Envoy changes story, says he told Ukrainians that US aid was linked to publicly launching investigations


National News

November 5, 2019 - 8:43 PM

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union

WASHINGTON — Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key defender of President Donald Trump in the impeachment inquiry, revised his statement to House investigators, saying he now remembers telling a Ukrainian official that nearly $400 million in American aid would not likely be released unless the country publicly committed to conducting investigations that Trump wanted, according to documents released Tuesday by the House impeachment committees.

The original 10-hour Oct. 17 deposition by Sondland, a Trump donor, came under intense scrutiny in recent weeks as other impeachment witnesses offered testimony that seemed to conflict with what Sondland said under oath. Some lawmakers said it appeared Sondland committed perjury.

But in a Nov. 4 three-page declaration, Sondland revised his earlier deposition, saying the other witnesses had “refreshed my recollection.”

Now Sondland’s version mirrors other witnesses who have described a quid pro quo linking release of the aid to investigations that could help Trump in the 2020 race. His new account also undercuts White House officials who have repeatedly pointed to Sondland’s testimony that there was no quid pro quo.

Sondland acknowledged in the supplemental testimony that “it was my understanding” that a White House meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as well as the release of the military aid was contingent on Ukraine’s agreeing to investigate unfounded allegations about that country interfering in the 2016 U.S. election and opening an inquiry into Burisma, a gas company that employed the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s potential 2020 rivals.

Sondland also changed his testimony to include a Sept. 1 conversation with Zelenskiy’s top aide, Andrey Yermak, in which he told him “the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.” The anti-corruption statement specifically was to include a commitment to investigate the Bidens and Ukraine’s role in 2016.

Initially he told the House committees that before Sept. 9, he “could not recall” being aware that the aid’s release was contingent on an investigation by Ukraine.

During his Oct. 17 deposition, he also testified that demands from Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, “kept getting more insidious.”

House Democrats on Tuesday released transcripts of the full-day hearings of Sondland and Kurt Volker, former U.S. ambassador to NATO.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Sondland’s revised statement changes nothing because he acknowledged that he did not have any direct information about why the aid was withheld, and was merely guessing.

“Ambassador Sondland squarely states that he ‘did not know, (and still does not know) when, why or by whom the aid was suspended,'” she said, quoting from his revised statement. “He also said he ‘presumed’ there was a link to the aid — but cannot identify any solid source for that assumption,” she said.

The release comes as two White House officials — Wells Griffith, senior director for international energy and environment at the National Security Council, and Michael Duffey, Office of Management and Budget associate director for national security programs — failed to appear for scheduled depositions Tuesday.

The investigating committees’ chairmen also requested a deposition with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Friday, saying in a statement, “we believe that you possess substantial first-hand knowledge and information relevant to the House’s impeachment inquiry.” Mulvaney has already ignored a subpoena requesting documents, and the White House said Tuesday he will not attend.

“Past Democrat and Republican administrations would not be inclined to permit senior advisers to the president to participate in such a ridiculous, partisan, illegitimate proceeding — and neither is this one,” said White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.

Democrats’ impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump’s demand that Zelenskiy investigate Biden and the 2016 election even as he was holding up the congressionally approved aid.