U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s trip to Ukraine to attend Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration played a central role in U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s opening testimony to House investigators today.
A written copy of Sondland’s that testimony given before the closed-door hearing conducted by the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees was obtained by WisPolitics.com.
In the testimony, Sondlund said an American delegation, which also included U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Special Envoy Kurt Volker, developed “positive views” of Zelensky during the visit and believed he was committed to addressing”Ukraine’s well-known and longstanding corruption issues.”
But Sondlund said when the delegation asked the White House to arrange a phone call with Zelensky, President Trump was “was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption” and instructed them to discuss concerns with his personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani.
Johnson was not explicitly named as being part of the debrief, which Sondland said was conducted by the delegation. No other members of Congress were named in the testimony in relation to the Ukraine trip.
Still, that missive from Trump left Perry, Volker and Sondland “disappointed.” The trio “strongly believed” a call between Trump and Zelensky “should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions.”
Sondland also said they were “disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani.”
“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 said.
Sondland said he did not know “until much later” that 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.”
A Johnson spokesman was not immediately available to provide comment on if the Oshkosh Republican was involved in the delegation’s debrief of the White House or if he shared the view that U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine should be handled by the State Department and not the president’s personal attorney.
Sondland is a key figure in the developing Dem-backed impeachment inquiry. He was among those named in a complaint filed by an intelligence community whistleblower alleging Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate former vice president and 2020 rival Joe Biden and his family by threatening to withhold military funding.
House Dems also released a batch of Sondland’s correspondence earlier this month. Messages he sent to William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, were flagged as suspicious by House investigators.
In a Sept. 9 text from Sondland, Taylor said he thought “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
In response, Sondland said “I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”
But he added “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”
See the testimony here.
See the texts here.