Ambassador Sondland kept Trump and his top officials updated on push for Ukraine investigations: report
The impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump will continue this week with testimony from additional witnesses — and one of the most important ones is Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union (EU). Journalist Rebecca Ballhaus, in a report for the Wall Street Journal, outlines some of reasons why Sondland’s testimony is so vital to the inquiry — stressing that Sondland kept Trump and his officials up to date on his push for Ukraine-related investigations.
Trump, House Democrats have been asserting, deserves impeachment for trying to pressure Zelensky into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden — and also, for making that investigation a condition of military aid from the United States. Ballhaus, in WSJ, notes that with Sondland, there was a pattern of him giving Ukraine-related updates to the president and his officials.
Most of the testimony last week iterated things that had already been reported, but a new revelation came during the testimony of diplomat William Taylor (top U.S. ambassador to Ukraine). Taylor revealed that on July 26 — the day after Trump’s now-infamous July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — a member of his staff overheard Sondland speaking to Trump on the phone: Trump, according to Taylor, asked about “the investigations,” and Sondland told him they were “ready to move forward.”
But that July 26 Trump/Sondland conversation was only one of the updates, Ballhaus notes. Sondland has testified that on September 1, he told an aid to Zelensky that “resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
Another important conversation was one between Sondland and Trump on September 7. That day, Ballhaus notes, Sondland called the president after Taylor had expressed concerns about investigations of the Bidens being a condition of military aid to Ukraine. Sondland asked Trump, “What do you want from Ukraine?” — and the president responded, “I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing.”
The updates were taking place both before the July 25 conversation and after it. In an e-mail on July 19 — six days before Trump’s phone conversation with Zelensky — Sondland told Acting White House Press Secretary Mick Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry that he was “prepared” for Trump’s call. Zelensky, Sondland wrote, “will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone.’” And text messages from that time show Sondland giving investigation instructions to Zelensky from Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — who, like Trump, aggressively pushed for an investigation of the Bidens.
Others scheduled to testify in the impeachment inquiry this week include U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — an Ukraine expert on the National Security Council (NSC) — and NSC officials Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison.