Sondland: 'We Followed President's Orders'

In testimony being billed as a turning point in the House impeachment inquiry, Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday (Nov. 20) that President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were all aware of a Ukraine pressure campaign to get, in exchange for a White House meeting, a statement from the Ukrainian president that his country would investigate alleged corruption tied to Barisma (the Ukrainian company with Joe Biden's son on the board) and possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

Sondland testified that the President had told him to talk to his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and that his understanding was that if he did not, there would not be any movement on Ukraine, either a White House meeting or $400 million in aid.

He said he worked with Giuliani on the Ukraine issue "at the express direction of the President. "We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose a very important opportunity to cement relations between United States and Ukraine. So, we followed the President's orders."

Sondland said he had no desire to set conditions on Ukrainian aid but that Giuliani's requests "were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky."

"Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election DNC server and Barisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States..."

He also said: "The leadership of the State Department, the National Security Council and White House were all informed about the Ukraine efforts."

Sondland also said the State Department had denied him access to documents that could help him better remember the events he as being asked to recall and relate.

Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee, signaled during a brief break in proceedings that he thought it was the most important testimony to date, and CNN was calling it a "turning point" in the proceedings.

Fox was pointing to the fact that Sondland testified the President never explicitly said there was a quid pro quo and that he had assumed that was the case given Giuliani's directive and the President's directive to talk to Giuliani, though Sondland likened that assumption to putting one and one together and getting two.

Ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said that the hearing pause had not been a bathroom break but a chance for Schiff to hold an impromptu press conference with the media for all the "supposed bombshells" in Sondland's testimony.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham responded to the testimony.

"Ambassador Sondland’s testimony made clear that in one of the few brief phone calls he had with President Trump, the President clearly stated that he ‘wanted nothing’ from Ukraine and repeated ‘no quid pro quo over and over again,’ she said in a statement. "In fact, no quid pro quo ever occurred. The U.S. aid to Ukraine flowed, no investigation was launched, and President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelensky. Democrats keep chasing ghosts.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.