U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified Wednesday in a House impeachment inquiry hearing that President Donald Trump directed his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to pursue a “quid pro quo.” “Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit” for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Sondland said in an opening statement provided by his lawyer to CNBC.”Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations” into the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter had worked as a board member, Sondland’s opening statement says.”Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President,” according to Sondland’s statement.Sondland is the most-anticipated witness yet to appear for a public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals.U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland takes his seat to testify before a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 20, 2019.Jonathan Ernst | ReutersThe ambassador to the E.U. had direct contact with the president, and had previously discussed the investigations with him, according to testimony provided by other witnesses heard in the hearings so far.His explosive opening statement implicates a number of other senior Trump administration officials in the scheme to get Ukraine to launch the investigations. Sondland highlights an email he sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and other senior aides, in which he writes after speaking to Zelenskiy that Ukraine’s leader “intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone’.”That email was sent July 19 — nearly a week prior to Trump’s request in a phone call that Zelenskiy “look into” the Bidens, Burisma and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. A whistleblower’s complaint about that July 25 call sparked the impeachment inquiry.”Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland says. “It was no secret.”Ahead of Sondland’s appearance, it was unclear what he would tell the Democrat-led panel. Sondland is a major Trump donor who had previously claimed that there was no quid pro quo involved with the president’s Ukraine dealings. But after speaking behind closed doors in mid-October, Sondland returned to Capitol Hill to make major revisions to his testimony after his claims had been contradicted by other witnesses.In an addendum to that testimony, Sondland admitted that he told a top Ukraine official that hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine — which had been withheld without clear explanation at the time from the Trump administration — would likely not be delivered until Ukraine agreed to make a “public anti-corruption statement” that had been under discussion.Sondland begins his testimony by lamenting that he was not able to access all of his files, including phone records, State Department emails and other State Department documents.”My lawyers and I have made multiple requests to the State Department and the White House for these materials. Yet, these materials were not provided to me. They have also refused to share these materials with this Committee,” Sondland says.Sondland goes on to say that he and Perry, as well as former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, “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,” Sondland said. “Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. 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.”But he then adds that “although we disagreed with the need to involve Mr. Giuliani, we did not believe that his role was improper at the time.” And for that reason, “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 says.Sondland also says that he was “adamantly opposed” to the decision to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, which is currently embroiled in conflict with Russia. “Ukrainians needed those funds to fight against Russian aggression. I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer,” Sondland said. “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. Read Sondland’s full opening statement.This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.Let’s block ads! (Why?)
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- Sondland testimony: 'Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret'