The U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified to House lawmakers on Thursday that President Trump told him repeatedly he wanted “nothing” from Ukraine and that there was “no quid pro quo.”
“On September 9, 2019 … I asked the president: ‘What do you want from Ukraine?’ The president responded, ‘Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.’ The president repeated, ‘No quid pro quo’ multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the president was in a bad mood,” he testified.
The remarks are in his prepared statement to lawmakers as part of House Democrats’ investigations into if the president tried to withhold millions in U.S. military assistance in exchange for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Hunter sat on a Ukrainian energy board for $50,000 a month while he was vice president.
Furthermore, Sondland, who was deeply involved in U.S.-Ukrainian affairs in his position, said he does not recall discussions with the White House about withholding security assistance from Ukraine in exchange for dirt on Biden.
“To the best of my recollection, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign,” he testified.
His whole opening statement: https://t.co/p8lsr0z4Z9
— Kristina Wong (@kristina_wong) October 17, 2019
His remarks come under a subsection of his testimony meant to clarify “misstatements” in the press. He said at the beginning of his statement, “I am NOT here to push an agenda. I am here to tell the truth.”
Sondland will also testify that Ukrainian “corruption and rule of law” were central topics among U.S. officials and even a delegation to Brussels led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in early 2019.
“In these meetings in Brussels and Odessa, as in nearly every meeting in which Ukraine issues were discussed, corruption and rule of law were central topics of conversation,” he will testify.
“Successive Ukrainian governments have sought to attract Western investors as a counterbalance to Russian interference and oligarch control of key Ukrainian companies. Western investment is fully in the strategic interests of the United States and our E.U. partners,” he will say.
“However, efforts to access private markets have been made extremely difficult by the longstanding corruption. As one example, we frequently had conversations with Ukrainian leaders about transparency and corporate governance issues involving Naftogaz.”
He added, “In my experience, these issues have been the consistent context in which both my team and our Ukraine counterparts have raised corruption problems for many years.”
Despite Sondland’s clarifications, some outlets are reporting that Sondland will “break” from the president.
Sondland did not “break” from Trump but said he and other officials were disappointed they had to deal with Rudy Giuliani. He also testified there was a disagreement coming from the National Security Council (NSC).
Sondland and a U.S. delegation had attended the inauguration of new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The delegation included U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, along with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), special envoy Volker Kurt Volker, and Alex Vindman from the National Security Council.
After they returned, they debriefed Trump at the White House on May 23, 2019.
We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns.
At the time, Giuliani had been looking into Ukrainian corruption, including issues involving Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
“It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the president’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland testified.
Sondland said they were “disappointed” that they were directed to involve Giuliani because they believed a phone call between Trump and Zelensky was important and should happen “promptly.”
They were also upset because their view was that the “men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine.”
However, they decided to talk to Giuliani to address the president’s concerns, which they believed was better than having no phone call.
“I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the president’s 2020 reelection campaign,” he said.
Sondland revealed that there was a “difference of opinion” with the National Security Council regarding if the phone call should transpire between him, Perry, and Volker.
“We three favored promptly scheduling a call and meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky; the NSC did not,” he said.
He said the NSC — National Security Adviser John Bolton, NSC Director of European Policy Fiona Hill, and others — did not share any misgivings with him, then or later.
We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting, and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.
“Furthermore, my boss, Secretary Pompeo, was very supportive of our Ukraine strategy,” he said.
The phone call finally occurred on July 25, 2019 — which would later serve as the basis of a “whistleblower” complaint against the president.
The “whistleblower,” a former NSC official, who returned back to his home intelligence agency, alleged that the president was seeking Ukrainian interference in the 2020 elections, relying on secondhand information.
Sondland made clear that he was not on that call and did not see a transcript of the call until the White House released it in September — removing any doubts that he fed information to the “whistleblower.”
But let me emphasize: I was not on that July 25, 2019, call, and I did not see a transcript of that call until September 25, 2019, when the White House publicly released it. None of the brief and general call summaries I received contained any mention of Burisma or former Vice President Biden nor even suggested that President Trump had made any kind of request of President Zelensky.
“I had heard afterwards that the July 25, 2019, call went well in solidifying a relationship between the two leaders,” he said.
He said he had a call with President Trump before a July 26, 2019, meeting in Kiev, but it was “nonsubstantive” and did not involve any of the substance of the July 25, 2019, call.
He said he was later pleased about Trump’s face-to-face meeting with Zelensky on September 25, 2019, hosted by the White House and the NSC.