WASHINGTON — In testimony to Congress Wednesday, the US ambassador to the European Union said that President Donald Trump, through lawyer Rudy Giuliani, explicitly ordered a specific "quid pro quo" deal with Ukraine to get the country to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 US election in exchange for public support from the United States. Sondland also said he came to believe that US military aid to Ukraine was tied to that investigation request as well.
"Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky," Ambassador Gordon Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee in his opening statement. "Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma."
The "2016 election/DNC server" referenced by Sondland is a conspiracy theory that Democrats colluded with Ukrainian nationals to delegitimize Trump's 2016 presidential win. Burisma is a Ukrainian gas company where Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.
Sondland said that he believed that the suspension of US military aid to Ukraine was due to the fact that, at the time, the Ukrainian government had not publicly announced these investigations.
"I was adamantly opposed to any suspension of aid, as the Ukrainians needed those funds to fight against Russian aggression," Sondland told members of Congress. "I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer, still to this day."
"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."
Sondland explicitly stated that Trump was the driving force behind the demand for investigations.
"Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president," he said.
"Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the president wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into corruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two topics of importance to the president."
Sondland told members of Congress that Trump expressly directed Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker to consult with Giuliani on Ukraine matters. The group has been called "the three amigos," a moniker Sondland embraced Wednesday.
"We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose a very important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the president’s orders."
He said that officials did not believe, at the time, that Giuliani's role was improper.
"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."
When questioned by Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman, Sondland reiterated that although he had never explicitly heard Trump use "those words" that the military aid to Ukraine was contingent on the country opening investigations, he believed that was the case.
"President Trump never told me directly that the aid was contingent on the meetings," he said. "The only thing we got directly from Giuliani was that the Burisma and 2016 investigations were contingent on the White House meeting. The aid was my own personal, you know, guess, based on your analogy 'two plus two equals four.'"
"By September 8th I was absolutely convinced it was," he said.
Sondland's testimony Wednesday marks a departure from his September text message to Bill Taylor, a top US diplomat to Ukraine who has also testified in the impeachment inquiry. In that text, which was amplified by Trump in a tweet Wednesday, Sondland told Taylor that the president had been clear: There was no "quid pro quo" deal with Ukraine.
In response to questions about the texts from Republican counsel, Sondland said Wednesday that "it was not an artfully written text." He explained that in response to Taylor's concerns about the US withholding aid to Ukraine, he went to Trump to ask what he wanted from the country.
"And he said, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I just want Zelensky to do the right thing, words that he ran under, or words to that effect. And that gave me the impetus to respond to Ambassador Taylor with the text that I sent. … It was not an artfully written text. I should have been more specific, put it in quotes, or something like that, but, basically, I wanted Mr. Taylor, Ambassador Taylor to pick up the ball and take it from there. I had gone as far as I could go.”
Nonetheless, by September, Sondland said he believed the aid was being withheld until Ukraine announced the investigations. "Two plus two equaled four in my mind," he said.