U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland appeared to contradict himself in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee during testimony Wednesday in the fifth public hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry.
At first, under questioning from Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman, Sondland agreed that “the only logical conclusion” was that aid to Ukraine was being held up until Ukraine announced investigations that President Donald Trump had requested into the 2016 elections and into Burisma, a company tied to the Bidens.
But then, Sondland said, “President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned” on the investigations; “I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of investigations; and that “I don’t recall President Trump ever talking to me about any security assistance, ever.”
The following is the full exchange:
Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman: And you understood the Ukrainians received no credible explanation, is that right?
Sondland: I certainly couldn’t give them one.
Q: So is this kind of a “two plus two equals four” conclusion that you reached?
Sondland: Petty much.
Q: Is the only logical conclusion to you, that given all of these factors, that the aid was also a part of this quid pro quo?
Q: Now, I want to go back to that conversation that you had with Vice President Pence right before that meeting in Warsaw. And you indicated that you said to him that you were concerned that the delay in the aid was tied to the issue in investigations, is that right?
Sondland: I don’t know exactly what I said to him. This was a briefing attended by many people, and I was invited at the very last minute. I wasn’t scheduled to be there. But I think i spoke up at some point late in the meeting and said I think it looks like everything is being held up until these statements are getting made, and that’s my personal belief.
Q: And Vice President Pence just nodded his head?
Sondland: Again, I don’t recall my exchange where he asked me any questions. I think he — it was sort of a, “Duly noted.”
Q: Well, he didn’t say, “Gordon, what are you talking about?”
Sondland: No, he did not.
Q: He didn’t say, “What investigations?”
Sondland: He did not.
Q: Now, after this meeting you discussed this pull-aside you had with Mr. Yermak where you relayed your belief that they needed to announce these investigations prior to the aid being released, is that right?
Sondland: I said I didn’t know exactly why, but this could be a reason.
Q: And obviously you had been speaking with Mr. Yermak for quite a while about a public announcement of these investigations, right?
Sondland: We had all been working on, toward that end, yes.
Q: And so you indicated to him that in addition to the White House meeting, security aid was now also involved in that?
Sondland: As I said, I said it could have been involved, yes.
Q: Now, i’m going to show you another text exchange you had on September 1st, where Ambassador Taylor says to you, “Ae we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations? And you respond, “Call me.” Ambassador Taylor recalls that he did call you and you did have a conversation. And in that conversation, you told Ambassador Taylor that the announcement of these investigations by President Zelensky needed to be public and that that announcement was conditioned on — that announcement would ultimately release the aid. Do you recall that conversation with Ambassador Taylor?
Sondland: Again, my conversation with Ambassador Taylor, my conversation with Senator [Ron] Johnson, were all my personal belief just based on, as you put, “two plus two equals four.”
Q: Well in his testimony, Ambassador Taylor says that you said that President Trump had told you that he wanted President Zelensky to state publicly, as of September 1st. Do you have any reason to doubt Ambassador Taylor’s testimony, which he said was based on his meticulous contemporaneous notes?
Sondland: President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings [sic]. The only thing we got directly from [Rudy] Giuliani was that the burisma and 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting. The aid was my own personal, you know, guess based, again, on your analogy, two plus two equals four.
Q: So you didn’t talk to President Trump when Ambassador Taylor says that that’s what you told him? Is that your testimony here?
Sondland: My testimony here is I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement of elections [sic].
Q: So you never heard those specific words?
Sondland: Correct. Never heard those words.
Q: Well, let’s move ahead, because you have another conversation in a little bit later that both Tim Morrison and Ambassador Taylor recount. But in this September 1st conversation, Ambassador Taylor also testified under oath that you said that President Trump wanted Zelensky in a “public box.” Do you recall using that expression?
Sondland: Yeah. It goes back to my earlier comment that, again, coming from the Giuliani source, because we didn’t discuss this specifically with President Trump, that they wanted whatever commitments Ukraine made to be made publicly so that they would be on the record and be held more accountable, whatever those commitments were.
Q: You also testified — or Ambassador Taylor, rather, testified that you told him that you had made a mistake in telling the Ukrainians that only the White House meeting was conditioned on the announcement of the investigations, and that in fact everything was, including the security assistance. Do you remember saying that?
Sondland: When I referenced a mistake, I — what I recall was I thought that a statement made by the new Ukrainian prosecutor that these investigations would be started up again or commenced, would be sufficient to satisfy Mr. Giuliani/President tTump. As i recall, my mistake was, someone came back through Volker or otherwise and said no, it’s not going to do if the prosecutor makes these statements. The president wants to hear it from Zelensky directly. That’s the mistake I think I made.
Q: Do you have any reason to question Ambassador Taylor’s testimony based on his meticulous and careful contemporaneous notes?
Sondland: I’m not going to question or not question. I’m just telling what you I believe iIwas referring to.
Q: let me fast forward a week and show you another text exchange which may help refresh your recollection. On September 8th you sent a text to Ambassador taylor and Ambassadorr Volker. Can you read what you wrote there?
Sondland: “Guys, multiple convos with Zelensky, Potus. Let’s talk.”
Q: And so this was September 8th at 11:20 in the morning.
Q: And Ambassador Taylor responds immediately, “Now is fine with me.” And if we could go tot he next exchange — Ambassador Taylor then says 20 minutes later, “Gordon and I just spoke. I can brief you if you and Gordon don’t connect,” speaking to Ambassador Volker. Then Ambassador Taylor an hour later says, “The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t give the security assistance. The Russians love it and I quit.” You would agree that in this text message after you had spoken earlier, an hour earlier with Ambassador Taylor, that he is linking the security assistance to this interview, this public announcement by President Zelensky, is that right?
Q: And in fact Ambassador Taylor testified that you did have a conversation with him at that point, and he did — and that you told him that just as your text message indicates, you did have a conversation with President Trump prior to that text message. Does that help to refresh your recollection that you in fact spoke to President Trump at that time?
Sondland: Again, I don’t recall President Trump ever talking to me about any security assistance, ever. What this tells me, again, refreshing my memory, is that by the 8th of September it was abundantly clear to everyone that there was a link and that we were discussing the chicken-and-egg issue of should the Ukrainians go out on a ledge and make the statement that President Trump wanted them to make and then they still don’t get their White House visit and their aid. That would be really bad for our credibility. I think that’s what he’s referring to.
Under questioning by Republicans, Sondland admitted that his presumption of a link between aid and investigations had been speculation.
Sondland testified earlier that there had been a “quid pro quo” — in exchange for a White House meeting, not aid.