BY ARUL LOUIS
New York, Nov 20 (IANS) A close confidant of President Donald Trump who worked with Ukraine dealt him a blow asserting on Wednesday that there was a “quid pro quo” in dealings with that country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Breaking ranks with Trump and the Republican Party in public impeachment testimony, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to Europe, testified that “the answer is yes” to the question “Was there a “quid pro quo?”
The quid pro quo was Trump expecting a public statement from Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma, with which former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was involved, and if Ukraine was involved in the 2016 election meddling in return for receiving a call from Trump and meeting at the White House.
However, ultimately Zelensky did not make such a statement and got his phone call during which Trump asked him as a “favour” to investigate the Bidens.
Sondland said the “logjam” in releasing military aid to Ukraine was also in his belief linked to Zelensky announcing the probes.
The aid was ultimately released without any assurance of probes into the Bidens and Burisma or any Ukrainian connection 2016 election meddling like the release of embarrassing Democratic Party emails.
This testimony could be used by the Democrats to strengthen their case that Trump was misusing his position for personal political benefit because Biden is a possible candidate against him in next year’s election and was willing to risk national security.
Sondland, like Trump, is a real estate investor and hotelier, and donated $1 million to his campaign.
His appointment as ambassador to the European Union is seen as a reward for his campaign contribution.
The impeachment hearings are held by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives Intelligence Committee as a preliminary step to framing a chargesheet against Trump for a trial by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Sondland linked the questionable dealings with Ukraine to Trump through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, former Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker and he “worked with Mr Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States,” he said.
He added, “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.”
“If I had known of all of Mr Giuliani’s dealings or of his associations with individuals now under criminal indictment, I would not have acquiesced to his participation,” he said.
He denied that he was involved in “irregular or rogue diplomacy” and said that he had kept the State Department, National Security Council and White House in the loop.
He said that he was adamantly opposed to withholding the military aid “as the Ukrainians needed those funds to fight against Russian aggression.”
He said that he did not receive any clear reason for withholding aid and “in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, as Mr Giuliani had demanded.”
The delaying of the aid has been tied to US national security by NSC Ukraine expert Alexander Vindman, who has testified before the impeachment inquiry, because it would help Russia.
During his questioning, Sondland said that he and Trump used four-letter words in their conversations indicating their closeness.
When he was asked about an overheard conversation with the president during which he is reported to have said the “Zelensky likes your –” and would do anything he was asked to.
In his opening statement, House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, who is presiding over the impeachment hearing threatened Trump with impeachment charge for blocking subpoenas for documents reminding him that was one of the charges against former President Richard Nixon.
The Republican leader on the Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes called the impeachment a “circus” said that the Democrats having failed to nail other accusations were now using obstruction of justice as the last resort obstruction of justice.
He demanded to subpoena Hunter Biden and documents from his company and the Democratic Party.
Schiff has blocked calling Hunter Biden as a witness.
Hunter Biden, who was reportedly removed from the Navy for drug use, landed a directorship at Burisma, earning $83,000 a month even though he had no experience in the energy business. The former vice president, who was overseeing relations with Ukraine, had a prosecutor looking into Burisma removed.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @arulouis)