After Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that everyone from President Donald Trump on down was aware of the pressure campaign on Ukraine, House Democrats quickly declared that he had bolstered their case for impeachment.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called Sondland’s testimony “some of the most significant evidence to date,” saying he described “a basic quid pro quo” that conditioned U.S. security aid on Ukraine agreeing to investigate Trump’s political rivals.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery, as well as other potential high crimes and misdemeanors,” Schiff told reporters during a break in the proceedings.
“For those of you watching at home,” Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee, said when the hearing resumed, “that was not a bathroom break, that was actually a chance for the Democrats to go out and hold a press conference, ambassador, for all the supposed bombshells that were in your opening testimony.”
Sondland said that he and other advisers to Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats “because the president directed us to do so.”
In much-anticipated testimony opening the fourth day of public impeachment hearings, Sondland said that he, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Kurt Volker, the special envoy for Ukraine, were reluctant to work with Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, on the pressure campaign and agreed only at Trump’s insistence.
With no alternative, he said, “we followed the president’s orders.”
Sondland confirmed what has already been known, that there was a clear “quid pro quo” linking a coveted White House meeting for Ukraine’s president to the investigations Trump wanted. And he said he was concerned about “a potential quid pro quo” linking $391 million in security aid that Trump suspended to the investigations he desired.
Sondland testified that he told Vice President Mike Pence in late August that he feared the military aid being withheld from Ukraine was tied to the investigations Trump sought and that he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo apprised of his efforts to pressure Ukraine.
Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, issued a statement after his testimony denying Sondland’s account.