerns” the military aid to Ukraine “had become tied” to investigations — though a Pence aide denied it. And he repeatedly lambasted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s leading role in the administration’s Ukraine dealings.
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified in opening remarks. “It was no secret.”
Taken in their entirety, Sondland’s statements Wednesday are likely to fuel the narratives of both parties. He was seen as a wild card going into the hearing, given he has offered testimony that conflicted with others’ and recently amended his statements to acknowledge he did talk to Ukraine about investigations after initially indicating otherwise.
Sondland made clear that he merely presumed the aid was linked to investigations, at one point referring to this as a “guess,” while repeatedly stating that, “I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of investigations.
He said he never personally heard Trump discuss any kind of preconditions. Instead, he clearly pinned the effort to extract the conditions from Ukraine on Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
“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,” Sondland said in his written opening testimony, referring to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker.
Burisma, the second-largest energy company in Ukraine, had hired Hunter Biden, the then-vice president’s son, for a $50,000 per month position on its board.
“Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to the Ukrainians. 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,” said Sondland.
He tried to now distance himself from the former New York mayor, saying, “If I had known of all of Mr. Giuliani’s dealings or of his associations with individuals now under criminal indictment, I would not have acquiesced to his participation,” Sondland said. “Still, given what we knew at the time, what we were asked to do did not appear to be wrong.”