Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, told House impeachment investigators on Thursday that President Donald Trump ordered him and other American diplomats to follow Rudy Giuliani’s lead on Ukraine policy.
Sondland said in his opening statement (pdf) to the House committees leading the inquiry that he opposed the involvement of Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, in U.S.-Ukraine affairs—but ultimately obeyed the president’s demands.
“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,” said Sondland, who was subpoenaed to testify after the Trump administration blocked him from appearing before the House last week.
“Based on the president’s direction, we were faced with a choice,” said Sondland. “We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for [Ukranian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the president’s concerns.”
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters Thursday that Sondland’s opening remarks were “very damning” for the president and “further confirmation” that Giuliani was running a “shadow State Department effort” to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
Sondland said he didn’t realize “until much later” that Giuliani was pressuring Ukraine to launch a probe into Biden.
Critics responded to Sondland’s claim, which absolves him of complicity in potential wrongdoing, with skepticism. Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake noted on Twitter that “multiple stories” had been written about Giuliani’s desire for an investigation into Biden.
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