WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A senior U.S. diplomat on Wednesday described broad involvement at the upper levels of the Trump administration in a pressure campaign against Ukraine, giving testimony that for the first time put the secretary of state and vice president at the heart of the impeachment probe against President Donald Trump.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said he “followed the president’s orders” to work with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was pushing Ukraine to carry out two investigations that would benefit Trump politically as he runs for re-election in November 2020.
Sondland’s testimony was among the most significant in the four days of public hearings in the Democratic-led House of Representatives impeachment inquiry that has captivated Washington and threatens the presidency of Trump, a Republican.
The ambassador, a wealthy Oregon hotelier and Trump political donor, detailed the president’s active participation in the Ukraine controversy. Sondland depicted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as engaged in the efforts to get Ukraine to carry out the investigations, including one targeting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and described Vice President Mike Pence as being aware of the efforts.
Testifying publicly to the House Intelligence Committee, Sondland went much further in describing the sweeping involvement of administration officials than he did in prior testimony behind closed doors.
“Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret,” Sondland said in an email he sent to top administration officials ahead of the July 25 telephone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that triggered the impeachment inquiry.
Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney were among the recipients of the email in which Sondland discussed Zelenskiy’s willingness to “run a fully transparent investigation.”In the July 25 phone call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to carry out two investigations. One involved Biden and his son Hunter, who had worked for Ukrainian energy company Burisma. The other involved a debunked conspiracy theory promoted by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
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Sondland said Trump never told him directly that the aid to Ukraine was conditioned on Kiev announcing investigations. Sondland testified he was “adamantly opposed” to the suspension of the security aid because “the Ukrainians needed those funds to fight against Russian aggression.”
“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 testified.