US envoy implicates Trump in Ukraine controversy

November 21, 2019

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Washington: US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland takes his seat to testify at a hearing of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.—Reuters
Washington: US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland takes his seat to testify at a hearing of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: A US diplomat who is a pivotal witness in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he worked with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine issues on “the president’s orders,” confirming Trump’s active participation in a controversy that threatens his presidency.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, told the inquiry that Giuliani’s efforts to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for investigations into Trump’s political rivals “were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit” for the Ukrainian leader.

Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning a favour exchanged for a favour.

Sondland, a wealthy hotel entrepreneur and Trump donor, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was aware and “fully supportive” of their efforts on Ukraine, providing a fuller role of the top US diplomat’s role in the affair.

Pompeo, a close Trump ally, has declined to defend State Department witnesses who have been attacked by Trump and other Republicans over the Ukraine controversy.

Sondland was appearing on Wednesday before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, which is taking the lead in the impeachment inquiry. He smiled and laughed as he took his seat at the witness chair in the hearing room on Capitol Hill in the fourth day of public proceedings in the investigation.

Sondland testified that Trump had ordered him and two other senior officials to work with Giuliani, who has refused to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. Giuliani at the time had been working to get Ukraine to carry out the investigations that would benefit Trump politically.

“We did not want to work with Mr Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the president’s orders,” Sondland said.

The inquiry focuses on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to carry out two investigations that would benefit him politically including one targeting Democratic political rival Joe Biden. The other involved a debunked conspiracy theory embraced by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.

Ahead of his request that Zelenskiy carry out the two investigations, Trump froze $391 million in US security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Democrats have accused Trump of using the frozen aid and Zelenskiy’s desire for an Oval Office meeting as leverage to pressure a vulnerable US ally to dig up dirt on political adversaries. Trump is seeking re-election next year.

“I think we know now ... that the knowledge of this scheme was far and wide and included among others Secretary of State Pompeo as well as the vice president,” said Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, referring to Vice President Mike Pence.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2019