EU am­bas­sador tes­ti­fies ‘ev­ery­one was in the loop’ on hold­ing up Ukraine aid

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick and Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON — Am­bas­sador Gor­don Sond­land de­clared to im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors Wed­nes­day that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani ex­plic­itly sought a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine, lever­ag­ing an Oval Of­fice visit for po­lit­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Democrats.

But he also came to be­lieve the trade in­volved much more.

Be­sides the U.S. of­fer of a cov­eted meet­ing at the White House, Sond­land tes­ti­fied it was his un­der­stand­ing the pres­i­dent was hold­ing up nearly $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid, which Ukraine badly needed with an ag­gres­sive Rus­sia on its bor­der, in ex­change for the coun­try’s an­nounce­ment of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Sond­land con­ceded that Trump never told him di­rectly the se­cu­rity as­sis­tance was blocked for the probes, a gap in his ac­count that Repub­li­cans and the White House seized on as ev­i­dence the pres­i­dent did noth­ing wrong. But the am­bas­sador said his deal­ings with Gi­u­liani, as well as ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, left him with the clear un­der­stand­ing of what was at stake.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ ” Sond­land tes­ti­fied in open­ing re­marks. “With re­gard to the re­quested White House call and White House meet­ing, the an­swer is yes.”

The rest, he said, was ob­vi­ous: “Two plus two equals four.”

Sond­land, the am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union and a ma­jor donor to Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, was the most highly an­tic­i­pated

wit­ness in the House’s im­peach­ment in­quiry into the 45th pres­i­dent of the United States.

In of­ten-stun­ning tes­ti­mony, he painted a pic­ture of a Ukraine pres­sure cam­paign that was prompted by Trump him­self, or­ches­trated by Gi­u­liani and well­known to other se­nior of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo. Sond­land said he raised his con­cerns about a quid pro quo for mil­i­tary aid with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence — a con­ver­sa­tion a Pence ad­viser de­nied.

Pom­peo also dis­missed Sond­land’s ac­count.

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

The am­bas­sador said that he and Trump spoke di­rectly about de­sired in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing a col­or­ful cell­phone call this sum­mer over­heard by others at a restau­rant in Kyiv.

As the hear­ing pro­ceeded, Trump spoke to re­porters out­side the White House. Read­ing from notes writ­ten with a black marker, Trump quoted Sond­land quot­ing Trump to say the pres­i­dent wanted noth­ing from the Ukraini­ans and did not seek a quid pro quo. He also dis­tanced him­self from his hand-picked am­bas­sador, say­ing he didn’t know him “very well.”

Later, at a visit to an Ap­ple assem­bly plant in Texas, Trump said Repub­li­cans scored a vic­tory, declar­ing the im­peach­ment in­quiry “over.”

The im­peach­ment in­quiry fo­cuses sig­nif­i­cantly on al­le­ga­tions that Trump sought in­ves­ti­ga­tions of for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and his son Hunter — 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 said that conditions on any po­ten­tial Ukraine meet­ing at the White House started as “generic” but more items were “added to the menu, in­clud­ing Burisma and 2016 elec­tion med­dling.” Burisma is the Ukrainian gas com­pany where Bi­den’s

son served on the board. And, Sond­land added, “the server,” the hacked Demo­cratic com­puter sys­tem.

Dur­ing ques­tion­ing, Sond­land said he didn’t know at the time that Burisma was linked to the Bi­dens but today knows “ex­actly what it means.”

He and other diplo­mats didn’t want to work with Gi­u­liani. But he and the others un­der­stood that Gi­u­liani “was ex­press­ing the de­sires of the pres­i­dent of the United States, and we knew that these in­ves­ti­ga­tions were im­por­tant to the pres­i­dent.”

He also came to un­der­stand that the mil­i­tary aid hinged on the in­ves­ti­ga­tions, though Trump never told him so di­rectly.

Sond­land ap­peared pre­pared to fend off scru­tiny over the way his tes­ti­mony has shifted in closed-door set­tings, say­ing “my mem­ory has not been per­fect.” He said the State Depart­ment left him with­out ac­cess to emails, call records and other doc­u­ments he needed in the in­quiry. Repub­li­cans called his ac­count “the tri­fecta of un­re­li­a­bil­ity.”

Still, he did pro­duce new emails and text mes­sages to bol­ster his as­ser­tion that others in the ad­min­is­tra­tion were aware of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions he was pur­su­ing for Trump from Ukraine.

Sond­land in­sisted, twice, that he was “adamantly op­posed to any sus­pen­sion of aid” for Ukraine. “I fol­lowed the direc­tions of the pres­i­dent.”

Dubbed one of the “three ami­gos” pur­su­ing Ukraine pol­icy, Sond­land dis­puted that they were run­ning some sort of “rogue” op­er­a­tion out­side of­fi­cial U.S. pol­icy. He pro­duced emails and texts show­ing he, for­mer spe­cial en­voy Kurt Volker and En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry kept Pom­peo and others ap­prised of their ac­tiv­ity. One mes­sage from Volker said, “Spoke w Rudy per guid­ance from S.” He said, “S means the sec­re­tary of state.”


Am­bas­sador Gor­don Sond­land tes­ti­fies Wed­nes­day to a U.S. pres­sure cam­paign on Ukraine be­fore a House com­mit­tee.

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