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In perhaps the most significant testimony so far in the House’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified that he was following orders of the president to pursue a quid pro quo with Ukraine involving an investigation of a company that had once hired the son of Vice President Joe Biden.
Sondland told lawmakers Wednesday Nov. 20 that he, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and former special representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker worked with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters "at the express direction of the president of the United States."
"We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani," he said in his opening statement. "Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt."
When it became clear that military aid to Ukraine was being held up, Sondland said he never received a clear explanation. "In the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, as Mr. Giuliani had demanded."
Sondland testified that the arrangement negotiated with Ukraine constituted a quid pro quo.
"I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’" Sondland said in his statement. "As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."
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Sondland also said the leadership of the State Department and the National Security Council were kept apprised of this effort. He cited emails that he said showed "the leadership of State, NSC, and the White House were all informed about the Ukraine efforts from May 23, 2019, until the security aid was released on September 11, 2019."
Indeed, he added, the 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."
Key portions of Sondland’s testimony today differ from what he had said in a closed-door deposition.
In sworn testimony Oct. 17, Sondland said Trump told him there would be "no quid pro quo" with Ukraine. But Sondland later updated his testimony to describe a conversation with a Ukrainian official, in which Sondland told him that U.S. aid would likely not flow unless Ukraine made an anti-corruption statement.
In his public testimony, Sondland explained the differences in part as stemming from obstacles from the administration in obtaining documents related to the period in question.
"My lawyers and I have made multiple requests to the State Department and the White House for these materials," he said. "Yet, these materials were not provided to me. They have also refused to share these materials with this committee. These documents are not classified and, in fairness, should have been made available."
Sondland said that as he has learned additional details he did not know at the time, he regrets his participation. Two Soviet-born individuals with close ties to Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have been charged in an indictment for conspiring to violate the ban on foreign donations and contributions in connection with federal and state elections
"If I had known of all of Mr. Giuliani's dealings or of his associations with individuals now under criminal indictment, I would not have acquiesced to his participation," Sondland said..
Before taking his diplomatic post in June 2018, Sondland worked in the hotel industry. He founded Provenance Hotels, which has boutique "lifestyle" hotels in at least seven states and employs more than 1,000 people between its hotels and headquarters in Portland, Ore., according to Sondland’s State Department biography.
Sondland — through four limited liability companies — donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, the Center for Responsive Politics reported in April 2017.
Sondland's remarks for House Intelligence Committee hearing, Nov. 20, 2019