Sondland Criticizes Trump Over Efforts to Pressure Ukraine – The Wall Street Journal

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U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, center, arrives at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday where he will appear before Congress for a closed deposition on the Ukraine scandal.


Photo:

olivier douliery/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

By

Rebecca Ballhaus

WASHINGTON—

Gordon Sondland,

the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, criticized President

Trump

over his efforts to enlist Ukraine in investigating a political rival and said he and other U.S. officials were “disappointed” by the president’s directive to work with

Rudy Giuliani

on Ukraine matters.

Mr. Sondland made the comments in prepared testimony to House committees as part of their impeachment inquiry, which is examining the president, his personal lawyer Mr. Giuliani and top diplomats’ dealings with Ukraine. Democrats have accused the president of abusing the power of his office to pressure a foreign country to pursue investigations that could benefit his re-election campaign. Mr. Trump has dismissed the inquiry as a hoax and denies wrongdoing.

The testimony Thursday, as with other recent witnesses, is taking place in a closed session. The Wall Street Journal viewed a copy of Mr. Sondland’s opening statement to the committees.

[Read Mr. Sondland’s opening statement here.]

Mr. Sondland’s prepared testimony includes criticism of the president and his handling of U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine on a number of fronts, including Mr. Trump’s request in a July phone call with Ukrainian President

Volodymyr Zelensky

that Ukraine investigate

Joe Biden

and the president’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine about a week before that call. He said he “regretted” the departure of

Marie Yovanovitch,

whom Mr. Trump this spring ousted as ambassador to Ukraine after Mr. Giuliani raised concerns about her. Mr. Sondland described her as an “excellent diplomat” and a “delight to work with.”

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“Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong. Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong,” Mr. Sondland said in his prepared testimony. “I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings. In my opinion, security aid to Ukraine was in our vital national interest and should not have been delayed for any reason.”

In the testimony, Mr. Sondland also provided his view on several key meetings and conversations regarding Ukraine that have come to light in recent weeks.

Two Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, appear to be deeply involved in the Ukraine scandal. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains what we know about the pair’s contacts and their efforts. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

At a May White House meeting that followed the U.S. delegation’s trip to Ukraine for the inauguration of Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Trump expressed skepticism that Ukraine was “serious about reforms and anticorruption” and directed those present—including Mr. Sondland, Energy Secretary

Rick Perry,

and

Sen. Ron Johnson

(R., Wis.)—to talk to Mr. Giuliani about his concern, Mr. Sondland said.

“It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the president’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani,” Mr. Sondland told House committees.

“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 towards Ukraine,” Mr. Sondland said. “Please know that I would not have recommended that Mr. Giuliani or any private citizen be involved in these foreign policy matters.”

U.S. officials, including then-special representative for Ukraine negotiations

Kurt Volker,

pursued Mr. Giuliani after the meeting rather than abandon their goal of arranging a White House meeting with Mr. Zelensky, which Mr. Sondland and others viewed as crucial to U.S. foreign policy goals in the region. Mr. Perry said he called Mr. Giuliani soon after that meeting to seek to resolve his concerns.

But Mr. Sondland said Thursday he didn’t understand until months later that Mr. Giuliani was working to push Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son

Hunter Biden,

even though Mr. Giuliani on Twitter and in TV interviews this spring repeatedly called for investigations into Mr. Biden. He also said he didn’t learn until the White House released a rough transcript of the president’s call with Mr. Zelensky last month that Mr. Trump had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Bidens.

In late July, Mr. Sondland said he exchanged emails with Mr. Volker and

Bill Taylor,

the top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv, in which “we all agreed that President Zelensky should have no involvement in 2020 U.S. presidential election politics.” Mr. Sondland didn’t give context for those emails.

Mr. Sondland also sheds new light on another key moment: a September conversation he had with the president after Mr. Taylor raised concerns that the hold on aid to Ukraine was linked to the investigations the president wanted. The concerns from Mr. Taylor were detailed in a series of text messages provided by Mr. Taylor earlier this month.

In his testimony, Mr. Sondland said he asked Mr. Trump, “What do you want from Ukraine?” The president responded: “Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.” Mr. Trump, who appeared to be in a bad mood, repeated “no quid pro quo” multiple times, Mr. Sondland said. He also said he couldn’t independently verify the president’s assurance since he wasn’t involved in the hold on aid.

Mr. Taylor will appear before the committees on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Taylor had challenged Mr. Sondland, telling him in a Sept. 9 text that “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

He also said in his testimony Thursday that while Mr. Giuliani in an August conversation brought up Burisma Holdings—a Ukrainian gas company whose board Hunter Biden once sat on—Mr. Sondland at the time didn’t understand the company to be connected to the Bidens. Instead, he said, he believed the company to be “one of many examples of Ukrainian companies run by oligarchs and lacking the type of corporate governance structures found in Western companies.”

Mr. Giuliani raised Burisma with Mr. Sondland while telling the ambassador that Mr. Trump wanted Mr. Zelensky to issue a public statement committing Ukraine to investigate corruption issues, including the 2016 election and Burisma Holdings, Mr. Sondland said. Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker had been working with Ukrainian officials on the draft of the statement, which Ukraine ultimately opted not to issue.

Hunter Biden served on the board of Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings while his father oversaw U.S. policy on Ukraine as vice president. Both have denied wrongdoing.

Portions of Mr. Sondland’s testimony may be at odds with what

Fiona Hill,

former National Security Council Russia adviser, told House committees earlier this week. Ms. Hill told committees she and then-National Security Adviser

John Bolton

were alarmed by Mr. Sondland’s mention of investigations in a July meeting with senior Ukrainian officials, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Hill later reported her concerns to an NSC lawyer.

In Thursday’s testimony, Mr. Sondland told the committees that he never heard of any concerns from either Ms. Hill or Mr. Bolton. “I have to view her testimony—if the media reports are accurate—as the product of hindsight and in the context of the widely known tensions between the NSC, on the one hand, and the State Department, on the other hand,” he said.

The Ukraine Witnesses

  • Oct. 3: Kurt Volker, former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, testifies and hands over text messages with other State Department officials that showed officials attempting to use a potential meeting between Mr. Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart as leverage to press Kyiv to investigate Joe Biden.
  • Oct. 11: Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testifies that Mr. Trump sought for over a year to remove her and that his allies, including Mr. Giuliani, targeted her in a “concerted campaign.”
  • Oct. 14: Fiona Hill, President Trump’s former top Russia adviser, testifies that she and other White House officials grew so alarmed by the administration’s efforts to push Ukraine to open certain investigations that they raised objections with a White House lawyer.
  • Oct. 15: George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state, gives testimony that supports the findings in the August whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry, a Democratic lawmaker says.
  • Oct. 16: Michael McKinley, former top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, testifies that he left his post over frustration with Mr. Pompeo regarding the treatment of Ms. Yovanovitch.
  • Oct. 17: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, criticized President Trump over his efforts to enlist Ukraine in investigating a political rival and said he and other U.S. officials were “disappointed” by the president’s directive to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters.

Scheduled to Testify:

  • Oct. 18: Laura Cooper, Defense Department official overseeing Ukraine

—Siobhan Hughes contributed to this article.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

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