On Wednesday, congressional investigators heard from their most damning witness yet.
In his opening statement, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified publicly that there was indeed a quid pro quo— or bribery— in President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
“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?’,” Sondland asked. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
The testimony directly contradicts the spin frequently deployed by Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee, including Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), who last week insisted there was, “no pressure, no demand, no conditions, no blackmail, [and] no corruption.”
Other members of the committee, like Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), have switched gears entirely and are now arguing a quid pro quo doesn’t matter anyways. “Asking people to do something in order to get the foreign aid, that’s a relatively common occurrence with all of our foreign aid,” Conaway told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday. “You could say all of our foreign aid is quid pro quo.”
Key takeaways from Sondland’s testimony
- Throughout his testimony, Sondland paints a picture that members of the State Department were working under the orders of President Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, whom the president had recently begun using as an intermediary for all things Ukraine.
- Sondland said most relevant State Department officials were well aware of what the president wanted from Ukraine. “Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and others that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election,” Sondland testified, referring to Burisma Holding, the natural gas company Hunter Biden held a board position on. “We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements.”
- According to Sondland, those quid pro quo conditions were “no secret” and most relevant officials, including former Texas Gov. and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, were warned about them in an email several days before the infamous July 25 call where Trump asked newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
- Sondland suspects military aid was part of quid pro quo too. Several days before the July phone call, Trump ordered the White House Office of Management and Budget to freeze Ukrainian military aid. “I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer,” Sondland said. “In the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, as Mr. Giuliani had demanded.”
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