In Blow to Trump, Sondland Changes Testimony
WASHINGTON – House investigators released hundreds of pages of testimony from two top diplomats Tuesday, including a bombshell: revised testimony from one of the men in which he admits he told a top Ukrainian official the country likely would not receive American military aid unless it publicly committed to investigations President Trump wanted.
The disclosure from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, includes several new details that go beyond the account he told the House Intelligence Committee during a 10-hour interview in October.
Sondland now says he told Ukrainian officials they should pursue investigations of Joe Biden, his son and other Democrats being sought by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani.
Sondland also says that he’s now convinced military aid and a coveted White House meeting were conditioned on Ukraine publicly committing to these investigations.
Democrats have called this an improper, and possibly impeachable, quid pro quo. Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong.
Also released Tuesday was testimony offered by Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine. The two diplomats exchanged eyebrow-raising text messages about the administration’s actions toward Ukraine.
But it was Sondland’s apparent about face that was grabbing headlines Tuesday afternoon.
Previously, Sondland, a Republican mega-donor, had been on public record as saying there was no quid pro quo when it came to Ukraine.
In early September he sent a text message to William Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, that said the president had been clear there was no quid pro quo between the aid and investigations.
Sondland testified last month that he was only repeating what Trump had told him, leaving open the question of whether he believed the president.
The new account appears to place Sondland at the center of an effort by the administration to cover its tracks.
In his updated testimony, Sondland says he had discussed the linkage between the aid and the investigations with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, on the sidelines of a Sept. 1 meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Zelensky in Warsaw.
In other investigation news, two more administration witnesses who had been scheduled to testify before House panels on Tuesday failed to show up. These were Michael Duffey, a top official in the White House budget office, and Wells Griffith, a senior aide to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Former National Security Advisor John Bolton is scheduled to testify Thursday in front of the three committees leading the House impeachment probe.
The panels have also asked White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to appear for a closed-door interview on Friday.
In their letter, requesting Mulvaney’s appearance, the heads of three committees said they believe he has “first-hand knowledge” of President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Mulvaney is one of 13 witnesses that the Democrats have called to testify behind closed doors this week. It is unclear if he will show up since Trump has directed members of his administration not to cooperate.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that Trump is unlikely to be convicted and removed from office in the event of a Senate impeachment trial.
“If it were today, I don’t think there’s any question” that any impeachment trial “would not lead to a removal,” he said.
It takes two-thirds of the Senate to convict a president and remove him from office. That means at least 20 Republicans would have to vote to convict Trump if he is impeached by the Democratic-controlled House.
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