U.S. diplomat Sondland discusses possible ‘quid pro quo’ in new impeachment testimony

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. envoy Gordon Sondland acknowledged telling a top Ukrainian official that U.S. security assistance withheld by President Donald Trump was unlikely to be delivered until Ukraine publicly met a demand for an “anti-corruption” statement, according to a new declaration from Sondland released on Tuesday. Sondland, who initially testified in October to a Democratic-led congressional impeachment inquiry of Trump, offered new details to lawmakers on Monday after his memory was “refreshed,” which appear to bolster the initial whistleblower complaint that led to the investigation. Sondland’s testimony also corroborated that of other witnesses, who have said Trump sought to pressure the Ukrainians into conducting investigations that appeared to be aimed at helping his re-election campaign. The impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives is focused on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Joe Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to run against Trump in the November 2020 election. Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that had been investigated for corruption. The White House said the transcript undermined the impeachment inquiry. White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham pointed to Sondland’s inability to say who ordered the aid to Ukraine be withheld and that he admitted he “presumed” there was a link between the demand for a statement from the Ukrainians and releasing the aid. “No amount of salacious media-biased headlines, which are clearly designed to influence the narrative, change the fact that the president has done nothing wrong,” Grisham said in a statement. Related CoverageMcConnell does not expect possible Senate impeachment trial to lead to Trump’s ousterU.S. ambassador to EU saw quid-pro-quo in call for Ukraine corruption probe: excerptsSee more stories Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, sent a text message in September in which he said Trump insisted there was “no quid pro quos.” In his new statement, Sondland said that by the beginning of September “in the absence of any credible explanation,” he concluded that the nearly $400 million in withheld aid was linked to Trump’s demand that Ukraine publicly acknowledge an investigation. Sondland has said he did not realize early on that the investigation was meant to target the Bidens. “Resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland said he told a Ukrainian presidential adviser. Much of the early parts of the investigation by three House committees that include Democratic and Republican lawmakers, were conducted behind closed doors, but now the inquiry is moving into a public phase with the release of testimony and anticipated on-camera interviews in the next month. Sondland submitted the supplemental testimony on Monday after testimony by other officials, including Bill Taylor, the top U.S. envoy in Ukraine. ‘THREE AMIGOS’ Trump has denied wrongdoing and accused Democrats of unfairly targeting him in hope of reversing his surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election. Democrats accuse Trump of misusing taxpayer dollars destined for a vulnerable U.S. ally for personal political gain. If the House votes to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove the president from office. Senate Republicans have so far shown little appetite for removing the president. “If it were today, I don’t think there’s any question it would not lead to a removal,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday, adding that the duration of any trial would depend on how long senators want to take. Congressional Democrats also released testimony from Kurt Volker, Trump’s former special representative for Ukraine negotiations. In his testimony, Volker detailed what he described as the role of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as a conduit between Washington and Kiev. He also said his decision to resign on Sept. 27 was because of the impeachment inquiry. “I didn’t think I would be able to go to Ukraine or meet with Russians and be able to carry out those duties in that way anymore,” he said. He also said he wanted to provide testimony “with as much candor and integrity as I possibly could.” Witnesses have testified that Volker and Sondland, with Trump’s secretary of energy, Rick Perry, were known as the “three amigos,” responsible for Trump’s unofficial channel to Ukrainian government officials. Volker testified to the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight panels for more than eight hours behind closed doors on Oct. 3. Perry, a former Texas governor who said he was resigning from his Cabinet post as of Dec. 1, has refused to testify so far.

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