WASHINGTON — Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the E.U., pointed the finger at President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton in explosive public testimony on Wednesday in which he said explicitly that there was a “quid quo pro” linking a White House visit by Ukraine’s president to investigations into a political opponent of the president.
Under fire from all sides after multiple witnesses contradicted his earlier deposition, Sondland blamed everyone but himself for the pressure campaign on Ukraine now driving impeachment proceedings against Trump. He showed up for his televised hearing with reams of new text messages and emails he said prove the highest levels of the White House and the State Department were in on it.
“They knew what we were doing and why,” Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee in his opening statement. “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”
He said he knew that House members have asked “was there a quid pro quo,” adding that when it comes to the White House meeting sought by Ukraine’s leader, “The answer is yes.”
Sondland also drew Pompeo more deeply into the effort than has previously been known, including emails to the secretary and a top aide in which the basic contours of the quid pro quo alleged by Democrats seem clear.
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At the time, the Trump administration had frozen military aid to Ukraine. On Aug. 11, Sondland emailed top Pompeo aide Lisa Kenna that he and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker “negotiated a statement” for Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to deliver. Kenna responds saying she’s passing the message along to Pompeo.
Eleven days later, Sondland wrote Pompeo directly, suggesting Zelenskiy meet Trump in Warsaw “to look him in the eye” and say he should be able to proceed on issues important to Trump “once Ukraine’s new justice folks are in place.” Earlier, in a July 25 phone call, Zelenskiy had told Trump that installing his own prosecutors would remove an obstacle to opening the investigations of the Bidens and the 2016 election.
“Hopefully, that will break the logjam,” Sondland wrote.
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“Yes,” Pompeo responded three minutes later. Kenna followed up saying she would try to arrange the meeting. Ultimately, Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence to Warsaw instead.
Sondland testified that he told Pence “before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations.”
Further implicating Pompeo, Sondland testified that it was “based on my communications with Secretary Pompeo” that he felt comfortable telling a top Zelenskiy aide the funds likely wouldn’t be unfrozen until Ukraine committed publicly to the investigations sought by Trump. Those included probes into former Vice President Joe Biden’s family and alleged Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.
“State Department was fully supportive of our engagement in Ukraine affairs, and was aware that a commitment to investigations was among the issues we were pursuing,” Sondland testified.
Pompeo twice ignored questions about Sondland’s testimony in Brussels, where he’s meeting with NATO allies.
Sondland’s 19-page opening statement — plus texts and emails not previously made public — was filled with new details and disclosures he omitted from both his over nine-hour closed-door deposition and a sworn declaration he made later. He said his memory had been refreshed by other witnesses’ testimony, but lawmakers are likely to grill Sondland over his failure to produce the information previously and whether his testimony can be trusted after changing so many times.
But the email and text records Sondland provided to Congress on Wednesday may corroborate some of his new account.
In one email to Bolton on Aug. 26, Sondland sent him a contact card for Rudy Giuliani, the Trump personal lawyer who drove the push for investigations into the Bidens and 2016. That email came days before Bolton traveled to Ukraine, and Sondland testified Bolton’s office had “requested Mr. Giuliani’s contact information.”