Sondland: Trump put Giuliani in Ukraine driver's seat
"Gordon Sondland, tell the truth!" protesters had chanted outside the Heathman Hotel on Oct. 13.
So in his Oct. 17, testimony for investigators in the congressional impeachment inquiry, how did Portland hotelier and U.S. ambassador to the European Union do? And will it restore his reputation in liberal Portland, where Rep. Earl Blumenauer had, two weeks earlier, called for a boycott of Sondland's hotels if he did not testify?
Sondland released his opening statement regarding the allegations that the Trump administration used military assistance and a presidential meeting to pressure the new Ukrainian leader to publicly launch an investigation that would undermine Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. In it, Sondland pointed the finger directly at President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer and political operative, Rudy Giuliani.
"My understanding was that the president directed Mr. Giuliani's participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the president," Sondland said.
Sondland, founder and chairman of Provenance Hotels and a significant donor to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, told the closed-door impeachment inquiry that Trump directed top diplomats to take direction from Giuliani, who was pushing Ukraine to investigate a company, Burisma, and its employment of former Vice President Joe Biden's son.
"Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong," Sondland added.
However, he told congressional investigators he did not realize Burisma was a company that had employed Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden. Sondland said he would not have knowingly participated in an effort to extract a benefit for Trump's 2020 reelection bid.
Sondland's description of Trump's involvement "may end up doing (the) most damage" in the congressional investigation, wrote Ryan Goodman, a former federal lawyer, on Twitter.
"No wonder the (White House) tried to stop this testimony," wrote Barb McQuade, a former federal prosecutor, in another tweet.
Others, however, said Sondland's prepared testimony appeared to become vague when it came to his involvement in any undue pressure.
"It seems like he's just trying to cover himself," said Portland protester Kate Sharaf, who organized the protest at the Heathman. "It didn't seem that he was being fully honest."
Sondland's friend Bob Ball, a Democrat, disagreed. "He's not going to jeopardize himself," the developer said. "I think that he went in there and just told the truth."
As for Sondland, he and his wife, Katy Durant, have been battered by their time in the national spotlight, she told the Portland Tribune before his testimony.
Democrats, Durant said, "have massacred his reputation."
Before his testimony, an NBC reporter asked Sondland if he was trying to salvage his reputation.
Sondland shot back, "I don't have a reputation to salvage."
Here are highlights of his testimony:
On the "quid pro quo" text of Sept. 9:
"On Sept. 9, 2019, Acting Charge de Affairs Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President's 2020 reelection campaign."
"Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: 'What do you want from Ukraine?' The President responded, "Nothing. There is no quid pro quo." The President repeated: 'no quid pro quo' multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood."
"I tried hard to address Ambassador Taylor's concerns because he is a valuable and effective diplomat, and I took very seriously the issues he raised. I did not want Ambassador Taylor to leave his post and generate even more turnover in the Ukraine mission. I further encouraged Ambassador Taylor to contact Secretary Pompeo, as I followed up as far as I could go. As you have seen in the press, my contemporaneous messages support my recollection."
On taking quid-pro-quo text exchange offline:
"Fifth, certain media outlets have misinterpreted my text messages where I say 'stop texting' or 'call me.' Any implication that I was trying to avoid making a record of our conversation is completely false. In my view, diplomacy is best handled through back-and-forth conversation."
On direct communication with White House:
"Sixth, to the best of my recollection, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President's 2020 reelection campaign. I recall that, in late July 2019, Ambassadors Volker and Taylor and I exchanged emails in which we all agreed that President Zelensky should have no involvement in 2020 U.S. Presidential election politics. At the same time, we all believed strongly that U.S. Security Assistance should not be withheld."
On Trump's direction that top U.S. diplomats involve Giuliani in their efforts regarding Ukraine:
"However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns."
"It is my understanding that Energy Secretary Perry and Special Envoy Volker took the lead on reaching out to Mr. Giuliani, as the President had directed."
"Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019, White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President's direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President's personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President's direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President's concerns."
On Giuliani's push for Ukraine to investigate Burisma:
"Mr. Giuliani does not work for me or my mission, and I do not know what official or unofficial role — if any — he has with the State Department. To my knowledge, he is one of the President's personal lawyers. However, my understanding was that the President directed Mr. Giuliani's participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the President, and that Mr. Giuliani had already spoken with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker."
On whether he realized discussions of Burisma were related to Joe Biden:
"Although Mr. Giuliani did mention the name 'Burisma' in August 2019, I understood that Burisma was one of many examples of Ukrainian companies run by oligarchs and lacking the type of corporate governance structures found in Western companies. I did not know until more recent press reports that Hunter Biden was on the board of Burisma. Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens."
On "The deliverable"
"I supported the efforts of Ambassador Volker to encourage the Ukrainian government to adopt a public statement setting out its reform priorities. My recollection is that the statement was written primarily by the Ukrainians with Ambassador Volker's guidance, and I offered my assistance when asked. This was the "deliverable" referenced in some of my messages — a deliverable/public statement that President Trump wanted to see or hear before a White House meeting could occur."
On the propriety of a quid pro quo:
"Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong. 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. In my opinion, security aid to Ukraine was in our vital national interest and should not have been delayed for any reason."
On who knew about his efforts regarding the Ukraine:
"I always endeavored to keep my State Department and National Security Council colleagues informed of my actions and to seek their input."
"I understand that all my actions involving Ukraine had the blessing of Secretary Pompeo as my work was consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives. Indeed, very recently, Secretary Pompeo sent me a congratulatory note that I was doing great work, and he encouraged me to keep banging away."
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