US diplomat Gordon Sondland’s testimony could be the smoking-gun that Democrats were looking for in the Trump impeachment inquiry.
Gordon Sondland, a top US diplomat, and the US ambassador to the European Union gave one of the most powerful and damning testimonies of the Trump impeachment inquiry yesterday.
"They knew what we were doing and why," Gordon told the House Intelligence Committee, "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."
During his testimony, Sondland gave the committee emails and text messages that he said show Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Adviser John Bolton and other senior officials were fully aware of what Sondland was telling Ukrainian officials.
Sondland originally told impeachment investigators in October that he did not see a link between the Trump administration’s withholding of millions of dollars of aid to Ukraine and pushing the country’s government to investigate the Biden, and his son, Hunter, who had served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. Sondland revised his testimony as he took the witness stand on yesterday.
The inquiry is centred on a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskyy in which the US president asked the new Ukrainian leader to launch an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son.
Here are some of the most explosive moments from Sondland’s testimony.
1 - "Mr Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president."
Sondland told the House impeachment inquiry that he worked with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, on Ukraine by following “the directions of the president”. He said that although Trump never directly told him what he demanded from Ukraine to investigate, Giuliani’s instructions were “reflecting President Trump’s desires and requirements”.
2 - "We did not want to work with Mr Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So, we followed the president's orders," Sondland said.
3 - "I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a 'quid pro quo?' As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes,"
4 - Referring to US officials: "They knew what we were doing and why," Sondland said. "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."
5 - Sondland confirmed that he held a five-minute cell phone call with Trump from Kiev in which another witness to the call, embassy aide David Homes, said he discussed Zelenskyy's readiness to open the investigations Trump wanted.
"The White House, which has finally shared certain call dates and times with my attorneys, confirms this," he said. Sondland said "I do not recall" whether he and the president discussed the investigations on that call, but added he did not dispute Holmes.
"Actually, I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr Giuliani about the president's concerns."
6 - Sondland said that by September he had become concerned that $391 million in US security aid to Ukraine had become "jeopardised" by a White House "log jam".
Eventually, Sondland said he pushed a senior Ukrainian official to move forward with the investigations Trump wanted in order to release the aid.
"We tried our best to fix the problem while keeping the State Department and the NSC closely advised," Sondland said, referring to the National Security Council.
7 - Sondland said Giuliani told him, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Ambassador Kurt Volker - who were in charge on behalf of the president while talking to Ukraine - that, "the president wanted a statement from President Zelenskyy committing Ukraine to look into corruption issues".
He added: "Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election, including the DNC server, and Burisma as two topics of importance to the president."
After the testimony, Democrat Adam Schiff, leading the inquiry, said Sondland's testimony so far "goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other high crimes and misdemeanours", citing the core elements in the US Constitution that justify impeachment of a president.
"The veneer has been torn away" from the White House and State Department's efforts to block the congressional investigation, Schiff said, which seems directly linked with Nancy Pelosi’s statement describing Trump’s actions as bribery.
The US impeachment process in the US is about public perceptions, politicians must convince people that a crime, as defined in the US constitution, was committed. Republicans and Democrats must also vote for impeachment in both houses.