The US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, is expected to tell Congress this week that President Donald Trump relayed to him directly in a phone call the content of a text message that Sondland sent denying quid pro quo, The Washington Post reported Saturday, citing a person familiar with his testimony.
Sondland’s text message was sent to the top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, who raised concerns in a text to Sondland about the US withholding nearly $400 million of US military and security aid. This text message exchange has become a major focal point of the impeachment inquiry into the President.
Sondland is expected to testify to Congress that he has no knowledge of whether Trump was telling him the truth at the time, the Post reports. “It’s only true that the President said it, not that it was the truth,” the person familiar with Sondland’s planned testimony, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomatic matters, told the Post.
The congressional testimony by Sondland, a key witness within the State Department and to the President’s action in the ongoing impeachment inquiry, could prove damaging to the President and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, the Post reports. Sondland intends to testify to the House under subpoena Thursday, according to his lawyers.
Sondland is a Trump donor and hotelier who has been EU ambassador since 2018. He exchanged messages with former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and a senior US diplomat in Ukraine about setting up the call between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Trump. He also exchanged messages about whether foreign aid was being withheld while Trump and Giuliani pushed for Ukraine to open an investigation into business activity by the son of one of the President’s 2020 Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.
There is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
CNN previously reported Sondland called Trump to find out what was going on after Taylor raised his concerns about the US withholding assistance, according to a source with knowledge. Trump emphatically told him no quid pro quo, the source said.
“Whether (Trump)’s deciding it’s getting too hot to handle and he backs off whatever his position really was a month earlier, I don’t know,” the person familiar with Sondland’s understanding told the Post.
Sondland is expected to tell Congress that for months before that text message exchange, he worked at the direction of Giuliani to secure a public statement from Ukraine that it would investigate corruption, according to the Post. In exchange for the statement, the President would grant Ukraine’s new president a White House audience, the Post reported.
“It was a quid pro quo, but not a corrupt one,” the person familiar with Sondland’s testimony told the Post.
Sondland declined to comment to the Post through his lawyers. The White House did not respond to a request for comment from the Post.
Sondland planned to voluntarily appear on the Hill earlier this week but his testimony was derailed when the State Department blocked him from testifying. House Democrats issued a subpoena Tuesday evening demanding Sondland turn over documents and appear for a deposition next week. Sondland’s attorneys said that despite the subpoena for documents, they aren’t able to produce any. That responsibility would fall to the State Department, they said.