Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, delivered a bombshell opening statement at the House impeachment hearing on Wednesday, testifying that a clear understanding existed among top administration officials that President Donald Trump sought to extort Ukraine’s government for personal political gain.
“Everyone knew. It was no secret,” Sondland said, referring to leading White House, State Department and National Security Council officials, as well as Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Sondland then provided numerous examples of the effort to get Ukraine to open an investigation that would damage Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, in exchange for a meeting with Trump and $391 million in military aid that was being withheld.
Sondland’s abrupt turn from playing dumb in the early stages of the scandal ― to the point where it defied belief ― to implicating those at the highest levels of government in a sprawling quid pro quo scheme is the most dramatic development so far in the impeachment inquiry. It puts immense pressure on top White House officials and diplomats, most of which have refused to testify, to explain themselves.
Here’s a rundown of who Sondland implicated in his testimony on Wednesday:
― Trump, who Sondland suggested was directing the quid pro quo effort and had tasked Giuliani with seeing it through. On Trump’s behalf, Giuliani “demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations” related to Biden, according to Sondland, as well as a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
Although Sondland did not say that Trump directly instructed him to seek such a quid pro quo, he testified that Giuliani was “expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.”
― Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who Sondland said became the president’s go-between on the quid pro quo push with Ukraine. Sondland and other officials “did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,” but were compelled to follow Trump’s orders, Sondland testified. Sondland added that Giuliani’s attempt to pressure Ukraine into launching investigations were a quid pro quo to secure a White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and that he also suspected military aid was being withheld as part of that effort.
Sondland also testified that Giuliani emphasized that Trump wanted Zelensky to make a public statement about launching corruption investigations, specifically mentioning the 2016 election conspiracy and the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Biden’s son Hunter served. Giuliani was also communicating directly with Ukrainian officials without U.S. diplomats’ knowledge, according to Sondland.
― Vice President Mike Pence, who attended a meeting with Sondland and Zelensky on Sept. 1 in Warsaw, Poland. Sondland testified that before the meeting he directly raised concerns with Pence that the delayed military aid “had become tied to the issue of investigations.” Zelensky also raised the issue of aid in the meeting, according to Sondland, and Pence said he would ask Trump about it.
Pence’s office said in a statement issued while Sondland was still testifying that the vice president “never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations.”
― Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who Sondland said was kept informed of the efforts concerning Ukraine. Pompeo was included on a July 19 email from Sondland which mentioned that Zelensky would tell Trump “he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone’.” Pompeo was also on several other emails that indirectly referenced Ukraine announcing the investigations Trump demanded.
Sondland also said he communicated with Pompeo’s counselor, Ulrich Brechbuehl, and the State Department’s executive secretary, Lisa Kenna. “They knew what we were doing and why,” Sondland testified.
― White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was also included on the July 19 email referencing the investigations, as was Mulvaney’s senior adviser, Robert Blair. Both have refused to testify in impeachment hearings.
― Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who Sondland said made up, along with himself, the backchannel with Ukraine to push for investigations. Giuliani expressed to Perry, Volker and Sondland that Trump wanted Ukraine to launch investigations.
Perry’s chief of staff, Brian McCormack, was also included in the July 19 email about Zelensky investigations. Volker testified on Monday that he did not know at the time there was a quid pro quo effort, but that in hindsight he should have seen the connection with Biden and would have raised an objection. Perry has refused to testify.
― Former national security adviser John Bolton, who Sondland said was kept informed of the U.S. diplomatic activities involving Ukraine. Bolton also emailed Sondland to request Giuliani’s contact information on Aug. 26.
― Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), with whom Sondland raised concerns about security aid being withheld as part of a potential quid pro quo arrangement, Sondland said.
“Again, everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said.
During the hearing, Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman told Sondland that Mulvaney, Bolton, McCormack, Blair and Perry had all been asked to come testify, but refused.
“Would you include them, as well as Secretary Pompeo, as key witnesses that would be able to provide some additional information on this inquiry?” Goldman asked.
“I think they would,” Sondland said.
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