Sondland, a politically appointed and hotel magnate with no background in government before joining the Trump administration, may have just given the Democrats the most damning evidence so far in the investigation. Rope. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the Intelligence Committee, called Sondland's testimony "a pivotal moment in our investigation."
Sondland talked about several conversations between him and Trump about Ukraine opening two investigations: one in Burisma, a company where former Vice President Joe Biden's son was on the board, and further into conspiracies of Ukrainian involvement in the 201
Up to this point, an important Republican argument has been that none of the witnesses spoke directly to Trump and offered only used information. Sondland's testimony of his many conversations with Trump on the matter is crucial for Democrats to counter the talking point.
While Sondland said Trump had never explicitly told him that US military aid was dependent on Ukraine announcing investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election, the ambassador said he was "under the impression that it was absolutely contingent."
"Everybody knew" about quid pro quo
"I know that members of this committee often frame these complicated questions in the form of a simple question: Was it a quid pro quo?" Sade Sondland. "As I testified before, with respect to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes."
Sondland later said, "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."
These new comments confirm the testimony of other witnesses and contradict Trump, who has said all along, reiterating on Wednesday that there was no free pro quo with Ukraine.
But Sondland did not go as far as some of the other witnesses. He said Trump withheld an invitation from the White House from the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, until Zelensky announced the investigations. Other witnesses testified that US military aid was also part of the quid pro quo, but Sondland said Trump never mentioned the foreign aid component.
Sondland implicated Pence, Pompeo and Mulvaney
Republicans have claimed that Giuliani could have driven a shadowy foreign policy without the involvement or knowledge of other senior officials in the White House and the Foreign Ministry, but this probe times in their testimony.
He said that "everyone" in the Foreign Ministry was aware. He also involved key officials in the White House, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Chief of Staff at the White House Mick Mulvaney, who also heads the Office of Management and Budget.
Sondland testified that Pompeo led Volker to communicate with Giuliani "even as late as September 24 this year."
"Look, we tried our best to fix the problem while keeping the State Department and (National Security Council) carefully evaluated of the challenges we encountered," Sondland said.
Sondland also testified that he had told Pence that he had "concerns that the delay in (military) aid had been tied to the issue of investigations" before Pence had a meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw, Poland, on September 1, which indicated that Pence was aware of the "investigations" in the first place.
These comments, and emails Sondland described to the committee, placed a new party of top Trump officials at the center of the scandal. In statements Wednesday, representatives of Pence and Perry disputed Sondland's testimony, claiming they did nothing wrong. A Pompeo spokeswoman said some of Sondland's comments about the secretary of state were "flat out false."
Split hairs over & # 39; Biden & # 39; vs. & # 39; Burism & # 39;
Under aggressive questioning from Democrats, Sondland refused to say that he realized that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Bidens. He would not go there. Instead, he said he only knew that Trump and Giuliani wanted Zelensky to investigate Burisma.
"With thoughtfulness 20/20, now that we have the transcript of the call, Bidens was clearly mentioned in the conversation," said Sondland, referring to Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelensky, in which he mentioned Bidens by name. "But I didn't make the connection with Bidens."
But it is difficult to take Sondland's explanation at face value. While discussing Burisma, Giuliani went on TV and posted online about the need to investigate Biden. (Sondland said he didn't see any of it.) The explanation calls for viewers to believe that Sondland never asked why Trump cared so much about a random energy company in Ukraine.
The "investigations" were really about politics.
During the hearing, Sondland underwent an important Trump defense and at the same time reaffirmed a claim from whistleblower complaints that triggered the impeachment investigation.
Zelensky "had to announce the investigations," Sondland said, referring to the probes to the Biden family and the 2016 election. "He didn't actually need to do them, as I understood it."
Legal experts previously told CNN that this is a critical distinction. Most legitimate investigations are done in secret, so as not to tip the supposed criminals. But the intense focus on securing a public announcement from Zelensky shows that the system was really designed to maximize political utility for Trump, rather than a good faith effort to investigate corruption.