Sondland revises testimony, admitting he told Ukrainian official that aid was tied to investigations
Washington — Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, revised sworn testimony to the impeachment committees to say he now remembers telling a top Ukrainian official that the release of delayed military aid was "likely" dependent on the country announcing investigations that would benefit President Trump politically, according to documents released Tuesday.
Sondland also told the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry that a coveted White House meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Mr. Trump was contingent on Ukraine investigating supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and an energy company that had employed former Vice President Joe Biden's son.
The 375-page transcript of Sondland's October 17 deposition was released Tuesday. A three-page declaration from Sondland, along with a letter from his attorney dated November 4, appears at the end, and includes several revisions to his earlier testimony.
Sondland said accounts from other witnesses "have refreshed my recollection about conversations involving the suspension of U.S. aid." He said he now remembers discussing the issue of military aid with Andriy Yermak, a top aid to Zelensky, during a "brief pull-aside conversation" in Warsaw on September 1, after Zelensky raised the issue with Vice President Mike Pence directly in a bilateral meeting.
"I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks," Sondland says. He said he did not know why the aid was delayed but "presumed" it was contingent on a public statement, which he later learned would have to come from Zelensky himself.
Since Sondland's initial appearance, several other officials told the committees that Sondland told the Ukrainians that the release of aid was tied to the investigations, a central allegation in the Democratic case against the president.
Read the full text of Sondland's testimony here
"What do you want from Ukraine?"
In early September, Sondland he had been unable to get a straight answer as to why the military aid had been delayed.
On September 9, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, sent a message to Sondland questioning whether the U.S. was withholding aid to get Ukraine to open investigations. Sondland was taken aback by the text, and called Mr. Trump to ask him what he wanted from Zelensky.
"I asked him one open-ended question: What do you want from Ukraine? And as I recall, he was in a very bad mood. It was a very quick conversation. He said: I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing," Sondland testified.
"And I said: What does that mean? And he said: I want him to do what he ran on. And that was the end of the conversation. I wouldn't say he hung up me, but it was almost like he hung up on me," Sondland continued. Sondland replied to Taylor's text several hours later, relaying the president's assertion that there was "no quid pro quo."
Sondland initially told members of the committee that Taylor's September 9 text was the first time he had considered a potential link between the withholding of aid and the request for investigations. However, Taylor had texted Sondland about the issue on September 1, the same day at the meeting with Yermak.
Giuliani "kept getting more insidious"
Sondland portrays Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, as the driving force behind getting Ukraine to announce anti-corruption investigations, pushing an agenda that "kept getting more insidious."
"It started as, 'Talk to Rudy,' then others talk to Rudy. Corruption was mentioned," Sondland said. "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.'"
He said he didn't realize Giuliani was targeting the Bidens through the proposed investigations until much later: "Then finally at some point I made the Biden-Burisma connection, and then the transcript was released," referring to the White House summary of Mr. Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky.
"I can't tell you on that continuum when, what dates, but that's kind of what happened," he said.
A White House meeting
Sondland told the committees he believed an initial invitation for Zelensky to visit the White House came with no preconditions. By August, he came to believe the White House wanted an "innocuous" press statement from Zelensky about "pursuing corruption" as a precondition for holding a meeting.
"My only recollection is that the White House visit was conditioned on the press statement involving the 2016 [election] and Burisma," he said. "That was the only condition."
Sondland also said he can't recall if he ever spoke to White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney about a potential meeting, because Mulvaney is "almost impossible to get a hold of."
According to the transcript, Sondland denied the White House saw opening investigations as a prerequisite for the meeting: "I've always said this was about a press statement" about anti-corruption efforts, he said, stressing the difference between a statement and the opening of actual investigations.
Sondland said he understood "that breaking the logjam with getting the President to finally approve a White House visit was a public utterance by Zelensky" about pursuing transparency, and that conditions about investigating Burisma and the 2016 election were added to a draft of the statement by Giuliani. The statement was never delivered.
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