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Ambassador Sondland tells Congress of 'quid pro quo' in Ukraine affair

Gordon Sondland is sworn in before testifying to Congress.
Gordon Sondland is sworn in before testifying to Congress. Capture d'écran France 24

The US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, told House investigators on Wednesday that the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had pushed a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine and that Sondland had felt pressured to go along with it. 

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Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden as he withheld crucial military aid is at the centre of the impeachment probe that now imperils his presidency.

Giuliani’s efforts to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to conduct investigations into Biden “were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit” for the Ukrainian leader, Sondland told a congressional hearing.

“Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” Sondland testified.

Sondland, the most highly anticipated witness in the public impeachment probe, made clear that he believed Trump was pursuing his desire for investigations in return for an Oval Office meeting.

“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." 

“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,” the ambassador said. But he said Trump told him and other diplomats working on Ukraine issues to “talk with Rudy” on those matters.

“So we followed the president’s orders.” 

He described how the demands became more serious and with more conditions on any potential Ukraine meeting at the White House. 

“As time went on, more specific items got added to the menu – especially Burisma and 2016 meddling,” Sondland said, referring to the gas company where Biden’s son Hunter served on the board. He said “the server”, the hacked Democratic computer system that debunked conspiracy theories claim is now in Ukraine, was also mentioned.

Sondland later came to believe military aid for Ukraine was being held up until the requested investigations were launched.

"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 elections and Burisma, as Mr. Giuliani demanded," Sondland testified.

Sondland also confirmed that he spoke with Trump by cellphone from a busy Kiev restaurant on July 26, the day after the president prodded Ukraine’s leader to investigate Joe Biden.

And he said he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top administration officials aware of what was going on.

Sondland said he specifically told Vice President Mike Pence that he “had concerns” that US military aid to Ukraine “had become tied” to the investigations.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified in opening remarks. “It was no secret.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

 

 

 

 

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