Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a central figure in the Ukraine scandal, affirmed in Wednesday’s impeachment hearing that a key White House meeting between President Trump and Ukraine’s new president was conditioned on the country opening an investigation into Trump’s political opponents.
“Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland said in his opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee. “The answer is yes.”
Sondland emphasized that there was little mystery among senior White House officials that the meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky would only happen if he promised investigations into Joe Biden’s son Hunter and, separately, into a conspiracy theory that suggests Ukraine, and not Russia, was behind the 2016 election interference.
Sondland said he communicated to Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he “told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to ‘run a fully transparent investigation’ and ‘turn over every stone’ were necessary in his call with President Trump.”
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said.
Sondland also said that he believed there was also a quid pro quo attached to hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid that was supposed to go to Ukraine. Upon learning of the hold on military aid to the country, Sondland said, “I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer.”
He went on: “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.” Burisma is a reference to the Ukrainian energy firm that hired Hunter Biden to serve on its board.
Along with his testimony, Sondland provided Congress with communications showing that he kept Pompeo apprised of Zelensky’s plans to announce investigations. The messages are the best indication yet of how closely Pompeo was linked to the pressure campaign against Zelensky.
Other notable takeaways from Sondland’s opening statement include his emphasis that he did not want to work with Rudy Giuliani.
“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,” he said. “We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt. 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. So we followed the president’s orders.”
Sondland later emphasized that he did not want to involve Giuliani. “I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukraine matters.”