US Envoy: Ukraine Aid Would Not Be Released Without Investigations to Help Trump

A key U.S. diplomat told impeachment investigators targeting President Donald Trump that he came to believe that nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine would not be released unless Kyiv publicly stated it would launch investigations to help Trump politically.

In revised testimony released Tuesday, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told the impeachment investigators in the House of Representatives that he warned an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at a Sept. 1 meeting in Warsaw "that 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."

Sondland, a major donor to Trump's 2017 inauguration celebration, was referring to Trump's demand in a late July call with Zelenskiy that Ukraine investigate one of his chief 2020 Democratic presidential rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and any evidence that Ukraine meddled in Trump's 2016 election that sent him to the White House.

President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during…
FILE - President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 25, 2019.

Trump has for weeks denied there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine — military assistance in exchange for political investigations — but Sondland's testimony about his conversation with Zelenskiy aide Andriy Yermak in the Polish capital was sharply at odds with Trump's contention. Nonetheless, after withholding the military assistance for weeks,Trump released it, which Kyiv wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Impeachment inquiry 

Trump's demands of Ukraine are at the center of the House impeachment inquiry into whether he violated U.S. national security to help himself politically. Lawmakers already have heard weeks of closed-door testimony about Trump's relations with the eastern European country in advance of public hearings that could start later this month. 

The Democratic-controlled House could in the coming weeks cast a simple-majority vote to impeach Trump, a Republican, leading to a trial in the Republican-majority Senate. His conviction in the Senate by a two-thirds vote would oust him from office, but his removal remains unlikely since the votes of at least 20 Republicans would be needed for a conviction.

A transcript of Sondland's closed-door testimony was released along with that of another key U.S. diplomat, Kurt Volker, a former U.S. envoy to Kyiv.

In testimony already revealed at the time he appeared before the impeachment investigators, Sondland said that Trump had delegated U.S. foreign policy oversight on Ukraine to Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who is Trump's personal attorney, an edict with which he disagreed but nonetheless complied.

Sondland said officials were "disappointed by the president's direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president's personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine." 

FILE - Kurt Volker, United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 28, 2017.

Volker also depicted Giuliani as the major force to get Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens. 

Volker said he was "never asked to do anything" he thought was wrong, including by Trump, but said he feared the U.S. relationship with Ukraine was "getting sucked into a domestic political debate."

In releasing the Sondland and Volker transcripts, the leaders of the impeachment committees said that as early as last May, Trump directed U.S. diplomats to work with Giuliani on Ukraine policy and get Zelenskiy to publicly state that the Bidens were being investigated.

"It is clear from their testimony that, in exchange for the statement, President Trump would award the Ukrainian president with a highly coveted White House meeting and, later, with millions of dollars in critical military aid being withheld," the impeachment leaders said.

Congressmen Adam Schiff and Eliot Engel and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the impeachment leaders, said that "in an effort to prevent further incriminating information from coming to light, the State Department is continuing to obstruct our investigation by refusing to provide subpoenaed records, including additional text messages provided to the department by Ambassador Sondland. This blanket stonewalling will only continue to build the case against the president for obstruction of Congress, especially in light of the damning evidentiary record the committees have already gathered."

Other testimony

The Sondland and Volker accounts came a day after the release of testimony from two other diplomats, Marie Yovanovitch, a former ambassador to Ukraine, and Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both Yovanovitch and McKinley told investigators they did not feel supported by the State Department in their dealings with Ukraine or in their relations with Trump and his aides.

Yovanovitch said she felt threatened by Trump when he described her as "bad news" in the phone call with Zelenskiy. Trump officials recalled her to Washington months before her tour in Kyiv was due to end and dismissed her.

McKinley quit last month, telling the impeachment investigators he left the State Department for two reasons: "The failure, in my view, of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry, and second, by what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives."

In one of his Twitter comments this week, Trump wrote, "What I said on the phone call with the Ukrainian President is 'perfectly' stated. There is no reason to call witnesses to analyze my words and meaning."    

Trump, faced with the prospect of days of testimony against him in public impeachment hearings, has called for identifying the intelligence community whistleblower who touched off the inquiry over concerns that Trump had asked Zelenskiy for "a favor," investigations of the Bidens and any Ukraine involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

An attorney for the whistleblower has offered to let him answer written questions from Republican lawmakers who are defending Trump, but the president on Monday said that written answers are not good enough.

"He must be brought forward to testify," Trump said on Twitter regarding the whistleblower. "Written answers not acceptable!" He called the impeachment investigation a "con." 

Mulvaney testimony

In addition to releasing the Sondland and Volker testimony, the impeachment leaders said Tuesday they want to question acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney about his knowledge of Trump's efforts to press Ukraine to open investigations to help him politically.

The lawmakers asked Mulvaney to testify on Friday, although it was not immediately clear whether he would appear for closed-door questioning at the Capitol. Trump has sought, with some success, to block key aides from testifying about his actions involving the eastern European country, although other diplomatic and national security officials have answered the impeachment investigators' questions.

"Based on evidence gathered in the impeachment inquiry and public reporting," the committees told Mulvaney in a letter, "we believe that you possess substantial first-hand knowledge and information relevant to the House's impeachment inquiry."

The Democratic-controlled impeachment investigators told Mulvaney the investigation "has revealed that you may have been directly involved in an effort orchestrated by President Trump, his personal agent, Rudolph Giuliani, and others to withhold ... nearly $400 million in security assistance in order to pressure [Ukraine] to pursue investigations that would benefit President Trump's personal political interests."

Mulvaney is the highest-ranking White House official the impeachment panels have sought to question.

by via Voice of America - English