U.S. Ambassador to the Belgium Ronald Gidwitz (second to the right) and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland (far right) attends the Tri- Mission Brussels meet-and-greet with President Donald J. Trump and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo in Brussels, Belgium on July 11, 2018.
Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State (Public Domain)
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House Democrats’ efforts to impeach President Donald Trump received a boost with the appearances of two witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Bill Taylor dropped a bombshell in his written opening statement to the committee on October 22, 2019.

He said a number of things, but I want to highlight where the rubber meets the road regarding the allegation of President Trump demanding “quid pro quo” with the Ukrainians – security assistance and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation by the Ukrainians into their alleged involvement in our 2016 elections, the Bidens, and Burisma (the Ukrainian company that has Hunter Biden on their board).

Mick Mulvaney, acting White House Chief of Staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, admitted quid pro quo, and that it is something that happens all of the time in foreign policy.

He’s not wrong, it does, but it is related to items of national interest, not personal political interest. Mulvaney holding up the security assistance had nothing to do with a Ukrainian investigation into Vice President Joe Biden. Taylor’s testimony refutes that.

Ambassador Taylor discusses a phone call he had with Tim Morrison with the National Security Council.

During this same call I had with Mr. Morrison, he went on to describe a conversation Ambassador Sondland (U.S. Ambassador to the European Union) had with Mr. Yermak (advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy) at Warsaw. Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until until President Zelenskyy committed to pursue the Burisma investigation. I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland-Yermak conversation. This is the first time I had heard that the security assistance – not just the White House meeting – was conditioned on the investigations.

Concerned Ambassador Taylor said he sent Ambassador Sondland a text message which led to a phone call. About the phone call, he said:

During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelenskyy was dependent upon a public announcement of investigations – in face, Ambassador Sondland said, “everything” was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelenskyy “in a public box” by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.

Taylor then provided second and third-hand testimony of phone calls between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump:

Two days later, on September 7, I had a conversation with Mr. Morrison in which he described a phone conversation earlier that day between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump. Mr. Morrison said that he had a “sinking feeling” after learning about this conversation from Ambassador Sondland. According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a “quid pro quo.” But President Trump did insist that President Zelenskyy go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and the 2016 election interference, and that President Zelenskyy should want to do this himself. Mr. Morrison said that he told Ambassador Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland.

The following day, on September 8, Ambassador Sondland and I spoke on the phone. He said he had talked to President Trump as I had suggested a week earlier, but that President Trump was adamant that President Zelenskyy, himself, had to “clear things up and do it in public.” President Trump said it was not a “quid pro quo.” Ambassador Sondland said that he had talked to President Zelenskyy and Mr. Yermak and told them that, although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelenskyy did not “clear things up” in public, we would be at a “stalemate.” I understood a “stalemate” to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance. Ambassador Sondland said this conversation concluded with President Zelenskyy agreeing to make a public statement in an interview with CNN.

Ambassador Taylor testified that Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to him that President Trump was a businessman during this phone call, as well as, a similar interaction with Ambassador Kurt Volker.

Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check. Ambassador Volker used the same terms several days later while we were together at the Yalta European Strategy Conference. I argued to both that the explanation made no sense: the Ukrainians did not “owe” President Trump anyway, and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was “crazy,” as I said in my text message to Ambassadors Sondland and Volker on September 9.

The security assistance for Ukraine was then cleared on September 11.

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, National Security Council Director of European Affairs, corroborated Taylor’s testimony in a written opening statement before his testimony on Tuesday before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform committees.

Vindman, in his statement, noted a meeting on July 10, 2019, that took place with Oleksandr Danylyuk, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council for Ukraine when he visited Washington, D.C. with a meeting with former National Security Advisor John Bolton.

He noted that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland attended along with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

He wrote:

Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Amb. Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Dr. Hill (his supervisor at the time) entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.

He listened into the phone call between Presidents Trump and Zelenskyy on July 25, 2019.

I listened in on the call in the Situation Room with colleagues from the NSC and the office of the Vice President. As the transcript is in the public record, we are all aware of what was said.

I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security. Following the call, I again reported my concerns to NSC’s lead counsel.

All of this contradicts written testimony provided by Ambassador Sondland to the House committees investigating Ukraine. On September 17, he testified:

I do not recall that Mr. Giuliani discussed Former Vice President Biden or his son Hunter Biden with me. Like many of you, I read the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call for the first time when it was released publicly by the White House on September 25, 2019.

Although Mr. Giuliani did mention the name “Burisma” in August 2019, I understood that Burisma was one of many examples of Ukrainian companies run by the oligarchs and lacking the type of corporate governance structures found in Western companies. I did not know until more recent press reports that Hunter Biden was on the board of Burisma.

Again, I recall no discussion with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.

“I don’t recall.”

Carefully chosen words to protect himself from perjury should testimony indicate he was lying.

Like, “oh yeah, I forgot about those conversations with Ambassador Taylor, encouraging the NSC to pressure Ukrainians on these investigations, and that I spoke with President Trump about this.”

He didn’t lie, he just “misremembered.”

Sondland is a thread that I guarantee House Democrats will pull on. Did he lie under oath?

Someone’s not telling the truth.

Update: Totally missed over the weekend that Sondland’s attorney told the Wall Street Journal that Sondland revised his testimony, that what happened with Ukraine did amount to quid pro quo.

His attorney, Robert Luskin, said that he “told House committees that he believed Ukraine agreeing to open investigations into Burisma … and into alleged 2016 election interference was a condition for a White House meeting between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.”

I suspect House Democrats will want to follow this up.

2nd Update (11/5/19): It’s confirmed, Sondland revised his testimony.

Via The New York Times:

In his updated testimony, Mr. Sondland recounted how he had discussed the linkage with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, on the sidelines of a Sept. 1 meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Zelensky in Warsaw. Mr. Zelensky had discussed the suspension of aid with Mr. Pence, Mr. Sondland said. 

“I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Mr. Sondland said in the document, which was released by the House committees leading the inquiry, along with the transcript of his original testimony from last month.

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