Editor’s note: This is a developing story and will update with more details of the testimony.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, acknowledged telling an aide to Ukraine’s president that U.S. military aid was tied to a public statement of “corruption” from Kiev, according to a supplemental statement from Sondland that was part of a transcript released Tuesday of the envoy’s closed-door deposition Oct. 17 before congressional investigators.
President Trump, through a pressure campaign led by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, wanted Ukraine to investigate debunked conspiracy theories related to the 2016 election and the Bidens–which the president and his supporters say amount to corruption.
“I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland writes, noting that he now recalls a Sept. 1 meeting in which he told that to an aide to Zelensky.
That conversation followed a meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Zelensky, “in which President Zelensky had raised the issue of the suspension of U.S. aid to Ukraine directly with Vice President Pence,” Sondland notes.
Congressional investigators on Tuesday released the transcripts of key players in the Ukraine affair and Trump’s impeachment inquiry — Sondland and Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine. (Read the full transcripts here and here.)
At the heart of the inquiry is whether the president sought a quid pro quo from his Ukrainian counterpart during the now infamous July 25 phone call. Trump denies he set any conditions on releasing Ukrainian aid. But in testimony released Tuesday, Sondland told investigators that he told Zelensky on July 19 that “I think it’s important that you, you know, give President Trump — he wanted this — some kind of statement about corruption.”
Sondland, in particular, is important. A major Trump donor, he was in contact with the president and part of a campaign to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens’ business dealings in the country.
Multiple witnesses had contradicted Sondland’s original testimony, which Sondland has now amended in this new release.
Sondland had testified that a July 10 National Security Council meeting was uneventful, while others said the meeting was problematic because of what they saw as pressure leveled by Sondland.
Sondland had said he only talked broadly during that meeting about investigations by Ukraine. The three witnesses said former national security adviser John Bolton quickly shut the meeting down. Fiona Hill, a former top Russia adviser on the NSC, said Bolton described what was happening as a “drug deal” and described the president’s lawyer, Giuliani, as a “hand grenade” who was going to blow everyone up.
In his prepared testimony to the committees on Oct. 17, Sondland wrote that “neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.”
The top Ukraine expert on the NSC, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, testified that he did in fact raise his concerns directly to Sondland.
Sondland also said he was kept out of the broader plan to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats in exchange for aid and engagement with the White House.
In his testimony, Sondland said, “Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings.”
Testimony by Taylor and others appear to contradict Sondland’s insistence that he was unaware of such a campaign.