WASHINGTON — Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified Wednesday that President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, pushed a quid pro quo between the American and Ukrainian leadership.
"Mr. Giuliani's requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky," Sondland said of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Sondland then stated that in order to obtain a White House visit, Zelensky had to publicly announce investigations into the business activities of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, and a conspiracy theory that Ukraine was involved in influencing the 2016 election.
Sondland testified as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry hearings before the House Intelligence Committee.
He publicly confirmed that he worked closely with outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Ukrainian policy "at the express direction of the president of the United States."
"We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt," he said. "We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Guiliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine."
"So we followed the president's orders."
Throughout his opening remarks to the committee, Sondland had a refrain as he cited some conversations that included Perry, others that did not: "Everyone was in the loop."
Once House members had an opportunity to question witnesses, ranking member U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., deferred his time to U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, a former federal prosecutor.
Ratcliffe quoted from previous Sondland testimony that in a phone call with the president on approximately Sept. 9, Trump said, "I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing."
But then Ratcliffe pressed Sondland that there is no evidence Trump explicitly and directly ordered the ambassador to engage in a quid pro quo with Ukraine in exchange for military aid.
Ratcliffe then made a point he has made with previously — that different witnesses have drawn different conclusions from the same circumstances.
“Reasonable people could look at all of this and come to different conclusions," he said.
Similarly, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, sought specific evidence that Trump ordered a quid pro quo or that the Ukrainians perceived they had been offered a quid pro quo.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, the only Texas Democrat on the committee, focused on a White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's comments in an October news conference. At the time, Mulvaney advised to "Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy."
"In the context of what was going on Ukraine, I believe the president should not investigate a political rival in return for a quid pro quo," Sondland answered in response to Castro's questions.