U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified Wednesday that he understood President Donald Trump wanted a public statement from Ukraine committing to corruption investigations because of the country’s history of not following through on commitments made privately.
At the heart of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry is the charge that Trump used his office to advantage himself politically against the former vice president and potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Sondland did not advance that narrative today, because he could only testify that he “presumed” Trump wanted a public statement from the Ukrainians about investigating public corruption in exchange for a White House meeting.
The ambassador later “presumed” $400 million in military aid might be tied in to the public statements too.
What Sondland did confirm on Wednesday is Trump wanted no quid pro quo. The president specifically told him, “I want nothing” from Ukraine.
Trump did not communicate a quid pro quo on his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky regarding investigating the Bidens or anyone else.
Hunter Biden secured a lucrative position on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas firm Burisma Holdings at the same time his father was the Obama administration’s point man for Ukraine.
Then in March 2016, by his own account, Biden traveled to Kiev and demanded that a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating Burisma be fired in the six hours before the VP left the country, or the nation would forego $1 billion in U.S. aid.
The prosecutor was fired before Biden left Ukraine.
If the Democrats were truly interested in public corruption and quid pro quos, investigating all that seems like a good place to start.
On Wednesday, Sondland testified that he was told by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani that the president wanted a public statement by Ukraine saying it would commit to corruption investigations, including looking into Burisma.
Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman asked Sondland, “And you, of course, recognize that there would be political benefits to a public announcement as opposed to a private confirmation, right?”
“The way it was expressed to me was that the Ukrainians had a long history of committing to things privately and then never following through, so President Trump presumably, again communicated through Mr. Giuliani, wanted the Ukrainians on record publicly that they were going to do these investigations. That’s the reason that was given to me,” Sondland said.
That seems like a pretty reasonable request, given a new administration had just come to power in Ukraine.
Sondland laid out in his opening statement on Wednesday the areas of investigation he presumed Trump wanted a public statement concerning in exchange for a White House visit, based on what Giuliani told him.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew these investigations were important to the president,” the ambassador said.
“Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the president wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into corruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two topics of importance to the president.”
Beyond a White House visit, Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have alleged that Trump delayed military aid in order to get Ukraine to make a statement the would hurt Joe Biden’s presidential prospects.
Trump made no such demand in his call with Zelensky, nor did Sondland testify to that effect.
When pressed by GOP Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, Sondland admitted neither Trump, nor Giuliani or anyone else communicated such a quid pro quo to him.
“I have said repeatedly, congressman, that I was presuming,” Sondland responded.
Turner questioned, “Nobody else on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying aid to these investigations. Is that correct?”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH): “No one on this planet told you that this aid was tied to investigations. Yes or No?”
Ambassador Gordon Sondland: “Yes”
Turner then hammers CNN: “The headline on CNN is wrong”pic.twitter.com/WRZkyZzcvT
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) November 20, 2019
“Because if your answer is yes, then [Schiff] is wrong,” Turner contended. “No one on this planet told you that President Trump was tying aid to investigations, yes or no.”
“Yes,” Sondland answered.
“So you really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations,” Turner said.
“Other than my own presumption,” Sondland said.
And there you have it. This entire impeachment proceeding summed up in one short phrase: presumption versus what actually happened.
The truth of the matter is the aid was released on Sept. 11 and the Ukrainians never made a public statement about opening an investigation into the Bidens.