Everyone Knew of ‘Quid Pro Quo’: Sondland Testimony Takeaways
(Bloomberg) -- Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, delivered the most explosive testimony yet in the House impeachment hearings on Wednesday, saying President Donald Trump effectively directed him to broker a quid pro quo with Ukraine to investigate a chief political rival.
Sondland, an Oregon hotelier who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund after his 2016 election, also pointed to Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and several other administration officials who, he said, were aware of the efforts.
Here’s a look at some of the most compelling moments from Wednesday’s testimony.
Sondland confirms ‘quid pro quo’ for White House visit
Sondland confirmed that he was involved in a quid pro quo: Trump would host Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the White House in exchange for a public statement that Ukraine would launch investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma, the company linked to former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
Sondland testified that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was generally the conduit for Trump’s efforts. “Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelenskiy,” he said.
Sondland, though, said he never learned why nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine was held up. He said he “came to believe” that it was also tied to Trump’s desire for the investigations because, using an analogy, “two plus two is four.”
“I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer,” he told Congress.
Pence, Pompeo, Perry, Bolton, Mulvaney were ‘in the loop’
Sondland, 61, fought back against allegations that his diplomatic efforts with Kyiv were part of an irregular policymaking process, saying that all of the “relevant decision-makers” at the National Security Council and State Department knew about efforts to push Ukraine for investigations in exchange for a White House visit.
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said after reading aloud text-message exchanges with Pompeo. “It was no secret.”
In a July 19 email, Sondland wrote to Pompeo, Perry, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and other officials that Zelenskiy had promised to run “a fully transparent investigation” as a precondition to the two leaders having a call on July 25.
Sondland said he also discussed with Pence on Sept. 1 in Warsaw the public statement Trump was demanding from Zelenskiy. He said Pence nodded his head, acknowledging that he’d heard Sondland say that the freezing of aid to Ukraine would probably only be fixed once Zelenskiy makes a public statement about the investigations.
Trump, Pence, Perry distance themselves from Sondland
Trump, Pence and Perry attempted to distance themselves from Sondland after he said they all knew about Trump’s demand for investigations in exchange for a White House invitation.
“This is not a man I know well,” Trump told reporters.
Pence has maintained that he wasn’t involved in Trump’s alleged effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rivals. Pence met with Zelenskiy on Sept. 1 in Warsaw, as Giuliani was working with Sondland and other officials to secure an announcement by Zelenskiy of the investigations. Sondland said he told Pence about the negotiations.
Pence’s chief of staff claimed that Sondland had lied to Congress, saying the conversation “never happened.”
Perry’s press secretary said Sondland “misrepresented” the energy secretary’s interactions with Giuliani and instructions from Trump.
Sondland’s salty conversations with Trump
While Trump claimed not to know Sondland well, his ambassador to the EU painted a different picture on Capitol Hill, suggesting they had numerous chummy -- and profane-laced -- conversations.
“That’s how President Trump and I communicate – a lot of four-letter words,” Sondland added.
Sondland made the comments after being questioned about David Holmes, a top diplomat in Ukraine, who testified last week that he overheard Sondland’s phone call with Trump at an open-air restaurant in Kyiv. According to Holmes, Sondland told Trump over the phone that Zelenskiy “loves your ass.”
“Sounds like something I would say,” Sondland said to laughter.
Later, under questioning from Republican counsel, Sondland added another time in which he used colorful language with Trump – a conversation in which he tried to get the president to say what it would take for him to work with Ukraine.
“I just said ‘What do you want from Ukraine?’” he testified. “I may have used a four-letter word.”
Sondland says Giuliani was Trump’s point person
Sondland referenced first-hand conversations with Trump, but his clearest evidence of the quid pro quo came through his interactions with Giuliani.
Sondland and former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, both begrudgingly engaged with Giuliani on Ukraine policy because Trump told them to do so. “Talk with Rudy,” said Sondland, recounting what Trump had told him.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland said in his opening statement. “Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.”
Flashback: Trump wanted Sondland to testify
Sondland has emerged as a key witness tying Trump directly to a quid pro quo, but just weeks ago, Trump thought Sondland would exonerate him.
“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public,” Trump tweeted on Oct. 8.
He added that Sondland’s text message, which he mistakenly described as a tweet, would clear him: “’I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.’ That says it ALL!”
In his testimony, Sondland claimed that the text message was “simply to relay I’ve gone as far as I can go, this is the final word that I’ve heard from the president of the United States.”
Nunes blasts a ‘conspiracy theory’ that isn’t
Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the committee, blasted the impeachment inquiry in his opening remarks and dismissed the allegations that Trump acted improperly as little more than “conspiracy theories.”
Nunes said the inquiry was part of a series of attacks on the president by Democrats, including everything from theories floated from the controversial Steele dossier to questions about Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s security clearance. Nunes also labeled as a conspiracy theory reports that Trump “had a diabolical plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.” But Trump said in 2018 he had sought to build a tower in Russia during his campaign.
“I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail,” Trump tweeted last year. “Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project.”
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