Envoy key to Ukraine dealings is due up in Trump impeachment inquiry
The U.S. ambassador to the European Union is expected to tell House lawmakers conducting an impeachment inquiry that he was merely repeating President Trump’s reassurances when he told another envoy that there was no quid pro quo in the administration’s dealings with Ukraine.
Gordon Sondland, scheduled to appear Thursday, would be the latest in a series of witnesses to be interviewed behind closed doors by House lawmakers. Trump blocked his appearance last week, but Democrats promptly subpoenaed Sondland.
His appearance is especially anticipated since text messages and other witnesses’ testimony place him at the center of a foreign policy dialogue with Ukraine that forms the basis of the impeachment inquiry and that officials feared circumvented normal channels. Part of that effort involved pushing the former Soviet republic to commit to politically charged investigations sought by Trump, including into a gas company connected to the son of Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Sondland, whose name surfaced in a whistleblower complaint in August, is certain to be asked about text messages that show him working with two other diplomats to navigate the interests of Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani. The messages show the diplomats discussing an arrangement in which Ukraine’s leader would be offered a White House visit in exchange for a public statement by Ukraine committing to undertake investigations into the 2016 U.S. presidential election and into Burisma, the gas company.
One text exchange that has attracted particular attention involves one diplomat, William “Bill” Taylor, telling Sondland that he thought it was “crazy” to withhold military aid from Ukraine “for help with a political campaign.” Sondland said in response that Trump had been clear about his intentions and that there was no quid pro quo.
Now, Sondland is prepared to tell lawmakers that Trump told him by phone before he sent the text that there was no quid pro quo and that he was simply parroting those reassurances to Taylor, according to a person familiar with his account. He is expected to say that though he did understand there to be a quid pro quo involving a White House visit, he did not associate Burisma with the Biden family and believed that an anti-corruption public statement was a goal widely shared across the administration.
Sondland will be testifying three days after Fiona Hill, a former White House aide, said that his actions so unnerved then-national security advisor John Bolton that Bolton said he was not part of “whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up” — a reference to White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. But Sondland is prepared to say that neither Hill nor Bolton personally raised concerns about the Ukraine work directly with him, according to the person familiar with his account. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private information.
House lawmakers have been hearing over the last two weeks from other diplomats and administration officials, including from the State Department. The most recent was Michael McKinley, a career service officer and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo’s de facto chief of staff, who testified that the Trump administration’s politicization of foreign policy contributed to his resignation.
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