Reading from his own marker-written notes and running an hour behind schedule for a trip to Texas, President Donald Trump contended Wednesday that Gordon Sondland’s testimony proves he did not order a quid pro quo with Ukraine’s new president.
In yet another surreal moment of his presidency, Trump appeared to recite a version of a Sept. 9 phone conversation with Sondland that his ambassador to the EU took while sitting on the outdoor patio of a Kyiv restaurant.
“What do you want? What do you want?” Trump said Sondland asked him about Ukraine in a conversation the president last week claimed he did not remember even “a little bit.”
The president, glancing at his notes as he spoke loudly over Marine One’s engines, said he responded: “I want nothing. That’s what I want from Ukraine.”
Before making his statement, Trump instructed journalists to “get those cameras rolling.”
Trump said he also told Sondland, “I want no quid pro quo” and that he merely wanted then-incoming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to “do the right thing.”
He did not, however, describe what that “right thing” might be before boarding the helicopter en route to a tour of an Apple facility in Austin, Texas.
Trump was equally vague during the July 25 telephone conversation with Zelenskiy that spawned the whistleblower complaint that is at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. In that call he never explicitly linked investigations of Democrats to a $400 million military aid package or White House meeting, saying only he wanted Zelenskiy to “do us a favor.”
As time wore on following a late-May Oval Office meeting on Ukraine policy that included Trump instructing officials to run their efforts through his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, Sondland said he came to understand that the military assistance was part of a quid pro quo.
But Sondland also told lawmakers Trump never told him directly to condition the aid or the meeting on Ukraine’s young leader announcing his intention to investigate the Joe Biden, his son Hunter, or and other Democrats.
Sondland, a former hotelier, said he pieced together the existence of a quid pro quo as Giuliani was operating in Ukraine as an independent entity and he was unable to secure a date for a Trump-Zelenskiy White House meeting.
“It became harder to arrange the White House meeting because more … conditions were being placed on a White House meeting,” Sonland testified, contending he did not realize Trump’s desire of a Ukrainian probe of the Bidens was in play until September.
Still, Sondland’s testimony could prove damaging to Trump — and other current and former senior administration officials.
He contended “everyone was in the loop” and bluntly told the panel “I was following the direction of the president.”
At several points, he implicated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying the former GOP lawmaker was informed of everything he and others did on Ukraine. The same is true, he claims, of former White House national security adviser John Bolton.
Sondland claims to have documents that show the “leadership” of the National Security Council, State Department and White House “were informed” of his efforts.
“I was acting in good faith,” he said, contending he and others had “no desire to set any conditions on the Ukrainians.”
At one point, he broke with Trump and Giuliani, saying: “My own view was that the White House meeting and security assistance should have proceeded without preconditions of any kind.”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff took the opposite view of Trump, saying Sondland’s testimony shows, “for the first time, that knowledge of this scheme was pervasive.”
“The secretary of state was aware of it, the acting chief of staff Mulvaney was aware of it and of course at the very top Donald Trump through his personal lawyer and others was implementing it,” Schiff said.
“We now can see, the veneer has been torn away, just why Secretary Pompeo and President Donald Trump do not want any of these documents provided to Congress, because apparently they show as Ambassador Sondland has testified that the knowledge of this scheme, to condition official acts, a White House meeting and $400 million in security assistance to an ally at war with Russia, was conditioned on political favors the president wanted for his reelection.”
Patrick Kelley contributed to this report.