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Sondland: Trump Directed Quid Pro Quo  11/21 06:11

   Ambassador Gordon Sondland declared to impeachment investigators Wednesday 
that President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani explicitly sought a 
"quid pro quo" with Ukraine, leveraging an Oval Office visit for political 
investigations of Democrats. But he also came to believe the trade involved 
much more.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ambassador Gordon Sondland declared to impeachment 
investigators Wednesday that President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy 
Giuliani explicitly sought a "quid pro quo" with Ukraine, leveraging an Oval 
Office visit for political investigations of Democrats. But he also came to 
believe the trade involved much more.

   Besides the U.S. offer of a coveted meeting at the White House, Sondland 
testified it was his understanding the president was holding up nearly $400 
million in military aid, which Ukraine badly needed with an aggressive Russia 
on its border, in exchange for the country's announcement of the investigations.

   Sondland conceded that Trump never told him directly the security assistance 
was blocked for the probes, a gap in his account that Republicans and the White 
House seized on as evidence the president did nothing wrong. But the ambassador 
said his dealings with Giuliani, as well as administration officials, left him 
with the clear understanding of what was at stake.

   "Was there a 'quid pro quo?'" Sondland asked. "With regard to the requested 
White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."

   The rest, he said, was obvious: "Two plus two equals four."

   Later Wednesday, another witness undercut a main Republican argument --- 
that there could be no quid pro quo because Ukraine didn't realize the money 
was being held up. The Defense Department's Laura Cooper testified that 
Ukrainian officials started asking about it on July 25, which was the day of 
Trump's phone call with the country's new president when Trump first asked for 
"a favor."

   Her staff received an email, Cooper said, from a Ukrainian Embassy contact 
asking "what was going on with Ukraine's security assistance." She said she 
could not say for sure that Ukraine was aware the aid was being withheld but 
"it's the recollection of my staff that they likely knew."

   Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union and a major donor to Trump's 
inauguration, was the most highly anticipated witness in the House's 
impeachment inquiry into the 45th president of the United States.

   In often stunning testimony, he painted a picture of a Ukraine pressure 
campaign that was prompted by Trump himself, orchestrated by Giuliani and well 
known to other senior officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 
Sondland said he raised his concerns about a quid pro quo for military aid with 
Vice President Mike Pence --- a conversation a Pence adviser vigorously denied.

   Pompeo also dismissed Sondland's account.

   However, Sondland said, "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."

   The ambassador said that he and Trump spoke directly about desired 
investigations, including a colorful cellphone call this summer overheard by 
others at a restaurant in Kyiv.

   Trump himself insists daily that he did nothing wrong and the Democrats are 
just trying to drum him out of office.

   As the hearing proceeded, he spoke to reporters outside the White House. 
Reading from notes written with a black marker, Trump quoted Sondland quoting 
Trump to say the president wanted nothing from the Ukrainians and did not seek 
a quid pro quo.

   "I want nothing, I want nothing," insisted the president, who often exhorts 
Americans to "read the transcript" of the July phone call in which he appealed 
to Ukraine's leader for "a favor" --- the investigations.

   He also distanced himself from his hand-picked ambassador, saying he didn't 
know him "very well." A month ago, he called Sondland "a really good man and a 
great American."

   The impeachment inquiry focuses significantly on allegations that Trump 
sought investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son -- and the 
discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. 
election -- in return for the badly needed military aid for Ukraine and the 
White House visit.

   In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was pleased 
that the "political battles" in Washington had overtaken the Russia 
allegations, which are supported by the U.S. intelligence agencies.

   "Thank God," Putin said, "no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. 
elections anymore. Now they're accusing Ukraine."

   Sondland said that conditions on any potential Ukraine meeting at the White 
House started as "generic" but more items were "added to the menu including -- 
Burisma and 2016 election meddling." Burisma is the Ukrainian gas company where 
Biden's son Hunter served on the board. And, he added, "the server," the hacked 
Democratic computer system.

   During questioning in the daylong session, Sondland said he didn't know at 
the time that Burisma was linked to the Bidens but today knows "exactly what it 
means." He and other diplomats didn't want to work with Giuliani. But he and 
the others understood that Giuliani "was expressing the desires of the 
president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were 
important to the president."

   He also came to understand that the military aid hinged on the 
investigations, though Trump never told him so directly.

   Sondland, a wealthy hotelier, has emerged as a central figure in an intense 
week in the probe that is featuring nine witnesses testifying over three days.

   The envoy appeared prepared to fend off scrutiny over the way his testimony 
has shifted in closed-door settings, saying "my memory has not been perfect." 
He said the State Department left him without access to emails, call records 
and other documents he needed in the inquiry. Republicans called his account 
"the trifecta of unreliability."

   Still, he did produce new emails and text messages to bolster his assertion 
that others in the administration were aware of the investigations he was 
pursuing for Trump from Ukraine.

   Sondland insisted, twice, that he was "adamantly opposed to any suspension 
of aid" for Ukraine. "I followed the directions of the president."

   The son of immigrants who he said escaped Europe during the Holocaust, 
Sondland described himself as a "lifelong Republican" who has worked with 
officials from both parties, including Biden.

   Dubbed one of the "three amigos" pursuing Ukraine policy, Sondland disputed 
that they were running some sort of "rogue" operation outside official U.S. 
policy. He produced emails and texts showing he, former special envoy Kurt 
Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry kept Pompeo and others apprised of their 
activity. One message from Volker said, "Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S." He 
said, "S means the secretary of state."

   Democratic Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California said, 
"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 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.

   Sondland's hours of testimony didn't appear to sway Trump's GOP allies in 
the Senate, who would ultimately be jurors in an impeachment trial.

   Mike Braun of Indiana said the president's actions "may not be appropriate, 
but this is the question: Does it rise to the level of impeachment? And it's a 
totally different issue and none of this has."

   "I'm pretty certain that's what most of my cohorts in the Senate are 
thinking and I know that's what Hoosiers are thinking --- and most of middle 
America."


(KR)

 
 
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