Pompeo dismisses Sondland evidence at Trump impeachment hearing

Secretary of State ‘didn’t see testimony’ but is ‘incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished’

US envoy to the EU, Gordon Sondland, has told an impeachment inquiry that the White House conditioned a meeting with Ukraine's president on that nation opening up investigations into one of Donald Trump's political rivals.

 

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo brushed aside explosive testimony by America’s ambassador to the European Union on Wednesday.

Mr Pompeo said he had not watched the testimony and defended the US State Department’s strategy on Ukraine.

Speaking in Brussels while Gordon Sondland was delivering testimony to the impeachment inquiry in Washington, Mr Pompeo said he “didn’t see the testimony. I know precisely what American policy was with respect to Ukraine – I was working on it. And I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

Mr Sondland testified that senior figures in the Trump administration were aware of the strategy in Ukraine being driven by the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani at the behest of Mr Trump. Describing how Mr Giuliani requested the Ukrainians to open investigations into former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, Mr Sondland said: “We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements . . . Everyone was in the loop.”

He explained that this included the state department displaying email and WhatsApp messages which he claimed showed that the department was kept fully informed of what he and others were doing in Ukraine.

Ambassador’s testimony

In one email dated August 22nd, and sent directly to Mr Pompeo, Mr Sondland asked if he should arrange for Mr Trump to speak to Mr Zelenskiy in Warsaw. Ultimately Mr Trump did not travel and was subsequently represented by vice-president Mike Pence on the visit. Mr Sondland wrote: “I would ask Zelensky to look him in the eye and tell him that once Ukraine’s new justice folks are in place [in mid-September], that Ze should be able to move forward publicly and with confidence on those issues of importance to Potus [President of the United States] and to the US. Hopefully, that will break the logjam.”

Mr Pompeo replied “Yes”, according to the ambassador’s testimony.

In another email, a top aide to Mr Pompeo said she would pass on the message that Mr Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, and Mr Sondland had “negotiated a statement” for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to deliver. Mr Giuliani and officials had been discussing the possibility of Mr Zelenskiy delivering a public commitment, possibly on CNN, to open the investigations.

Mr Sondland also took aim at the state department more generally, as he described how efforts to persuade the Ukrainian government to open investigations took place with the full knowledge of that department.

He complained that the state department has not permitted him to access notes and documents relating to his job.

“My lawyers and I have made multiple requests to the state department and the White House for these materials. Yet these materials were not provided to me. They have also refused to share these materials with this committee.”

Quid pro quo

The White House pushed back on allegations by Mr Sondland at the fourth day of public hearings in the impeachment hearings, claiming that “no quid pro quo”, a favour for a favour, ever occurred.

But Mr Sondland testified that a quid pro quo did occur – one that linked specifically the promise of a White House meeting with a commitment to publicly announce the opening of investigations into Mr Biden and allegations of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. But he noted that Mr Trump was more interested in the public announcement of the investigations rather than the investigations themselves.

The ambassador also addressed recent reports of a July 26th phone call he had with Mr Trump in a restaurant in Kiev, the day after Mr Trump’s infamous phone call with Mr Zelenskiy.

Mr Sondland said he had “no reason” to doubt the account of US official David Holmes, who testified over the weekend that he overheard Mr Trump asking about the status of the Ukraine investigations.

“It is true that the president speaks loudly at times. It is also true – I think we primarily discussed – A$AP Rocky,” he said, referring to the US rapper who was arrested in Sweden. “It is true that the president likes to use colourful language. While I cannot remember the precise details – again, the White House has not allowed me to see any readouts of that call – the July 26th call did not strike me as significant at the time.