House Republicans on Wednesday sought to undermine Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s credibility, pitting two of the “Three Amigos” testimonies against each other.
The “Three Amigos” was the nickname given to Mr. Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. They were spearheading U.S. policy in Kyiv but their recollections of what went on there don’t always agree.
Mr. Sondland told lawmakers that the push to have Ukraine commit to investigations into 2016 election interference and Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings — an effort led by the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph. W. Giuliani — amounted to a quid pro quo in exchange for a White House meeting and possibly military aid.
Republican counsel Stephen R. Castor pointed out that Mr. Volker said the opposite in testimony a day earlier when he said that he didn’t make a connection between the aid and the investigations.
“He didn’t have any evidence of any of these preconditions. And he was the one most engaged with the Ukrainians, wasn’t he?” Mr. Castor asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Sondland said.
Republicans also pointed out that the two officials differed on whether or not they were directed to work with Mr. Giuliani on Ukraine matters.
Mr. Volker recounted Mr. Trump saying “go talk to Rudy” but said it didn’t feel like an order from the president, more like “part of the dialogue.”
Mr. Sondland, however, took it to mean to work closely with the former New York mayor, who then represented the president’s interests.
“Our conclusion and the conclusion of the three of us was that if we did not talk to Rudy, nothing would move forward on Ukraine,” he said.
Both Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker were part of the effort, along with Mr. Perry, to set up a White House meeting between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Mr. Perry has not testified before the impeachment panel.
The Energy Department press secretary Shaylyn Hynes pushed back on Mr. Perry’s characterization in the testimony so far.
“Ambassador Sondland’s testimony today misrepresented both Secretary Perry’s interaction with Rudy Giuliani and direction the Secretary received from President Trump,” the statement read. “As previously stated, Secretary Perry spoke to Rudy Giuliani only once at the President’s request. No one else was on that call. At no point before, during or after that phone call did the words ‘Biden’ or ‘Burisma’ ever come up in the presence of Secretary Perry.”
Despite the differences, both told lawmakers this week they did not connect the references to Burisma to former Vice President and 2020 presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden, while they were working toward the investigation.
Throughout their questions, Republicans have sought to characterize Mr. Sondland’s testimony as conjecture rather than something he learned directly from Mr. Trump, who he had multiple conversations with.
“Did the president ever tell you personally about any preconditions for anything?” he said.
“No,” Mr. Sondland said.
Mr. Castor went further to undermine Mr. Sondland’s credibility, highlighting the fact he doesn’t have many records to review, notes to study and his memory is not perfect as a “trifecta of unreliability.”
However, Mr. Sondland has maintained that the president was interested in the investigations and that was communicated through Mr. Giuliani.
“When the president says talk to my personal attorney and then Mr. Giuliani, as his personal attorney makes certain requests or demands, we assume it’s coming from the president,” he said.
Mr. Sondland said he “strongly” disagreed with Mr. Volker’s account that 2016 and Burisma investigations weren’t tied to the White House meeting.
“It was absolutely a requirement or we would have just had the meeting and been done with it,” Mr. Sondland said.