Wednesday's congressional testimony of two diplomats as part of the impeachment inquiry raised several questions about what Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, knows — and what he will say in his own testimony next week.
Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent answered questions for several hours from Democrats and Republicans Wednesday in the first of several public impeachment hearings that are scheduled. Among Taylor's remarks was a revelation that a member of his staff overheard Sondland talking to President Donald Trump on the phone in July, during which Trump asked about whether Ukraine would investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter for corruption.
That alleged phone call came one day after Trump's infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during which Trump raised the issue of Ukraine launching a Biden probe after Zelenskiy said Ukraine was anxious to receive additional U.S. military aid to defend against Russian aggression.
At the center of the impeachment inquiry is whether Trump withheld the aid in order to force Ukraine to investigate Biden, one of his main rivals in the 2020 election.
The staff member who heard the call asked Sondland what Trump thinks about Ukraine. According to Taylor, Sondland said, "President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which [Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for."
Sondland then confirmed during his hearing that Trump's statement meant the president cared more about the Biden investigation than he did about Ukraine.
Text messages released as part of the Democrats' impeachment probe reveal that Sondland told Taylor there was no quid pro quo for U.S. aid in exchange for the Biden investigation. It was also reported, however, that Sondland spoke to Trump after Taylor texted him about that subject and before he responded.
Sondland, however, appeared to change his tune during his recent closed-door testimony at the U.S. Capitol. He said Trump indicated there was no quid quo pro, but later submitted updated answers to his testimony that said he believes the Trump administration held back the military aid to pressure Ukraine into launching the Biden probe.
On Wednesday, Taylor also said that Sondland told him in June that Trump would not meet with Zelenskiy at the White House until Ukraine opened a corruption probe of Biden.
Questions have also arisen about the role Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, has played in the Ukraine matter. Sondland told members of the House Intelligence Committee during his closed-door testimony last month that Trump instructed him and other U.S. diplomats to work with Giuliani on America's Ukraine policy.
Sondland, a successful businessman who donated $1 million to Trump's inaugural committee, will face a grilling from lawmakers Nov. 20 on what he knows about what's taken place the last several months between the White House and Ukraine.
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