Sondland's Ukraine testimony sparks GOP backlash
Portland hotelier-turned-ambassador Gordon Sondland on Wednesday told Congress that efforts by him and two other U.S. officials to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations that would benefit President Donald Trump were "following orders" and that "everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."
It was the latest appearance by Sondland, a local personality, in the Congressional impeachment inquiry into the Trump administration's pressure campaign on the Ukraine. It was closely watched because House Democrats had accused him of perjury in his prior testimony. And while his more detailed account muted those claims, his testimony Wednesday, Nov. 20, was by far the most publicly contentious.
Sondland, named last year by Trump to be ambassador to the European Union, spearheaded efforts through much of this year to get Ukraine to launch two investigations, one into whether Ukraine tampered in the 2016 U.S. elections as Trump's personal attorney and political operative, Rudy Giuliani believed, and one into Burisma, a company that had employed the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, then the frontrunner in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Sondland's testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, spanning six hours, went well beyond his earlier deposition to Congressional impeachment investigators in its level of detail. It pleased Trump critics who praised Sondland's testimony claiming U.S. aid and a White House visit were used by Trump in a "quid pro quo" linkage.
But it also sparked attacks by Republican committee members, who suggested Sondland had winged it and was operating without presidential approval.
Sondland stuck to his earlier line that the quid pro quo message he delivered to Ukraine as early as July was a "presumption" based on a stalemate in delivering assistance and a White House visit for the new Ukraine president, which U.S. officials agreed was a priority. The aid had already been approved by Congress.
"No one on this planet" told Sondland that $400 million in military assistance should be used to extract the investigations, Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican, charged at one point.
Sondland repeated his earlier testimony that Trump effectively put Giuliani in charge of Ukraine testimony. But he also implicated Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, saying they all had knowledge of what was happening.
Perry and Pence promptly put out statements denying knowledge of a quid-pro-quo scheme to hold up congressionally approved military aid in exchange for an investigation in President Trump's political opponents. Giuliani similarly denied wrongdoing.
Pence's chief of staff, in a statement, said a conversation described by Sondland "never happened."
One Republican, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, complained that Sondland had been 'bullied' by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat respresenting Oregon's 3rd Congressional District, who called in early October for a boycott on Sondland's Portland-area hotels.
WATCH SONDLAND'S TESTIMONY HERE:
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