“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’” Sondland testified in his opening remarks. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
Gordon Sondland, the Democrats’ key witness in its impeachment inquiry into the US President Donald Trump, said what the opposition party wanted to hear.
“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’” Sondland testified in his opening remarks to the televised impeachment inquiry, watched by millions in their homes, AP News reported. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
The rest, he said, was obvious: “Two plus two equals four.”
Sondland’s evidence, as expected the most explosive to date in three days of public impeachment inquiries, depicted Trump as the orchestrator of a plan to pressure Ukraine to investigate his likely main political rival Joe Biden.
The Democrats are seeking to impeach US President Donald Trump, a Republican, for abusing his power by withholding monetary aid until the Ukraine government investigated Biden, conditioning official acts to benefit his re-election campaign.
Sondland said the quid pro quo was widely known, understood and discussed at the highest levels of the Trump administration.
“Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret,” said the US ambassador to the European Union, adding that he directly communicated the “quid pro quo” to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Sondland claimed acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and cabinet secretaries were aware of the deal and that it was at the “express direction” of Donald Trump. Sondland specifically cited a 19 July email copied to Mulvaney, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and “a lot of senior officials”. In that email, Sondland revealed that he “just talked to Zelensky” and secured a commitment for a “fully transparent investigation”.
Adam Schiff, who is chairing the impeachment inquiry, said Sondland’s testimony “goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes and misdemeanors,” adding: “The veneer has been torn away.”
However, Sondland said he never heard directly from Trump about any pre-conditions for the military aid or the White House meeting.
“President Trump never told me directly that the aid was tied to that statement” about investigations, Sondland said.
In a statement, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Sondland’s testimony was “related to his presumptions and beliefs, rather than hard facts,” and slammed Democrats for relying on “unreliable and indirect evidence”.
Trump quickly distanced himself from Sondland.
“I don’t know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well,” the president told reporters at the White House.
Sondland’s hours of testimony didn’t faze Trump’s colleagues who control allies in the Senate, who would ultimately be jurors in an impeachment trial.
Republican Mike Braun said the president’s actions “may not be appropriate, but this is the question: Does it rise to the level of impeachment? And it’s a totally different issue and none of this has”.
“I’m pretty certain that’s what most of my cohorts in the Senate are thinking and I know that’s what Hoosiers are thinking — and most of middle America.”
Rudy Giuliani, who has been mentioned as Trump’s link to the quid pro quo allegation, also lambasted Sondland on social media.
“Sondland is speculating based on very little contact. I never met him and had very few calls with him, mostly with Volker. Volker testified I answered their questions and described them as my opinions, not demands. i.e., no quid pro quo!” he continued in a tweet that he soon deleted and later reposted.
In a second tweet, he refers to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, though he got the date wrong.
“During the July 24 conversation Donald Trump agrees to a meeting with President Zelensky without requiring an investigation, any discussion of military aid or any condition whatsoever. This record shows definitively no quid pro quo, which is the same as no bribery. End of case!