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Trump directed diplomats to work with Giuliani on Ukraine, Sondland says

Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, arrives at the Capitol for his deposition. Getty Images

By Mark Moore

October 17, 2019 | 

Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, arrives at the Capitol for his deposition.Getty Images

The US ambassador to the European Union on Thursday told Congress he was “disappointed” that President Trump directed him and other diplomats to work with Rudy Giuliani to root out corruption in Ukraine.

“Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between President Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani,” Gordon Sondland told a congressional hearing in the impeachment inquiry in his opening statement.

He was referring to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former US envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.

At the meeting, held three days after Volodymyr Zelensky had been elected president of Ukraine, Sondland and others in the US delegation were trying to persuade Trump to invite the new leader to the White House.

Sondland said they noted that Zelensky had been elected after running on an anti-corruption campaign and urged the White House to arrange a phone call with Trump and later an Oval Office visit.

“However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns,” Sondland told lawmakers.

He said it was “apparent to all of us” that the key to persuading Trump was through Giuliani, and Perry and Volker took the lead on reaching out to the former mayor.

Addressing a text messaging exchange with acting US ambassador Bill Taylor in September in which Taylor raised whether the Trump administration was holding up nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to coerce Zelensky to look into the Bidens, Sondland said he would reach out to Trump about it.

“Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: ‘What do you want from Ukraine?’ The President responded, ‘Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.’ The President repeated: ‘no quid pro quo’ multiple times,” Sondland said. “This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood.”

He said Trump’s directive to work with Giuliani left a bad impression on him and the others, Sondland said.

“Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all
aspects of U.S.foreign policy towards Ukraine,” he said in his remarks.

They were faced with a choice: abandon the aim to set up a White House meeting with Zelensky and try to strengthen diplomatic ties with Ukraine or do as Trump suggested and reach out to Giuliani.

“We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative,” Sondland said.

He said he didn’t grasp “until much later” that part of Giuliani’s agenda was “to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the impeachment inquiry after a whistleblower’s complaint revealed the phone call between Trump and Zelensky.

Trump has called his July 25 phone call with Zelensky “perfect” and “appropriate,” but Democrats have said the conversation illustrated how the president was abusing the power of his office to get dirt on a political foe.

Sondland is the latest person in the US diplomatic corps to testify before Congress.

Trump and Republicans claim that Biden, while vice president, pressured Ukraine to fire top prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who had investigated a natural gas company that employed Hunter.

No evidence has surfaced that the Bidens were engaged in any wrongdoing.


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