Quid pro quo.
It’s all anyone in Washington, D.C. is talking about. Did President Trump demand Ukrainian leaders investigate the business dealings of the son of a potential 2020 presidential opponent in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid? That is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry now underway on Capitol Hill.
You’ll get a different answer from the two political camps — and sometimes, from a single witness testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.
Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union (EU), testified on Wednesday that there was a quid pro quo as it relates to “the requested White House call and White House meeting.” Sondland also said it came from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, at the “express direction” of the president.
“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 said.
But the White House on Wednesday refuted Sondland’s testimony that there was a quid pro quo involving the White House and Ukraine.
“Ambassador Sondland previously testified that the president told him directly that he was not interested in a quid pro quo,” the White House said in a statement, referring to his private testimony last month. “He testified that President Trump repeatedly made it clear he wanted no quid pro quo.”
In those close-door hearings, Sondland — a political novice and hotel executive who was named EU ambassador after contributing $1 million to the 2016 Trump campaign — asserted that Trump had not sought a quid pro quo by withholding U.S. aid to force Ukraine to perform political favors.
On November 5th, Sondland revised his earlier testimony, The Hill reported.
Sondland says “I now recall” a Sept. 1 meeting with top U.S. and Ukrainian officials in Warsaw, where he told an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that nearly $400 million in U.S. financial aid was contingent on Zelensky committing to investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that employed the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 presidential contender.
“After a large meeting, I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said 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 said, referring to the aide, Andriy Yermak.
“By the beginning of September 2019, and in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement,” his revised declaration said.
On Tuesday, the White House pointed out the conflicting accounts.
“Ambassador Sondland squarely states that he ‘did not know, (and still does not know) when, why or by whom the aid was suspended.’ He also said he ‘presumed’ there was a link to the aid — but cannot identify any solid source for that assumption,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
Sondland said he spoke with Trump on his cell phone on July 26th, the day after the president had a phone call with Zelensky.
Asked about that call, Trump said: “I know nothing about that. First time I’ve heard it. The one thing I’ve seen that Sondland said was that he did speak to me with for a brief moment and I said ‘no quid pro quo under any circumstances.’”
“And that’s true. But I’ve never heard this. In any event, it is more secondhand information, but I’ve never heard it,” Trump told reporters last week.