“Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anti-corruption investigatory topics of importance for the president,” Sondland will say. Biden’s son Hunter sat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that had faced international scrutiny.
But Sondland added that he did not realize “until much later” that Giuliani was seeking a Ukrainian-led investigation into Biden and his son. He said any effort to solicit foreign assistance in an American election — an allegation central to the House’s impeachment inquiry — “would be wrong.”
He also said military assistance to Ukraine “should not have been delayed for any reason” — a rebuke of the president’s decision to put a hold on those funds in August — but added that Trump repeatedly told him there was “no quid pro quo” involving the aid or the investigation of Trump’s political rivals.
Sondland’s testimony has the potential to be the most devastating yet for Trump’s defenders, who say he did not apply inappropriate pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a 2020 rival. It was Sondland’s text messages denying the existence of a quid pro quo, obtained by Congress earlier this month, that Trump pointed to as proof he did nothing untoward.
Sondland’s testimony also underscores the outsized influence Giuliani had on Trump, even though the former New York City mayor is not a government official.
“It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the president’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said.
The House’s impeachment inquiry has centered on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, during which Trump asked his counterpart for a “favor” involving an investigation of Biden. Democrats have pointed to the ask as evidence that Trump abused the power of his office.
The inquiry also focuses on the decision to freeze critical military assistance to Ukraine. House impeachment investigators are looking into whether Trump sought to use the withheld aid as leverage over Zelensky as the president sought probes into his political enemies.
Sondland’s attorneys in a letter to House investigators say he has ample documentation to back up his testimony but that the White House and State Department are blocking him from sharing it, claiming it could implicate executive privilege and other confidentiality restrictions.
“[Sondland] strongly believes that disclosure will lead to a more fulsome and accurate inquiry into the matters at issue and will corroborate the testimony that he will give in key respects,” Sondland’s attorneys wrote in a Thursday letter. “However, the choice is not his to make, and so we must regretfully decline to produce the documents that the committees have requested from Ambassador Sondland.”
Sondland now says he only claimed there was no quid pro quo because Trump repeatedly assured him of it in a direct phone call — regardless of whether it was true.
“And I recall the president was in a bad mood,” Sondland intends to say.
Sondland will also offer a strong defense of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted by Trump after a campaign by the president’s allies to recall her to Washington. In his opening statement, Sondland calls her “an excellent diplomat with a deep command of Ukrainian internal dynamics, the U.S.-Ukraine relationship, and associated regional issues.”
Trump himself blasted Yovanovitch during his July 25 call Zelensky, and Yovanovitch testified to lawmakers last week that her removal was based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
Sondland, who says he’s a “lifelong Republican,” noted he was confirmed on a voice vote in the Senate in 2018 and said he tried to operate in a nonpartisan manner in his diplomatic role and added that he had previously worked with Biden on the former vice president’s anti-cancer initiative.
He noted that Ukraine played an important part in his broader work as EU ambassador since he took his post.
“Ukraine is not a dirty word. Ukraine is a fragile democracy fighting against a brutal and unscrupulous Russian neighbor,” he said. “A strong Ukraine helps to uphold the norms that maintain stability and promote prosperity around the world.”