Trump di­rected Ukraine quid pro quo, key wit­ness says

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - LISA MASCARO, MARY CLARE JALONICK AND ERIC TUCKER

WASH­ING­TON — Am­bas­sador Gor­don Sond­land told House im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors Wed­nes­day that he worked with Rudy Gi­u­liani on Ukraine at the “ex­press di­rec­tion” of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and pushed for a po­lit­i­cal “quid pro quo” with Kyiv be­cause it was what Trump wanted.

“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 tes­ti­fied of his deal­ings with Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­ney.

Sond­land, the most highly an­tic­i­pated wit­ness in the pub­lic im­peach­ment probe, made clear that he be­lieved Trump was pur­su­ing his de­sire for po­lit­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions in re­turn for an Oval Of­fice meet­ing that the eastern Euro­pean na­tion’s new pres­i­dent sought to bol­ster his al­liance with the West. Sond­land said he later came to be­lieve mil­i­tary aid that Ukraine re­lied on to counter Rus­sia was also being held up un­til the in­ves­ti­ga­tions were launched.

In a block­buster morn­ing, Sond­land’s open­ing re­marks in­cluded sev­eral key de­tails.

He con­firmed that he spoke with Trump on a cell­phone from a busy Kyiv restau­rant the day af­ter the pres­i­dent prod­ded Ukraine’s leader to in­ves­ti­gate po­lit­i­cal ri­val Joe Bi­den.

He also said he kept Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and other top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials aware of his deal­ings with Ukraine on the in­ves­ti­ga­tions Trump sought. Sond­land said he specif­i­cally told Vice-Pres­i­dent Mike Pence he “had con­cerns” that U.S. mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine “had be­come tied” to the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“Ev­ery­one was in the loop,” Sond­land, U.S. am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, tes­ti­fied in open­ing re­marks. “It was no se­cret.”

A top Pence aide de­nied the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the vi­cepres­i­dent and Sond­land.

It “never hap­pened,” Pence chief of staff Marc Short said.

Trump has in­sisted he did noth­ing wrong in his deal­ings with Ukraine, cast­ing the im­peach­ment in­quiry as a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated ef­fort to push him from of­fice. Speak­ing to re­porters out­side the White House on Wed­nes­day, he said he wanted noth­ing from the Ukraini­ans and did not seek a quid pro quo. He also dis­tanced him­self from Sond­land, a ma­jor donor to his in­au­gu­ra­tion.

“I don’t know him very well. I have not spo­ken to him much,” Trump said, speak­ing from notes on the hear­ing, writ­ten with a black marker.

The im­peach­ment in­quiry fo­cuses sig­nif­i­cantly on al­le­ga­tions that Trump sought in­ves­ti­ga­tions of for­mer vice-pres­i­dent Bi­den and his son — and the dis­cred­ited idea that Ukraine rather than Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion — in re­turn for the badly needed mil­i­tary aid for Ukraine and the White House visit. In Moscow on Wed­nes­day, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin said he was pleased that the “po­lit­i­cal bat­tles” in Wash­ing­ton had over­taken the Rus­sia al­le­ga­tions, which are sup­ported by U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

Sond­land said that conditions on any po­ten­tial Ukraine meet­ing at the White House started as “generic,” but “more spe­cific items got added to the menu, in­clud­ing — Burisma and 2016 elec­tion med­dling.” Burisma is the Ukrainian gas com­pany where Joe Bi­den’s son Hunter served on the board. And, he added, “the server,” the hacked

Demo­cratic com­puter sys­tem.

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

Sond­land said he didn’t know at the time that Burisma was linked to the Bi­dens but has since come to un­der­stand that — and that the mil­i­tary aid also hinged on the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“Pres­i­dent Trump never told me di­rectly that the aid was con­di­tioned on meet­ings,” he tes­ti­fied. “The only thing we got di­rectly from Gi­u­liani was that the Burisma and 2016 elec­tions were con­di­tioned on the White House meet­ing ... The aid was my own per­sonal guess ... two plus two equals four.”

The im­peach­ment in­quiry fo­cuses sig­nif­i­cantly on al­le­ga­tions that Trump sought in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Demo­crat Joe Bi­den and his son — and the dis­cred­ited idea that Ukraine rather than Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion — in re­turn for the badly needed mil­i­tary aid for Ukraine and the White House visit.

Sond­land’s hours of tes­ti­mony didn’t ap­pear to sway Trump’s GOP al­lies in the Se­nate.

Mike Braun of In­di­ana said the pres­i­dent’s ac­tions “may not be ap­pro­pri­ate, but this is the ques­tion: Does it rise to the level of im­peach­ment? And it’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent is­sue and none of this has.”

Sond­land, a wealthy hote­lier and Trump donor, has emerged as a cen­tral fig­ure in an in­tense week in the im­peach­ment probe that has fea­tured nine wit­nesses tes­ti­fy­ing over three days. Both Democrats and Repub­li­cans were un­cer­tain about what Sond­land would tes­tify to, given that he had al­ready clar­i­fied parts of his ini­tial pri­vate de­po­si­tion be­fore law­mak­ers.

CHIP SOMODEVILL­A GETTY IM­AGES

Gor­don Sond­land, the U.S am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, tes­ti­fies be­fore the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day. The com­mit­tee heard tes­ti­mony dur­ing the fourth day of open hear­ings in the im­peach­ment in­quiry against U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

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