Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified Wednesday that he pursued political investigations in Ukraine at the direction of President Donald Trump.
Sondland also testified that a White House meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky was conditioned on Ukraine’s willingness to the launch the investigations.
“Was there a quid pro quo?” he asked. “The answer is yes.”
Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified that Trump instructed him other diplomats at a meeting in May to coordinate Ukraine policy with Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer.
“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,” he said. “We followed the president’s orders.”
Giuliani was publicly advocating for investigations into the 2016 election and into Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, served on the board.
Sondland testified that Trump and Giuliani were more interested in Zelensky making a public announcement, rather than actually following through on the investigations.
“He had to announce the investigations, he didn’t actually have to do them,” Sondland said.
Sondland emphasized that he was not involved in an “irregular” diplomatic operation. He repeatedly said, “Everyone’s in the loop.”
Sondland also stated that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among those in the loop. In July and August, Sondland became aware that nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine had been placed on hold. He said he wanted Ukraine to receive the aid, and emailed Pompeo to ask whether a public announcement would help break the “logjam.” Pompeo responded: “Yes.”
On Sept. 1, Sondland said he told Ukraine official Andriy Yermak that the hold would likely not be lifted unless Zelensky publicly announced the investigations.
Sondland also admitted omitting information from his previous deposition testimony. He said that he was not able to access his notes or call records from the State Department, which made it hard to remember every conversation.
One of those omissions was a July 26 phone call between Trump and Sondland, which occurred while Sondland was at a restaurant in Kiev surrounded by other U.S. officials. One of those officials, David Holmes, has testified that he could hear Trump ask about “the investigation.” Sondland assured Trump that Zelensky “loves your a–,” according to Holmes, and said that Zelensky would do the investigations.
In his testimony, Sondland confirmed the substance of the call, and did not dispute that he told Trump that Zelensky “loves your a–.”
“It sounds like something I would say,” Sondland said. “That’s how President Trump and I communicate — a lot of four-letter words.”