U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordan Sondland took lawmakers on a rollercoaster ride Wednesday, saying that President Donald Trump specifically stated that there was to be ‘no quid pro quo’ with regards to Ukraine but that wasn’t the same for Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Instead, Sondland testified under questioning to lawmakers with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that “the only thing we got directly from (Rudy) Giuliani was that the Burisma and 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting” with Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelensky. Sondland said Trump asked him to work with Giuliani on Ukraine.
Sondland squashed Democratic claims that Trump specifically demanded a ‘quid pro quo’ from Ukraine with regards to U.S. military assistance. He told lawmakers that he needed clarity from Trump on Ukraine and that on September 9, during a short call he asked Trump an open ended question about how to handle Ukraine.
He said Trump, who was not in a good mood, explicitly told him: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky — President Zelensky to do the right thing.”
But Sondland’s original opening statement confused lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. At the beginning of the hearing during his opening statement he stated that he believed there was a ‘quid pro quo’ but failed to explain clearly that it was regarding Giuliani and whether there would be a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump. He also failed to include Trump’s statement regarding ‘no quid pro quo’ in his opening remarks.
The confusion over Sondland’s opening statement sent Twitter users, journalists and pundits scrambling for headlines, some which appeared to implicate Trump in a quid pro quo with Ukraine until he clarified his testimony later.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who has long targeted Trump, scrambled during the first short break of the hearing to brief reporters. He confirmed that Sondland testified to a quid pro quo. Schiff has been alleging, without evidence, that Trump possibly threatened to withhold $400 million in aid to Ukraine unless the Ukrainians investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his sons involvement on the board of a Ukrainian energy corporation.
Sondland, however, disputed Schiff’s claims testifying that he never discussed withholding military or financial aid with anyone, at anytime.
Later, under questioning, he clarified his remarks. Sondland explained that the ‘quid pro quo’ was regarding Giuliani’s request to withhold a White House visit planned with Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelensky and Trump unless Ukraine agreed to publicly announce they were investigating the alleged involvement in the 2016 election and the Ukrainian company associated with the Bidens, Burisma Holdings Ltd.
According to Bloomberg, Federal officials are currently looking into Giuliani. The Bloomberg report suggests possible campaign finance violations and whether he failed to register as a foreign agent.
Giuliani responded on Twitter saying “I came into this at Volker’s request. Sondland is speculating based on Very little contact. I never met him and had very few calls with him, mostly with Volker.”
“Volker testified I answered their questions and described them as my opinions, NOT demands. I.E., no quid pro quo!”
I came into this at Volker’s request. Sondland is speculating based on VERY little contact. I never met him and had very few calls with him, mostly with Volker.
Volker testified I answered their questions and described them as my opinions, NOT demands. I.E., no quid pro quo!
— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) November 20, 2019
Democrats continued to push Sondland about Giuliani’s efforts to have the Ukrainians continue an investigation into Burisma Holdings Ltd. He told lawmakers that the only reason he worked with Giuliani was because the president wanted him to.
“Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States,” Sondland said. “We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President’s orders.”
The controversy surrounds Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings and former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who served as a paid board member of the energy giant until April of this year. At the time Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma Holdings Ltd. his father was charged with overseeing policy in Ukraine. However, there is no evidence that Biden did anything illegal, and there are no apparent ongoing investigations in the United States as to his dealings with Burisma.
The story took on a life of its own earlier this year when Ukrainian officials went on the record with former contributor to The Hill John Solomon. Some of those officials suggested that during the Obama Administration, U.S. diplomats, including former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, thwarted Ukrainian efforts to investigate Burisma. Former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who U.S. officials under the Obama Administration suspected of corruption, claimed he was fired from his position because he was investigating Burisma. A now famous video of Vice President Biden bragging publicly that he strong armed the Ukrainian government to fire Shokin in April, 2016 or the U.S. would not release the $1 billion in aid.
Yovanovitch testified that she never attempted to stop Shokin from investigating Burisma.
As for the Bidens, the witnesses under questioning during the open hearings all the Democratic witnesses suggested that his son’s presence as a paid board member of the Ukrainian energy company presented the perception of conflicts of interest. State Department official George Kent, who testified last week, told lawmakers that he raised those concerns with the former vice president’s office in 2015.
He said he told them that Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma could present “the possibility of the perception of a conflict of interest.” Kent also told congressional investigators last month during his closed-door deposition that he had repeatedly raised concerns with the Obama administration about Burisma, and also discussed the administration’s efforts to remove from his post, as reported by Fox News.