Ambassador amends testimony, acknowledges quid-pro-quo message

Updated

We’ve apparently reached the stage in the Ukraine scandal in which key witnesses start revising their congressional testimony. NBC News reported this afternoon:

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told House impeachment investigators this week that he now remembers telling a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Ukraine would not receive U.S. military assistance until it committed to investigating the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a person with knowledge of Sondland’s testimony.

Sondland’s latest testimony – stated in a three-page declaration to the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump – represents an update to the testimony he gave in October and contains significant new details. That includes a fuller accounting of the role he played in personally telling the Ukrainians they needed to cooperate with the demands of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, if they wanted the aid money.

Sondland’s testimony, including this week’s newly filed addendum, is online here (pdf).

This week, Sondland said his memory was refreshed after having had an opportunity to review statements from Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, who was, up until last week, the White House National Security Council adviser on policy related to Russia and Europe.

As part of his revisions, Sondland recalled a conversation from September in which he told Andriy Yermak, a top Zelenskiy adviser, that “the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

In other words, Sondland – the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. despite having no diplomatic or foreign policy experience – told our vulnerable ally that its aid was locked. To unlock it, Ukraine would have to make a public statement about a Biden-related investigation, which Team Trump could then use for domestic political purposes.

Before the president starts tweeting about “Never Trumpers” out to get him, Sondland is a Trump-appointed ambassador. He’s also a Republican megadonor who reportedly contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.

And now Sondland is also the administration official who appears to have confirmed – in writing, to Congress – an extortion scheme involving Ukraine and the president’s domestic political agenda.

While some congressional Republicans continue to pretend, even now, that the Trump administration had no quid-pro-quo scheme with Ukraine, Bill Taylor has testified that there was a quid pro quo. Alexander Vindman has testified to the same thing. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney didn’t testify, but he acknowledged a quid pro quo in front of a room full of reporters. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he learned about the quid pro quo.

And over the last week, Tim Morrison and now Gordon Sondland have told lawmakers that the quid pro quo really did happen.

Remember, as we discussed last week, leading Republican officials have spent weeks insisting that the key to convincing them that this scandal matters was proving that there was a quid pro quo. That was the test. It was where the goalposts were set in cement.

And yet, here we are, watching one witness after another make clear that the quid pro quo was real.