Diplomat Sondland Told Ukrainians Held-Up Aid Was Tied to Investigations

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WASHINGTON—A diplomat who is a key witness in the House impeachment probe said he told a Ukrainian official this summer that aid to that country would remain frozen until Kyiv committed to investigations sought by President Trump, reversing earlier testimony that he didn’t know of any such link.

The updated testimony by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, makes him at least the fourth impeachment witness to describe a purported quid pro quo between nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine and investigations into Democrat Joe Biden and alleged 2016 election interference that Mr. Trump and some allies were pushing Kiev to announce. The impeachment inquiry is centered on the efforts to push for investigations in Ukraine, which Democrats say amount to an abuse of presidential power designed to boost Mr. Trump’s re-election prospects.

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Mr. Trump has defended his July 25 phone call in which he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and has said there was no quid pro quo between aid and the investigations. The new testimony from Mr. Sondland, a Trump ally and donor, will complicate that defense, though the ambassador testified that the president told him privately that the two weren’t linked, and he said he “presumed” the connection.

Democrats released the revised testimony from Mr. Sondland as they also published the transcripts of both his testimony last month and that of Kurt Volker, former special envoy for Ukraine negotiations. While the outlines of the closed-door testimony by Mr. Sondland and Mr. Volker were broadly known, the transcripts added more detail. Committees a day earlier released transcripts of two other witnesses as they continue to move the impeachment query into a more public phase.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that the new transcripts “show there is even less evidence for this illegitimate impeachment sham than previously thought.” She said Mr. Sondland presumed aid and investigations were linked but “cannot identify any solid source for that assumption.”

In his own testimony, Mr. Volker denied being aware of any explicit quid pro quo sought by the Trump administration, though he testified he was concerned by the July phone call between Mr. Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.

Mr. Sondland amended his statement after two other impeachment witnesses conflicted with the envoy’s October testimony about his conversation with the Ukrainian official. Mr. Sondland’s conversation with Andriy Yermak, an aide to Mr. Zelensky, about a possible quid pro quo had been described in testimony by Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine. Tim Morrison, a national-security official, also described the conversation in testimony last week. But Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, previously said Mr. Sondland didn’t recall that conversation.

In his new statement, Mr. Sondland—a wealthy hotelier who told impeachment investigators at least 35 times he couldn’t recall details about the administration’s work with Ukraine—said his memory had been refreshed by the testimony of Messrs. Taylor and Morrison. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official, also testified that he understood aid to be linked to investigations, according to a person familiar with his testimony.

“By the beginning of September 2019, and in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement,” Mr. Sondland said in his revised statement.

“I now recall,” Mr. Sondland wrote in his addendum, explaining that he told Mr. Yermak on Sept. 1 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.”

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The statement that Mr. Sondland and other U.S. officials had been discussing was, at the request of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to specifically announce an investigation into Burisma Group, a Ukrainian gas company where Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, had sat on the board, and whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, Mr. Volker testified. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, and the allegation that Ukraine interfered in the election is widely viewed as an effort to undermine U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered in the campaign on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

About a week after his conversation with Mr. Yermak, Mr. Taylor texted Mr. Sondland on Sept. 9 that he thought it was “crazy” to withhold aid for “help with a political campaign,” according to messages released by House investigators last month.

What’s Next for Trump’s Impeachment Inquiry


What’s Next for Trump’s Impeachment Inquiry
What’s Next for Trump’s Impeachment Inquiry
The House voted Thursday on a resolution that lays out the rules for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains what to watch out for as lawmakers continue to investigate the President’s actions related to Ukraine. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
After that, Mr. Sondland said he called Mr. Trump and asked him what he wanted. The president responded: “I want nothing. I don’t want to give them anything and I don’t want anything from them. I want Zelensky to do the right thing,” Mr. Sondland testified. He said Mr. Trump ended the call abruptly.

Mr. Sondland then texted Mr. Taylor: “The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”

The aid was unfrozen three days later, on Sept. 12, amid an outcry in Congress.

As previously reported, Mr. Sondland in his testimony also described a link between investigations and a White House meeting for Mr. Zelensky.