Chances for a Republican defense for President Donald Trump in the ongoing impeachment inquiry keep slipping away. This Wednesday, Trump donor turned E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland is testifying publicly as part of that probe, and according to a copy of his opening remarks that made it to outlets like NBC shortly before he spoke, he was set to condemn the Trump administration as having actively pursued a “quid pro quo” (or “this for that”) deal with Ukraine, which he insists was “no secret” behind the scenes. President Donald Trump and many of his Republican allies have insisted there was no quid pro quo.
That deal hinged on Ukraine investigating the Bidens on the basis of false corruption allegations in exchange for the Trump administration releasing already approved military aid and providing a summit in D.C. In his new testimony, Sondland explicitly singles out figures including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then-national security adviser John Bolton, and personal Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as having a role in the plot. Sondland is bringing “reams of new text messages and emails he [says] prove the highest levels of the White House and the State Department were in on” the scheme, in NBC’s description.
Sondland says, in part:
‘They knew what we were doing and why. Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret… State Department was fully supportive of our engagement in Ukraine affairs, and was aware that a commitment to investigations was among the issues we were pursuing… Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.’
He has emails including Pompeo and his top aide Lisa Kenna in which Sondland updates them on the pursuit of investigations. In August, he spoke with Pompeo directly about his idea that if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met Trump face-to-face and committed to the investigations, it could “break the logjam.” Pompeo responded approvingly, and Sondland adds separately that it was because of his communications with Pompeo specifically that he “felt comfortable” asserting to Ukrainian counterparts that they needed to announce a Biden investigation to receive U.S. aid, in NBC’s description.
Even Bolton’s office was in on it, Sondland says, pointing to them requesting Giuliani’s contact information in late August. Giuliani was among the most vocal advocates for Ukraine investigating the Bidens. He even met with Ukrainian presidential adviser Andriy Yermak the day after Trump and Zelensky spoke on the phone to push that aim. Giuliani worked alongside businessmen Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, both of whom have now been hit with federal criminal charges for a plot to illegally funnel foreign money to U.S. politicians.
Trump’s response to the inquiry has been to continually insist that he did nothing wrong and that Democrats are pursuing fake news, even as the evidence piles up. Prominent public witnesses before Sondland have included the National Security Council’s Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and former U.S. Special Envoy Kurt Volker, who covered Ukraine when he was on the job.