Gordon Sondland, the Trump-appointed ambassador to the EU, said he kept high-level Trump administration officials "in the loop" about the president’s push for Ukraine to announce investigations into his political opponents.
In remarks to the House intelligence panel heading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Sondland told lawmakers it was well-established within the Trump administration that there was a quid pro quo involving Ukraine.
He said the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, openly discussed how Trump wanted Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into the 2016 U.S. presidential election and into Burisma — the Ukraine gas company on whose board Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, sat — as a prerequisite for a coveted White House visit for Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Sondland said he was proud to be a member of the so-called "three amigos" with former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker and outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry, all of them working to forge ties with Ukraine's new government.
Trump directed them to "work with Rudy," Sondland said of Giuliani.
"We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt," he said.
Giuliani responded to the hearing on Twitter Wednesday by calling Sondland's testimony speculation "based on VERY little contact."
Sondland said he "presumed" that military aid was eventually held up during their efforts to secure a White House meeting unless Ukraine's leaders announced investigations, though Sondland acknowledged he could not confirm that assessment.
Overall, he said the leaders of the State Department and the NSC were kept informed of his activities involving Ukraine, including by text message and email: “That included communications with Secretary of State Pompeo, his Counselor Ulrich Brechbuehl, and Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna within the State Department; and communications with Ambassador John Bolton, Dr. Fiona Hill, Mr. Timothy Morrison, and their staff at the NSC. They knew what we were doing and why.”
Everyone understood “Trump’s desires and requirements,” Sondland said. “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”
Here are some of the high-ranking people who, according to Sondland, were kept “in the loop” on Ukraine, and their responses to the allegations. Many of those referenced by Sondland have refused to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry by failing to release documents or testify under subpoena.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo + staff:
- Sondland says he wrote Pompeo to ask for help in dealing with the “logjam” between Trump and Ukraine’s president after Ukraine became aware that military aid was held up. In an email, he asked Pompeo for help in figuring out a way for them to move forward on the “issues of importance” for Trump. Pompeo replied: “Yes.” Sondland also included an email from Pompeo where he told Sondland he was doing “great work.”
- Sondland points to a Sept. 24 exchange in which Pompeo "was directing Kurt Volker to speak with Giuliani." Sondland said Volker, via WhatsApp, told him in part: “Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S" — adding that "S" here refers to the Secretary of State.
- Sondland referred to an email he sent Aug. 11 with the subject line "Ukraine." The email was sent to Pompeo. Sondland said the email was addressed to "Mike," referring to Secretary Pompeo, and said in part: "Kurt and I negotiated a statement from Zelenskiy to be delivered for our review in a day or two. The contents will hopefully make the boss happy enough to authorize an invitation. Zelenskiy plans to have a big presser on the openness subject, including specifics next week."
Last month, Pompeo acknowledged for the first time he was on Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president, but disclosed no details and did not indicate he was kept up to date on the Ukraine pressure efforts.
- Asked about Sondland’s testimony Wednesday, Pompeo said he hadn't seen it. "I know precisely what American policy was with respect to Ukraine. I was working on it. And I'm incredibly proud of what we've accomplished."
- A State Department spokeswoman later issued a statement denying Sondland told Pompeo he believed Trump was linking aid to investigations of political opponents.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry:
- Sondland said Perry volunteered to make initial calls with Giuliani, “given his prior relationship,” at Trump’s direction.
- Sondland told impeachment investigators that Giuliani had let Perry know that Trump wanted Ukraine to publicly promise to investigate the natural gas company that had employed the son of presidential rival Joe Biden.
Perry, who previously announced his resignation, has declined to appear before the committee to testify.
- Press Secretary Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement: “Ambassador Sondland's testimony today misrepresented both Secretary Perry's interaction with Rudy Giuliani and direction the Secretary received from President Trump. As previously stated, Secretary Perry spoke to Rudy Giuliani only once at the President's request. No one else was on that call. At no point before, during or after that phone call did the words 'Biden' or 'Burisma' ever come up in the presence of Secretary Perry.”
Office of Management and Budget Director and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney + staff:
- Mulvaney is included on a July 19, 2019, email sent by Sondland to a group that also included Perry, Pompeo and others, with the subject line: "I Talked to Zelensky just now."
- Sondland wrote that the Ukrainian leader "is prepared to receive Potus' call" in that he was prepared to assure Trump that he "intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will 'turn over every stone.'" Several hours later a response, sent only to Sondland and Brian McCormack [Rick Perry's chief of staff], came from Perry: "Mick just confirmed the call being set up for tomorrow by NSC," Perry wrote, referring to Mulvaney. Mulvaney followed up not long after with a similar reply, sent to everyone included on the original email: "I asked NSC to set it up for tomorrow."
Mulvaney said in October that the money was conditioned on an investigation into possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election — a discredited conspiracy theory — but later walked that back and said his remarks had been misconstrued.
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said before reversing course.
Vice President Mike Pence:
- Sondland said he told Vice President Mike Pence he "had concerns" that U.S. military aid to Ukraine “had become tied” to the investigations.
- From Sondland's written opening statement: "I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations. I recall mentioning that before the Zelensky meeting."
- "During the actual meeting, President Zelensky raised the issue of security assistance directly with Vice President Pence," he said. "The Vice President said he would speak to President Trump about it."
Pence's Office Responds:
- Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, denied in a statement that Pence spoke to Sondland “about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations,” referencing the gas company where Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on the board. Short added that Sondland was “never alone” with Pence during the Sept. 1 trip to Poland. “This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened,” Short said.
Pence aides have previously maintained that the vice president was unaware of efforts to push Zelenskiy to release a statement announcing investigations. And Pence has said no such push came up during his September meeting with Zelenskiy in Warsaw, even as the leaders discussed the U.S. military aid that was under review. His aide Jennifer Williams testified this week that she had included the White House's memo of Trump's July call with Zelenskiy in Pence's daily briefing book but did not know whether he read it.
Sondland confirmed that he had a brief cellphone conversation with Trump while Sondland was in a restaurant in Kyiv. "Other witnesses have recently shared their recollection of overhearing this call. For the most part, I have no reason to doubt their accounts," Sondland said.
"It is true that the president speaks loudly at times," he continued. "It is also true that we discussed A$AP Rocky. It is true that the president likes to use colorful language."
A U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, David Holmes, told impeachment investigators last week about the phone call between Trump and Sondland. Holmes overheard the cellphone call, conducted a day after Trump pushed Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats, while Holmes was dining with Sondland at a Kyiv restaurant. Holmes said Sondland told Trump that Zelenskiy would conduct the investigations he was seeking and would do anything he wanted. He opened the call by telling Trump that Zelenskiy "loves your ass."
Sondland also said that he had "no reason to doubt that this conversation included the subject of investigations," but said the conversation didn’t strike him as significant. He said the White House confirmed the call by sharing certain call dates with his attorneys.
A Sept. 9 phone call between Trump and Sondland has also been a topic of dispute. Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council staffer who spoke with Sondland after the call, said Sondland told him that while the president swore off any quid pro quo, at another point in the chat, Trump told the diplomat that Zelenskiy must personally announce the opening of the investigations — and should want to do it.
However, Sondland testified Wednesday that he couldn’t remember Trump ever telling him directly the aid would be held up until the statement was made.
The circumstances surrounding the phone call that Trump has seized on are also notable. Sondland called Trump after receiving what he described as a “fairly shocking” text message from the acting ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, expressing concerns about the Ukraine situation.
Taylor had texted Sondland, “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Sondland said Trump was in a bad mood. That same day, members of Congress learned of the whistleblower complaint that would trigger the impeachment inquiry.
Nearly five hours after receiving Taylor's text, Sondland responded.
“Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” he wrote. “The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” Sondland also suggested that the two stop conversing by text and that Taylor raise any remaining concerns by phone.
Sondland later testified that he had been relaying in the text what Trump had told him, not indicating what he personally believed.
He told lawmakers Wednesday that he was never explicitly told by Trump that the release of the aid was conditioned on Ukraine launching investigations into the president’s rivals. But Sondland said that was his “presumption” and was as obvious to him as “two plus two equals four.”
Trump, reading from handwritten notes on the White House lawn Wednesday, referenced Sondland’s testimony about their Sept. 9 call. He said he told Sondland twice: “I want nothing” from Ukrainians.
“It was a very short and abrupt conversation that he had with me,” Trump said. “They said I wasn’t in a good mood. I’m always in a good mood.”
Trump recalled that Sondland “was going, ’what do you want? What do you want?’” and that the president responded, “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelenskiy to do the right thing.”
Trump downplayed his relationship with Sondland, who became ambassador to the European Union after he donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. Trump has previously praised Sondland as a “really good man and a great American.”
"I don’t know him very well," Trump said Wednesday, adding that Sondland "came in late."