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Gordon Sondland testimony confirms quid pro quo with Trump, Ukraine

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  • Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, became the latest witness in the impeachment inquiry to confirm an explicit quid pro quo between the Trump administration and Ukraine.
  • Sondland confirmed to Congress that the administration leveraged military aid to Ukraine for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. 
  • He described the pressure to investigate the Bidens as “insidious” and said it was improper. When asked if he thought it was illegal, he said, “I’m not a lawyer, but I assume so.” 
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Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, became the latest witness in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump to confirm that the administration leveraged military aid for investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. 

The three House Committees pursuing the impeachment inquiry just released excerpts from the closed-door testimony of Sondland and former US Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.

In the excerpt, Sondland acknowledged in one line of questioning that the pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens became more and more “insidious” 

“Q: There were demands, weren’t there, that an investigation take place of 2016 or Burisma? Ultimately those were demands, were they not?

A: Ultimately, yes.

Q: And it’s fair to say that you had to navigate those demands, you had to accommodate what the President and his lawyer wanted, if you were going to set up this meeting you thought very important?

A: I think that’s fair.

Q: But I think you said, Ambassador, that over time things got more and more insidious. I think those were your words. It started out with no condition, and then there was a condition for an investigation into the corruption, and then there was a condition of an investigation into 2016 and Burisma, and then on the call itself it became clear the condition was an investigation of 2016 and the Bidens. I think you described that as becoming more and more insidious, correct?

A: That’s correct.”

Later in the excerpt of the transcript from Sondland’s testimony, he said it was “improper” for the Trump administration and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to push Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. When a lawmaker asked if Sondland also believed it was illegal, he replied, “I’m not a lawyer, but I assume so.” 

The inquiry centers around the claims lodged in an anonymous whistleblower complaint that Trump used “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election” in a series of events culminating in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

The complaint specifically charged that Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter days after withholding a nearly $400 million military-aid package Congress had already appropriated to Ukraine.

Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has for months been pushing an unsubstantiated theory that Biden, in his capacity as vice president, called for the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating the Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma Holdings, where Hunter Biden served on the board from 2014 to 2019.

Since then, the whistleblower complaint has been corroborated by the White House’s own summary notes of the Trump-Zelensky call, White House officials themselves, and the sworn testimony of several career diplomatic and national-security officials.  

The White House’s notes of the call confirm Trump brought up how the US does “a lot for Ukraine” and, immediately after, asked Zelensky to do him a “favor, though” by investigating Biden and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine is in possession of a Democratic National Committee server. 

For several weeks, the White House and Republicans’ main defense was arguing that Trump was not engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine. 

But White House acting chief of staff and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney seemingly admitted in a press briefing to reporters on October 18 that the administration engaged in a quid-pro-quo with Ukraine to trade US military aid for investigations.

“Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney said during the conference. 

Mulvaney later tried to walk back his comments, but the damage to the White House and Republican defense against impeachment couldn’t be undone. 

Another top NSC official working on Ukrainian and Eastern European affairs, Tim Morrison, also confirmed previous testimony and said he learned “the release of the security sector assistance might be conditioned on a public statement reopening the Burisma investigation” from Ukraine. 

Read more:

It looks like Trump and Giuliani’s efforts to intimidate and bully the former Ukrainian ambassador went much further than publicly known

Trump’s ex-Ukraine envoy said she felt ‘shocked’ and threatened when Trump told Ukraine’s president she was ‘going to go through some things’

Rudy Giuliani accused Biden of interfering in a Ukrainian investigation for political gain. Giuliani may have done exactly that in 2017.

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