WASHINGTON, DC -- President Trump, speaking to reporters Wednesday before leaving for Texas to tour an Austin plant that produces Apple’s Mac Pro computer, read off a statement that appeared to be written in black Sharpie. (Watch it in the video player at the top of this article.)
In large letters, the statement read:
His comments came after Ambassador Gordon Sondland told U.S. House impeachment investigators earlier in the day that he worked with Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine at the “express direction” of Trump and pushed for a political “quid pro quo” with Kyiv because it was what Trump wanted.
“Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” Sondland said.
Sondland, the most highly anticipated witness to testify, made clear that he believed Trump was pursuing his desire for political investigations in return for an Oval Office meeting that the Eastern European nation’s new president sought to bolster his alliance with the West. Sondland said he later came to believe military aid that Ukraine relied on to counter Russia was also being held up until the investigations were launched.
In a blockbuster morning of testimony, Sondland’s opening remarks included several key details: He confirmed that he spoke with Trump on a cellphone from a busy Kyiv restaurant the day after the president prodded Ukraine’s leader to investigate political rival Joe Biden. He also said he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top administration officials aware of his dealings with Ukraine on the investigations Trump sought. Sondland said he specifically told Vice President Mike Pence he “had concerns” that U.S. military aid to Ukraine “had become tied” to the investigations.
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified in opening remarks. “It was no secret.”
Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukraine, casting the impeachment inquiry as a politically motivated effort to push him from office. Speaking to reporters outside the White House on Wednesday, he said he wanted nothing from the Ukrainians and did not seek a quid pro quo. He also distanced himself from Sondland, a major donor to his inauguration.
"I don't know him very well. I have not spoken to him much,” Trump said, speaking from notes on the hearing, written with a black marker.
The impeachment inquiry focuses significantly on allegations that Trump sought investigations of former Vice President Biden and his son — and the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election — in return for the badly needed military aid for Ukraine and the White House visit.
Trump comments came as he was getting out of Washington during the House impeachment probe for what is his second visit to Texas in recent weeks, as he highlights job growth in a state crucial for Republicans in 2020 -- both in terms of money and votes.
Trump’s visit follows Apple’s announcement in September that it would continue manufacturing the Mac Pro in Austin. The move came once the Trump administration agreed to waive tariffs on certain computer parts made in China.
Apple CEO Tim Cook pitched Trump on the problem that higher tariffs posed for Apple. Trump has said, “it’s tough for Apple to pay tariffs if they’re competing with a very good company that’s not.”