United States diplomat Gordon Sondland has admitted that he threatened a Ukrainian official with a block on military aid unless Kiev releases a statement alleging corruption against a company linked to President Donald Trump’s political rival, Democrat Joe Biden.
With this statement, Sondland revised his earlier testimony from October in the impeachment inquiry against Trump by the House of Representatives. The three-page update was among several pages of testimony from the inquiry made public on Tuesday, Reuters reported. Sondland, who is the US Ambassador to the European Union, was considered an ally of Trump.
The impeachment inquiry is looking into allegations that Trump tried to force Ukraine’s president into investigating former US Vice President and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. The inquiry could lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office.
A whistleblower had revealed Trump’s conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which the US president had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Bidens for alleged corruption. Trump, who released the transcript of the conversation last month, denied any quid pro quo or allegations that his actions had been inappropriate. Another whistleblower with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine also spoke to the intelligence community’s internal watchdog office last month.
In his updated testimony issued on Monday, Sondland said his memory was refreshed. “I now do recall a conversation on September 1, 2019, in Warsaw with Mr Yermak,” Sondland said, referring to Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Zelenskiy. “I said that resumption of the US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
“By the beginning of September 2019, and in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement,” Sondland said, adding that he thought this was “ill-advised” and “improper”.
Last month, William Taylor, a career diplomat and former Army officer who serves as the charge d’affaires in the US embassy in Ukraine, testified that he was told Trump would withhold military aid to the country until it publicly declared that politically motivated investigations would be launched against his rivals.
In a closed-door testimony to the three Democratic-led House of Representatives committees, Taylor mentioned in detail about his meeting with senior US officials, and that he learned how Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pushed Ukraine to open an investigation against Joe Biden and his son.
Investigators on Tuesday also released text messages that Taylor had sent to then United States special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, saying he was struggling to decide if he should take up the job in the US embassy in Ukraine. He had said that he was worried if anyone could “succeed with the Giuliani-Biden issue swirling for the next 18 months.” Volker resigned in September, soon after the controversy came to light.
Another message between them on August 12 showed them discussing a draft statement announcing that Ukraine will open a “transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes”. The next day, Volker suggested that the words “involving Burisma and the 2016 elections” be included in the statement. This was in reference to a discredited theory that Ukraine and not Russia had interfered in the 2016 US elections.
Volker’s testimony from October was also made public on Tuesday. He detailed the role of Giuliani in the matter and said that the Trump administration was obsessed with getting dirt on opponents instead of dealing with corruption on the whole. “I believe that Giuliani was interested in Biden,” he said.
President has done nothing wrong: White House
The White House claimed the testimonies only undermined the impeachment inquiry. “Both transcripts released today show there is even less evidence for this illegitimate impeachment sham than previously thought,” Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “Ambassador Sondland squarely states that he did not know, [and still does not know] when, why or by whom the aid was suspended. He also said he ‘presumed’ there was a link to the aid – but cannot identify any solid source for that assumption.”
“No amount of salacious media-biased headlines, which are clearly designed to influence the narrative, change the fact that the president has done nothing wrong.”