‘Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew these investigations were important to the president…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Both Left and Right claimed victory following the under-oath claim Wednesday by Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that President Donald Trump had placed conditions on a meeting involving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Sondland was part of what House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., referred to as the “three amigos,” along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former NATO Ambassador Kurt Volker, who supported Trump’s Ukrainian interests outside of the conventional State Department channels.
During the fifth day public hearings in the Democrat-led impeachment investigation, Sondland—who said he was a lifelong Republican— acknowledged that he had worked cooperatively with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
However, he denied that he had engaged in a “rogue diplomacy” and said he made every effort to keep agencies like the National Security Council and State Department apprised of his efforts in Ukraine.
“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said in his opening statement. “Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt.”
In fact, the self-dealing businessman said that he, personally, disagreed with many of the Ukraine directives from the Oval Office but complied for the sake of advancing Ukrainian and U.S. security interests.
Key among the rifts, Sondland said, was the alleged preconditioning of U.S. support for Zelenskiy on a public declaration that Ukraine was re-opening investigations into the 2016 election and the Burisma energy company, where former Vice President Joe Biden‘s son had, until earlier this year, been a board member.
“As a presidential appointee, I followed the directions of the president,” he said. “We worked with Mr. Giuliani because the president directed us to do so, [… but] we had no desire to set any conditions on the Ukrainians.”
Sondland said it was clear to him that Trump’s willingness to meet with Zelenskiy at the White House was tied to the two investigations.
“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelenskiy,” he testified. “… Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew these investigations were important to the president.”
Less clear, he said, was that the provision of military aid in Ukraine’s fight against Russia was tied to the investigations. Yet, Sondland said that over the course of his involvement, he came to infer that this was the case.
“[I]n the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to an investigation of the 2016 elections and Burisma, as Mr. Giuliani had demanded,” he said.
Left-wing media responded by celebrating the supposed admission by a defector from Trump’s inner circle who could not be discounted, as most other witnesses have, as a deep-state, NeverTrump bureaucrat or partisan operative.
They touted his admission of any quid-pro-quo arrangement as a major breakthrough in their impeachment investigation.
Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, previously seemed to acknowledge the preconditions but maintained that these were commonplace and not outside the realm of diplomacy.
Republicans have emphasized that Biden set a similar precondition on a billion-dollar U.S. loan to Ukraine, demanding that it fire the prosecutor who was investigating Burisma.
Steve Castor, the chief counsel for the GOP, noted that much of Sondland’s testimony seemed to be based around his presumptions rather than accurate recollections.
Sondland claimed he had been denied access to many of the crucial records he needed to fully prepare for the testimony.
“I’m not a note-taker or a memo writer … never have been,” he said.
Under further interrogation, he confessed that Trump had never personally discussed with him any sort of preconditions.
Q: Did @realDonaldTrump ever tell you personally about any pre-conditions for anything?
Q: Any pre-conditions for the aid to be released?
Q: Any pre-conditions for a White House meeting?
Sondland: Personally, No. pic.twitter.com/adl8qbBNNd
— Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) November 20, 2019
Several prominent GOP congressmen, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows, R-NC, tweeted that the nuanced admission eroded the Democrats’ argument.
Wow.@RepMikeTurner: “Mr. Sondland, let’s be clear: no one on this planet—not Donald Trump, Rudy Guiliani, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo—no one told you aid was tied to political investigations, is that correct.”
Gordon Sondland: “That’s correct.”
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) November 20, 2019
In his opening statement, ranking minority member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., also attacked the shaky foundation and ever-shifting objectives that Schiff and others had set for their partisan effort to oust Trump.
“You have to give them points for their creativity in selling this absurdity as an impeachable offense,” Nunes said.
“… When the democrats can’t get any traction for their allegations of quid pro quo, they move the goalpost and accuse the president of extortion, then bribery, and at last resort, obstruction of justice,” he added.
While cautioning Sondland that he was caught in the middle of a smear campaign, Nunes noted the divisiveness of the proceedings had continued to erode public faith in government and democracy.
“They know exactly what kind of damage they’re inflicting upon this nation, but they’ve passed the point of no return,” Nunes said of the Democrats’ protracted efforts to smear Trump with a litany of now-debunked accusations and investigations. “… They’ve stoked a frenzy among their most fanatical supporters that they can no longer control.”