/Sondland, Defiant, Says He Followed Trump’s Orders to Pressure Ukraine
Sondland, Defiant, Says He Followed Trump’s Orders to Pressure Ukraine

Sondland, Defiant, Says He Followed Trump’s Orders to Pressure Ukraine

The United States ambassador to the European Union told the impeachment inquiry his efforts to press Ukraine to announce investigations were ordered by President Trump, and top officials knew.

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Trump Impeachment Hearings: Sondland Testimony Highlights

Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, appeared before the House Intelligence Committee.

“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. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose a very important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election D.N.C. server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew these investigations were important to the president. Members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.” “One of the things that you now remember is the discussion that you had with President Trump on July 26 in that restaurant in Kyiv, right? You confirmed to President Trump that you were in Ukraine at the time and that President Zelensky quote, ‘loves your ass.’ Do you recall saying that?” “It sounds like something I would say.” “You said President Trump had directed you to talk — you and the others — to talk to Rudy Giuliani at the Oval Office on May 23.” “If we wanted to get anything done with Ukraine, it was apparent to us we needed to talk to Rudy.” “Right, you understood that Mr. Giuliani spoke for the president, correct?” “That’s correct.” “You testified that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president, correct?” “That’s our understanding, yes.” “But how did you know that? Who told you?” “Well, when the president says talk to my personal attorney, and then Mr. Giuliani as his personal attorney makes certain requests or demands, we assume it’s coming from the president.” “You don’t have records, you don’t have your notes because you didn’t take notes. You don’t have a lot of recollections. I mean, this is like the trifecta of unreliability. Isn’t that true?” “What I’m trying to do today is to use the limited information I have to be as forthcoming as possible with you and the rest of the committee.” “Your testimony is just simply in a pre-meeting with a group of Americans before the bilateral meeting. You referenced the fact that Ukraine needed to do these investigations in order to lift the aid.” “I think I referenced — I didn’t say that Ukraine had to do the investigations. I think I said that we heard from Mr. Giuliani that that was the case.” “So it wasn’t really a presumption. You heard from Mr. Giuliani.” “No one told me directly that the aid was tied to anything. I was presuming it was.” “You testified that pretty much everyone could put two and two together and make four and understood that the military assistance was also conditioned on the public announcement of these two investigations, correct?” “That was my presumption.” “Now you’re capable of putting two and two together. And so are the Ukrainians. Because you told them in Warsaw they were going to need to make that public statement — likely to get that aid released as I said.” “I said I presumed that might have to be done in order to get the aid released.” “Because we’ve had a lot of argumentation here. Well, the Ukrainians didn’t know the aid was withheld. But the Ukrainians found out. And then it was made abundantly clear, if they hadn’t put two and two together themselves, that if they wanted that aid they were going to have to make these statements, correct?” “Correct.” “When did President Zelensky announce that the investigation was going to happen? On page 14 you said this: ‘Was there a quid pro quo’ — today’s, your opening statement? ‘As I testified previously with regard to requested White House call, White House meeting the answer is yes,’ that there needed to be a public statement from President Zelensky. When the chairman asked you about the security assistance dollars, you said there needed to be a public announcement from Zelensky. So I’m asking you a simple question: When did that happen?” “Never did.” “Never did.” “Who would benefit from an investigation of the Bidens?” “I assume President Trump would benefit.” “There, we have it!” “Mr. Maloney, excuse me. I’ve been very forthright and I really resent what you’re trying to do.” “Fair enough. You’ve been very forthright. This is your third try to do so, sir. Didn’t work so well the first time, did it? We had a little declaration coming after you, remember that? And now we’re here a third time. And we’ve got a doozy of a statement from you this morning. There’s a whole bunch of stuff you don’t recall. So all due respect, sir. We appreciate your candor, but let’s be really clear on what it took to get it out of you.” “The question is not what the president meant. The question is not whether he was responsible for holding up the aid — he was. The question is not whether everybody knew it — apparently they did. The question is, what are we prepared to do about it? Is there any accountability? Or are we forced to conclude that this is just now the world that we live in?”

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Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, appeared before the House Intelligence Committee.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Nicholas FandosMichael S. Schmidt

WASHINGTON — An ambassador at the center of the House impeachment inquiry testified on Wednesday that he was following President Trump’s orders, with the full knowledge of other top administration officials, when he pressured the Ukrainians to conduct investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals in what he called a clear “quid pro quo.”

Gordon D. Sondland, Mr. Trump’s envoy to the European Union, told the House Intelligence Committee that he reluctantly followed Mr. Trump’s directive. He testified that the president instructed him to work with Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, as he pressured Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and an unsubstantiated theory that Democrats conspired with Kyiv to interfere in the 2016 election.

“We followed the president’s orders,” Mr. Sondland said.

His appearance amounted to an act of defiance by an official who has been described by other witnesses as a point man in the push to extract the investigations. In his testimony, Mr. Sondland linked the most senior members of the Trump administration to the effort — including the vice president, the secretary of state, the acting chief of staff and others. He said they were informed of it at key moments, an account that severely undercut Mr. Trump’s frequent claims that he never pressured Ukraine.

Instead, Mr. Sondland, a wealthy Republican megadonor, described an expansive effort to help the president do just that.

Later on Wednesday, a Defense Department official, Laura K. Cooper, testified that Ukrainian officials may have known as early as late July that a $391 million package of security assistance was being withheld by the Trump administration.

The testimony by Ms. Cooper called into question another central element of the president’s defense: that there was no pressure because Ukrainian officials were unaware that the money was frozen.

Two months into the investigation, Mr. Sondland’s account came as close as investigators have gotten to an admission from an official who dealt directly with Mr. Trump. But Mr. Sondland’s accounts have shifted since the committee first deposed him in October, opening him up to Republican criticism that he is not credible.

Mr. Sondland has repeatedly claimed not to have recalled key episodes, and he conceded during testimony on Wednesday that he did not record precisely what had happened. He blamed the State Department for not providing him with all his emails, call logs and other records.

Still, he offered revelations and had the evidence to corroborate them.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on parts of the pressure campaign, Mr. Sondland testified, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, was deeply involved. They understood, as he did, that there was a quid pro quo linking a White House meeting for President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to a promise by him to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, he said.

“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?” Mr. Sondland said. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

“Everyone was in the loop,” he said. “It was no secret.”

Mr. Sondland testified that he came to believe that Mr. Trump was also linking congressionally approved military assistance to Ukraine with a public commitment by Mr. Zelensky to investigate Mr. Trump’s political adversaries. Mr. Sondland said he informed Vice President Mike Pence of his concern about that connection during a Sept. 1 meeting in Warsaw.

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Ms. Cooper testified that Ukrainian officials had reached out to the State and Defense Departments with questions about the status of the military funding on July 25, only hours after Mr. Trump pressed Mr. Zelensky during a phone call for the investigations. Republicans have insisted that Ukraine did not know that the aid had been held up until it was reported in the news media in late August.

Beyond the evolving timeline, Mr. Sondland’s testimony raised questions about whether the other top administration figures he mentioned — including Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Mulvaney and John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser — would come forward to testify.

The Trump administration tried to block the testimony of Mr. Sondland, Ms. Cooper and David Hale, the No. 3 State Department official, who also appeared on Wednesday, and refused to allow Mr. Sondland access to certain documents, he said, which it also withheld from the committee despite a subpoena.

Democrats pointed to the administration’s stonewalling as yet another piece of evidence for an impeachment article against Mr. Trump for obstruction of Congress.

“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery, as well as other potential high crimes and misdemeanors,” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told reporters during a brief break in the hearing.

Listen to ‘The Daily’: ‘We Followed the President’s Orders’

In highly anticipated testimony, a top envoy said the operation to extract a political favor from Ukraine was done at the direction of the president, vice president and secretary of state.

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