U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland turned on President Trump when he appeared Thursday at the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, saying he objected to the involvement of the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, in Ukraine.
The ambassador blamed the president for Mr. Giuliani’s interference, saying it left the State Department with two untenable choices: Officials could either abandon efforts to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Ukraine, or follow the president’s order and involve Mr. Giuliani.
“I did not understand, until much later that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign,” he said according to the prepared remarks.
Mr. Giuliani fought to tie a White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski with a commitment to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter, who had a lucrative job on the board of a Ukraine natural gas company while his dad was in the White House.
It is possibly the most damning testimony yet against Mr. Trump and delivered by a longtime supporter of the president, who stands accused of abusing his Oval Office power to force Ukraine to investigate a political foe.
Mr. Trump directed Mr. Giuliani to oversee Ukrainian foreign policy, Mr. Sondland said.
“My understanding was that the president directed Mr. Giuliani’s participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the president,” Mr. Sondland added.
Democrats said Mr. Sondland was seeking to protect himself from blame as the Ukraine probe widens.
“Sondland’s opening statement throws Giuliani and the president under the bus,” said Ted Lieu, California Democrat. “What he he says is absolutely not helpful to the president.”
When asked if he found Mr. Sondland to be a credible witness, Mr. Lieu hesitated before responding, “We’ll see.”
Another California Democrat, Rep. Eric Swalwell said Mr. Sondland’s testimony has been helpful.
“We’ve learned additional information that corroborates what the shakedown scheme was and who was in the circle,” he said.
Mr. Swalwell also praised the ambassador for bucking an order from the State Department and White House to defy a Congressional subpoena.
“He’s cooperated in the sense of he’s shown up,” he continued.
Republicans say Democrats have it wrong and are misrepresenting Mr. Sondland’s testimony.
In a series of Tweets, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee emphasized that Mr. Sondland testified he was unaware of any discussions between the White House and State Department to investigate the Biden family. He also said he was unaware of any efforts to provide Ukraine with assistance in exchange for help with the 2020 election.
Mr. Sondland said he was “disappointed” that the president directed Mr. Giuliani to involve himself in Ukrainian matters.
Mr. Sondland, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker resentfully dealt with Mr. Giuliani against their better instincts because they wanted to improve relations between the U.S. and Ukraine.
“Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine,” he added.
The ambassador said Ukraine military assistance “should not have been delayed for any reason,” adding that Mr. Trump repeatedly told him there was “no quid pro quo” between releasing the aid and investigating the Bidens.
Mr. Giuliani also pressed State Department officials to get Ukraine’s leaders to hunt for the missing Democratic National Committee server, according to the prepared remarks.
The DNC server was hacked in 2016, yielding a trove of embarrassing emails that were released by WikiLeaks. The server was never turned over to the FBI and its location is currently unknown.
In his controversial July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr. Trump repeated an unverified allegation that the server is in Ukraine.
Mr. Sondland’s attorneys Thursday sent a letter to House investigators saying he has documentation to support his testimony, but the White House and State Department are blocking him for releasing it, under executive privilege concerns.
“[Mr. Sondland] strongly believes that disclosure will lead to a more fulsome and accurate inquiry into the matters at issue and will corroborate the testimony that he will give in key respects,” his attorneys wrote. “However, the choice is not his to make, and so we must regretfully decline to produce the documents the committees have requested from Ambassador Sondland.”
A key figure in the Ukraine investigation, Mr. Sondland is the only witness who is not a career State Department official. He was nominated by Mr. Trump in 2017 to become U.S. Ambassador of the European Union, which does not include Ukraine.
Mr. Sondland refers to himself as “a lifelong Republican” in his testimony and donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s inauguration committee before being appointed.