WASHINGTON — A top Trump administration official now admits that he had a direct call with President Trump in which they discussed “investigations” — one of a number of damning new details that tie the Ukraine pressure campaign directly to the president and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland admitted during Wednesday testimony to the House impeachment inquiry that he talked to Trump the day after Trump’s infamous July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and discussed the investigations that Trump was hoping Ukraine would undertake.
Sondland had failed to mention that call during his previous closed-door testimony, but revised his recollection Wednesday, after other witnesses testified to its existence. That includes David Holmes, an embassy official who was with Sondland as he made the call and overheard Trump discuss the investigations.
“On July 26, shortly after our Kiev meetings, I spoke by phone with President Trump,” Sondland said in his opening statement. “The White House, which has finally shared certain call dates and times with my attorneys, confirms this. The call lasted five minutes. I remember I was at a restaurant in Kiev, and I have no reason to doubt that this conversation included the subject of investigations. Again, given Mr. Giuliani’s demand that President Zelensky make a public statement about investigations, I knew that the topic of investigations was important to President Trump.”
The call with Trump on July 26 is just one in a number of troubling new details found in Sondland’s opening statement that is likely to make the White House nervous.
He also testified that Trump told him and other top officials to “talk with Rudy” Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, on Ukraine policy in late May — and that he knew what that meant.
“First, 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. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President’s orders.”
Guiliani’s involvement ultimately crested in an effort by the U.S. government to get Ukraine to investigate a conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to damage Trump as well as to probe Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company where Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter worked.
Sondland says he and others in the Trump administration made it clear Ukraine’s president wouldn’t get a White House meeting he badly craved unless he announced those investigations.
“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. 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.
And when it came to that ‘quid pro quo,’ Sondland confirmed its existence unequivocally: “ 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,” Sondland told Congress.
Sondland, a former hotelier and GOP mega-donor, became ambassador to the EU after donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
He conveniently forgot a number of key moments in his involvement in Ukraine during his original closed-door testimony, but has been forced to revise his version of events after others testified about what he said and did. That includes an addendum his lawyer filed to his earlier testimony, in which Sondland admitted that he directly told Ukrainian officials that they wouldn’t get military aid unless they made an announcement of investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma, a gas company that had former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter on its board.
Sondland claimed in his Wednesday testimony, that he was assuming that’s what Trump wanted and didn’t get direct orders on that point — a line Republicans are sure to seize on.
“I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer. 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,” he testified.
Read the full statement here:
Cover: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)