Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, threw President Donald Trump under the bus in his opening statement during the fourth day of impeachment hearings on Wednesday.
Sondland characterized the efforts he was involved in to urge Ukraine to launch investigations that would be damaging to the president’s political opponents as a product of direct orders from Trump. He also portrayed the matter as one that was broadly comprehended across the highest levels of the Trump administration.
Sondland said that he, along with Rick Perry, the energy secretary, and Kurt Volker, the former US special representative to Ukraine, “worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States.”
“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,” he said. “Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt.”
He added: “We followed the president’s orders.”
GORDON SONDLAND: “Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States. … we followed the president’s orders.”
His testimony offered a particularly scathing assessment of Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney. Sondland made it clear that although he was not enthusiastic about working with Giuliani, he felt that it was necessary if there was any hope of shifting Trump’s disposition toward Ukraine.
“We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose a very important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine,” Sondland said.
‘Everyone was in the loop’
Sondland, 62, a wealthy hotelier from Oregon, also implicated Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and John Bolton, the former national security adviser.
“They knew what we were doing and why,” Sondland said, adding: “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”
Sondland testified that there was an explicit quid pro quo involving a White House meeting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky desired and investigations into Trump’s political rivals. He also said that he “later came to believe” that roughly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine that Trump had put on hold was conditional on the launch of the investigations.
“Members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo’?” Sondland said. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
He added: “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.”
Trump on Sondland in October: ‘A really good man and great American’
Witnesses who’ve offered testimony that’s damning to Trump have been dubbed “never Trumpers” by the president, but this label cannot be applied to Sondland.
Sondland donated $1 million to the president’s inauguration committee and has been loyal to Trump, who handpicked Sondland to be his ambassador to the EU.
The president earlier this month claimed he hardly knew Sondland. In an October tweet, however, Trump referred to Sondland as “a really good man and great American.”
Sondland’s testimony, however, is likely to come under question, especially given that he amended his closed-door testimony to acknowledge the existence of a quid pro quo in the administration’s Ukraine dealings.