Ev­ery­one was in the loop

It was no se­cret

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - 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 need 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.”

Later Wed­nes­day, another wit­ness un­der­cut a main Repub­li­can ar­gu­ment — that Ukraine didn’t even re­al­ize the money was be­ing held up. The De­fense Depart­ment’s Laura Cooper tes­ti­fied that Ukrainian of­fi­cials started ask­ing about it on July 25, which was the day of Trump’s phone call with the coun­try’s new pres­i­dent when he first asked for a “fa­vor.”

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 well-known 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 vig­or­ously 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.

Trump him­self

in­sists daily that he did noth­ing wrong and the Democrats are just try­ing to drum him out of of­fice.

As the hear­ing pro­ceeded, he 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.

“I want noth­ing, I want noth­ing,” in­sisted the pres­i­dent, who of­ten ex­horts Amer­i­cans to “read the tran­script” of the July phone call in which he ap­pealed to

Ukraine’s leader for “a fa­vor” — the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

He also dis­tanced him­self from his hand-picked am­bas­sador, say­ing he didn’t know him “very well.” A month ago, he called Sond­land “a re­ally good man and a great Amer­i­can.”

The im­peach­ment in­quiry fo­cuses sig­nif­i­cantly on al­le­ga­tions that Trump sought in­ves­ti­ga­tions of for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent 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.

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 the U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

“Thank God,” Putin said, “no one is ac­cus­ing us of in­ter­fer­ing in the U.S. elec­tions any­more. Now they’re ac­cus­ing Ukraine.”

Another hear­ing in the im­peach­ment in­quiry gaveled open Wed­nes­day evening with Cooper, a De­fense Depart­ment of­fi­cial who had raised con­cerns about the sus­pended Ukraine aid, and David Hale, the No. 3 of­fi­cial at the State Depart­ment.

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 Hunter served on the board. And, he added, “the server,” the hacked Demo­cratic com­puter sys­tem.

Dur­ing ques­tion­ing in the day­long ses­sion, 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, a wealthy hote­lier, has emerged as a cen­tral fig­ure in an in­tense week in the probe that is fea­tur­ing nine wit­nesses tes­ti­fy­ing over three days.

The en­voy 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.”

The son of im­mi­grants who he said es­caped Europe dur­ing the Holo­caust, Sond­land de­scribed him­self as a “life­long Repub­li­can” who has worked with of­fi­cials from both par­ties, in­clud­ing Bi­den.

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.”

Demo­cratic In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia said, “The knowl­edge of this scheme was far and wide.”

Schiff warned Pom­peo and other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials who are re­fus­ing to turn over doc­u­ments and tes­ti­mony to the com­mit­tee “they do so at their own peril.” He said ob­struc­tion of Congress was in­cluded in ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment dur­ing Water­gate.

The top Repub­li­can on the com­mit­tee, Devin Nunes of Cal­i­for­nia, de­cried the in­quiry and told the am­bas­sador, “Mr. Sond­land, you are here to be smeared.”

Nunes re­newed his de­mand to hear from the stil­lanony­mous whistle­blower whose com­plaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy led the House to open the im­peach­ment in­quiry.

Sond­land’s hours of tes­ti­mony didn’t ap­pear to sway Trump’s GOP al­lies in the Se­nate, who would ul­ti­mately be ju­rors in an im­peach­ment trial.

AN­DREW HARNIK — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

U.S. Am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union Gor­don Sond­land gives his open­ing state­ment as he tes­ti­fies be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day.

DOUG MILLS — POOL PHOTO VIA AP

U.S. Am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union Gor­don Sond­land ar­rives to tes­tify be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, Wed­nes­day dur­ing a pub­lic im­peach­ment hear­ing of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ef­forts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to in­ves­ti­ga­tions of his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump walks to the Marine One heli­copter af­ter speak­ing to the me­dia, Wed­nes­day as he leaves the White House in Wash­ing­ton, en route to Texas.

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