A key witness in the House impeachment inquiry has changed his testimony to reveal that he told a ranking Ukrainian official that the country probably would not get nearly $400 million in US military aid unless it announced investigations that President Trump wanted.
In the updated testimony, Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union — and one of the “three amigos” running Trump’s Ukraine policy — said he had discussed the request with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky at a Sept. 1 meeting between Vice President Pence and Zelensky in Warsaw.
Zelensky had also discussed the aid with Pence, Sondland said.
“I said that resumption of the US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland said in the document.
Sondland in September had texted William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, saying that Trump had been clear that there was no quid pro quo between the aid and the Biden probe, though he said he based that message solely on what the president had told him.
Sondland also told investigators Trump nearly hung up on him when he asked whether the White House was withholding military aid for Ukraine as it pushed the investigations.
“I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo,” Trump said, according to Sondland. “I want Zelensky to do the right thing.”
His updated testimony — which he said was necessary because he remembered more details — was submitted Monday, according to a statement from the House probers.
In his testimony from Oct. 17, he described an evolving rationale for withholding the aid — and charged that the situation grew “more insidious” as time went on.
“You know, this whole thing was sort of a continuum, starting at the May 23rd meeting, ending up at the end of the line when the transcript of the call came out. And as I said to counsel, it started as talk to Rudy [Giuliani], then others talk to Rudy. Corruption was mentioned,” said Sondland, a hotel magnate who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
Then, as time went on—and, again, I can’t nail down the dates—then let’s get the Ukrainians to give a statement about corruption. And then, no, corruption isn’t enough, we need to talk about the 2016 election and the Burisma investigations. And it was always described to me as ongoing investigations that had been stopped by the previous administration and they wanted them started up again,” he continued.
“That’s how it was always described. And then finally at some point I made the Biden-Burisma connection, and then the transcript was released. So I can’t tell you on that continuum when, what dates, but that’s kind of what happened.”
“It kept—it kept getting more insidious as [the] timeline went on, and back in July, it was all about just corruption.”
Sondland also said that demanding Ukraine to investigate the Bidens could be illegal.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I assume so,” he said, adding later that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was less than thrilled about working with the former Gotham mayor.
“Pompeo rolled his eyes and said: Yes, it’s something we have to deal with,” he told lawmakers.
A transcript was also released for the interview with Kurt Volker, Trump’s former special representative for Ukraine negotiations, who at one point appeared to push back on the idea that the White House withheld a meeting with Trump over the investigations.
“The answer to the question is no, if you want a yes-or-no answer. But the reason the answer is no is we did have difficulty scheduling a meeting, but there was no linkage like that,” he said.
Volker was also asked if he would say that Trump asked Zelensky to “manufacture dirt on the Bidens.”
“No. And I’ve seen that phrase thrown around a lot. And I think there’s a difference between the manufacture or dig up dirt versus finding out did anything happen in the 2016 campaign or did anything happen with Burisma. I think – or even if he’s asking them to investigate the Bidens, it is to find out what facts there may be rather than to manufacture something,” he said, referring to Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy giant that gave Huinter Biden a $50,000 a month seat on its Board of Directors while his father was the veep.
He, Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry dubbed themselves “the three amigos” as they executed Trump’s Ukraine policy, which was in conflict with the State Department’s official US policy.
Volker said that the negative information that Giuliani was pushing about the Bidens and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election became a problem.
“The negative narrative about Ukraine which Mr. Giuliani was furthering was the problem. It was, in my view, it was impeding our ability to build the relationship the way we should be doing, in my—as I understood it,” Volker said, adding that Giuliani’s assertions had been debunked.
Volker also told lawmakers that former Ukraine Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, the source of Giuliani’s information, was not credible.
“I had learned through the media that [Giuliani] was going to go to Ukraine and he was intending to pursue these allegations that Lutsenko had made, and he was going to go investigate these things. And I reached out to him to brief him, a couple of key points. Lutsenko is not credible. Don’t listen to what he is saying,” he said.
Volker added that a statement from Ukraine that Giuliani wanted released “died” because the Ukrainians did not want to mention the Bidens, Burisma or the 2016 election, which the president believes was targeted by Ukraine, not Russia.
“It died. I mean, no one—once we started seeing a tempo of engagement with Ukraine, we had first the sense that Rudy was not going to be convinced that it meant anything, and, therefore, convey a positive message to the President if it didn’t say Burisma and 2016,” he said.
“I agreed with the Ukrainians they shouldn’t do it, and in fact told them just drop it, wait till you have your own prosecutor general in place. Let’s work on substantive issues like this, security assistance and all. Let’s just do that. So we dropped it.”
Reps. Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel and Carolyn Maloney issued a joint statement saying that Volker’s and Sondland’s testimony showed that there was a quid pro quo.
“The testimony of Ambassadors Volker and Sondland shows the progression of efforts by the President and his agent, Rudy Giuliani, to use the State Department to press Ukraine to announce investigations beneficial to the President’s personal and political interests,” they said.
“As early as May 2019, President Trump directed the Ambassadors to work with Giuliani on Ukraine policy, and over the course of the summer, an effort was made to extract a public statement from the new Ukrainian president that the Ukrainian government was investigating Burisma or the Biden family and a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 U.S. elections,” the statement continued.
“It is clear from their testimony that, in exchange for the statement, President Trump would award the Ukrainian president with a highly coveted White House meeting and, later, with millions of dollars in critical military aid being withheld.”
But White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham countered, “Both transcripts released today show there is even less evidence for this illegitimate impeachment sham than previously thought. Ambassador Sondland squarely states that he ‘did not know, (and still does not know) when, why or by whom the aid was suspended.’ He also said he ‘presumed’ there was a link to the aid — but cannot identify any solid source for that assumption.
By contrast, Volker’s testimony confirms there could not have been a quid pro quo because the Ukrainians did not know about the military aid hold at the time. No amount of salacious media-biased headlines, which are clearly designed to influence the narrative, change the fact that the President has done nothing wrong.”
Tuesday’s will be the second public release of testimony in the impeachment investigation of Trump that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally launched on Sept. 24.
On Monday, the committees released transcripts of testimony by Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump abruptly recalled as ambassador to Ukraine in May, and Michael McKinley, a former top adviser to Pompeo.
The House investigation is focused on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and last presidential election at a time he was witholding the aid.
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