Thus far, the impeachment inquiry hearings have been a big nothing burger with witnesses unable to testify with any confidence or firsthand knowledge of supposed wrongdoing by President Donald Trump in his dealings with Ukraine.
EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland attempted to change that on Wednesday morning by testifying that he believes there was quid pro quo in Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine president.
Sondland claims he was pressured to work with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, on matters with Ukraine despite his objections, and that Giuliani engaged in quid pro quo with Ukraine on behalf of the president.
“I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes,” Sondland testified.
“Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States,” he said. “We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani.”
“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the president’s orders,” Sondland continued.
Sondland was careful, however, to make sure he cleared himself of any potential wrongdoing. He said he did not believe at the time that there was anything improper with Giuliani’s involvement in foreign policy.
“If I had known of all of Mr. Giuliani’s dealings or of his associations with individuals now under criminal indictment, I would not have acquiesced to his participation. Still, given what we knew at the time, what we were asked to do did not appear to be wrong,” he said.
He later claimed that Giuliani demanded Ukraine make a public announcement of an investigation into Biden and the 2016 U.S. presidential election and that this demand was directly tied to security aid.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” he said.
A telling moment from Sondland’s opening testimony occurred when he objected to President Trump not taking his advice on Ukraine. Sondland attended Ukraine President Zelensky’s inauguration this year and afterward, he said he believed Ukraine, despite having a history of corruption, was in a good place. Trump expressed doubts considering the country’s history. Sondland presented this disagreement as if it were improper.
Despite playing into Democrats’ hands, Sondland’s testimony still doesn’t hold water. He claims there was “quid pro quo,” but as previously reported, no aid of any kind was withheld from Ukraine. The transcript of Trump’s actual call is also available and it shows there was no real pressure applied to the nation to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden — which would be justified anyway, considering Biden’s previous dealings with the country.
The president of Ukraine has said multiple times the call was perfectly fine, so this fishing expedition has so far not presented any real evidence, but rather disgruntled ambassadors who seem to object more to the fact that they work with the president than any of his specific actions.
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