WASHINGTON | Ambassador Gordon Sondland told House impeachment investigators Wednesday that Rudy Giuliani was pushing a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine that he had to go along with it because it’s what President Donald Trump wanted.
“Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” Sondland testified.
Giuliani is Trump’s personal lawyer.
“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?’ As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,” the ambassador said. But he said Trump told him and other diplomats working on Ukraine issues “talk with Rudy” on those matters. “So we followed the president’s orders.”
Sondland also confirmed that he spoke with Trump on a cellphone from a busy Kyiv restaurant the day after the president prodded Ukraine’s leader to investigate political rival Joe Biden.
And Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the inquiry, said he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top administration officials aware of what was going on.
He said he specifically told Vice President Mike Pence he “had concerns” that U.S. military aid to Ukraine “had become tied” to the investigations.
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified in opening remarks. “It was no secret.”
The wealthy hotelier and Trump donor has emerged as a central figure in an intense week with nine witnesses testifying over three days. He has told lawmakers the White House has records of the July 26 call, despite the fact that Trump has said he doesn’t recall the conversation.
The ambassador’s account of the recently revealed call supports the testimony of multiple witnesses who have spoken to impeachment investigators over the past week.
Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats as he was withholding military aid to the East European nation is at the center of the impeachment probe that imperils his presidency.
Democratic chairman Adam Schiff of California opened the hearing saying, “The knowledge of this scheme was far and wide.”
Schiff warned Pompeo and other administration officials who are refusing to turn over documents and testimony to the committee “they do so at their own peril.” He said obstruction of Congress was included in articles of impeachment during Watergate.
The top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes of California, decried the inquiry and told the ambassador, “Mr. Sondland, you are here to be smeared.”
Nunes renewed his demand to hear from the still-anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy led the House to open the impeachment inquiry.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.