A United States diplomat has told lawmakers that he and others followed President Donald Trump’s orders to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political opponent.
American Ambassador Gordon Sondland said that Trump wanted the investigations in return for a White House meeting sought by Ukraine’s new president.
The ambassador testified Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee. The committee is holding hearings as part of an investigation into whether Trump’s actions could lead to an impeachment vote by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Sondland said he and others worked with President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on the issue of Ukraine. He said they did so “at the express direction of the President of the United States.”
He said “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma.” And he believed Giuliani “was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President.”
The House impeachment investigation started after a government worker reported concerns of wrongdoing to a government lawyer. The whistleblower reported that Trump had pressed Ukraine to investigate former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in a phone call in late July. The president also asked for an investigation into a discredited accusation that Ukraine played a part in the 2016 U.S. presidential election interference, the whistleblower said.
In 2014, Hunter Biden accepted a position on the board of directors of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings. Joe Biden was vice president at the time. As vice president, he was involved in efforts to help the new pro-western Ukrainian government and its promise to fight corruption.
There has been no reported evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president or his son. Biden is a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. He also is a possible opponent to Trump in the 2020 election.
In his opening statement, Sondland said, “I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’”
Quid pro quo is a Latin language term used in legal documents that means “something for something.”
Sondland said: “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.” The ambassador added he later came to believe military aid for Ukraine was also being held up until investigations were launched.
However, Sondland said Trump never told him directly that military aid to Ukraine was tied to the investigations. The ambassador also said in one discussion that the president said, “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
As the hearing was ongoing, President Trump declared that Sondland’s testimony meant “it’s all over.” Reading from his notes, Trump said, “This is the final word from the president of the United States: ‘I want nothing.’ ”
Sondland also confirmed that he informed top administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the president’s Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
A spokesman for Pence said in a statement, “The Vice President never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations.”
At a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was pleased that talk of interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has shifted away from Russia during these impeachment hearings.
“Thank God,” he said, “no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore. Now they’re accusing Ukraine.”
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
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Words in This Story
whistleblower –n. an official term that means someone who seeks to expose wrongdoing with an aim to put a stop to it
frame –v. to express in a certain way
potential –n. to possibility that something could happen or become real