The fourth day of public testimony in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump proved to be one of the most eye-opening days so far. Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told House Intelligence Committee members that President Trump was the person behind the push to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for a White House visit.
Sondland said President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani asked Ukrainian officials to make a public statement that Biden would be investigated. This would be done in return for inviting President Volodymyr Zelensky to the White House. This prompted one of the biggest moments in the impeachment hearings so far as Sondland said in the clearest terms that there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
“I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland said. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.
U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony provided House Democrats with the strongest evidence yet in their inquiry into Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine’s
To this point in the impeachment inquiry, Sondland is the most significant witness yet and his testimony reflected that. Having Sondland testify was a challenge itself as he had previously been blocked by the Trump administration from testifying in the hearing but ultimately came forward to discuss his dealings.
“I agreed to testify because I respect the gravity of the moment and I believe I have an obligation to recount fully my role in the events,” Sondland said. “I did so despite the directives from the White House and the State Department.”
From the ambassador’s accounts, he, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who testified on Tuesday, were told by Trump to work with Giuliani on Ukrainian matters back in May. This didn’t sit well with Sondland and other State Department officials.
“We weren’t happy with the president’s directive to talk with Rudy. We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani. I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukrainian matters,” Sondland said. “We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt.”
Another key moment on Wednesday from Sondland was that other senior officials that included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and current White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, knew about the quid pro quo for the potential White House meeting with Zelensky.
“We can see why Secretary Pompeo and President Trump have made such a concerted and across the board effort to obstruct this investigation and this impeachment inquiry,” House Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said during his opening statement. “They do so at their own peril.”
Republicans put Sondland’s testimony under scrutiny questioning his first-hand accounts of everything that went down between Trump and his dealings in Ukraine.
Constant scrutiny from Republican members of the committee has been a common theme throughout the first week of these hearings. Even as the most damning claims against Trump have been heavily questioned in their legitimacy. Wednesday proved no different as Sondland shut down Republican arguments that the president had any intention of building a relationship and battling corruption in Ukraine.
Republican members also questioned the validity of the hearings in part because Ukraine got its $400 million in U.S. aid despite Zelensky never announcing an investigation of the Biden family.
Things weren’t much different from President Trump as reporters asked him what his thoughts were on the testimonies on Wednesday.
Carrying some notes that he jotted down, Trump responded to Sondland’s earlier claims that he did indeed ask for a favor in return regarding Ukraine. “I want nothing! I want nothing!” Trump told reporters. “I want no quid pro quo. This is the final word from the president of the United States. I want nothing.”
Trump also told reporters that he didn’t know Sondland saying, “This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy though.” The statement is the latest walk-back from the president about his relationship with Sondland, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. It also follows the president’s usual reaction to negative press by denying a relationship with any of the people involved.
Many Democrats see Wednesday as the first cracks in the impeachment inquiry hearings that lead to a possible criminal investigation. Looking at the way Trump has reacted to these hearings, things aren’t looking that great for him.