Key Figure's Ukraine Testimony Won't Please Trump

Gordon Sondland says president ordered him to work with Giuliani on Ukraine
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 17, 2019 10:30 AM CDT
Trump May Not Like What Key Ambassador Has to Say
US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland arrives on Capitol Hill on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

A key figure in President Trump's impeachment controversy is testifying Thursday on Capitol Hill, but Trump probably won't like what Gordon Sondland has to say. Sondland is the American ambassador to the EU, but he was among the handful of diplomats involved in the White House's outreach to Ukraine over the summer. Based on his prepared opening remarks—read them in full here—Sondland "broke sharply" with Trump over the controversy, per Politico. The details:

  • Marching orders: Sondland says Trump ordered him and other officials to work directly with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine, a directive Sondland says he was "disappointed" with but reluctantly followed. Sondland says he thought State Department officials should be calling the shots on foreign policy, not the president's personal attorney.
  • Hindsight: Sondland says he did indeed begin working with Giuliani, but he says he didn't 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," per the Washington Post.

  • Hunter Biden: Sondland says it was Giuliani who mentioned getting Ukraine to launch an investigation into a company linked to Hunter Biden, but Sondland says he didn't realize the implications at the time. "Although Mr. Giuliani did mention the name 'Burisma' in August 2019, I understood that Burisma was one of many examples of Ukrainian companies run by oligarchs and lacking the type of corporate governance structures found in Western companies," he says. "I did not know until more recent press reports that Hunter Biden was on the board of Burisma."
  • Quid pro quos: Sondand says he called Trump directly in September of this year to address speculation that Ukrainians were being pressured to help Trump's reelection campaign in exchange for foreign aid. "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."
  • A turnaround: The testimony could be the "most devastating yet" to Trump, per Politico, in part because Sondland had been seen as a defender of the White House moves in the controversy. When the first texts emerged, for example, one revealed that Sondland assured a fellow diplomat that Trump made clear "no quid pro quos" were in play. But now it appears that Sondland is attempting to distance himself from the scandal, per the New York Times, "casting himself as a well-meaning and at times unwitting player who was trying to conduct American foreign policy with Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump standing in the way."
  • Big point: In his opening remarks, Sondland states explicitly that "inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming US election would be wrong." He insists he would never participate in that. "In my opinion, security aid to Ukraine was in our vital national interest and should not have been delayed for any reason."
  • A good word for an ex-ambassador: Sondland does, however, make a point to praise former Ukrainian ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as an "excellent diplomat." The White House removed her from the post. Read about her testimony here.
(Another diplomat viewed Sondland, a big GOP donor who came to his post with no diplomatic experience, as a security risk.)

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