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Key Witness Gordon Sondland Testifies in Impeachment Inquiry; Sondland: "Yes," There was Quid Pro Quo in Ukraine Scandal; Schiff Holds Press Briefing. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired November 20, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANIEL GOLDMAN, COUNSEL FOR HOUSE DEMOCRATS: Now Ambassador Taylor also testified that -- and Mr. Morrison, both of them testified, that you told them that President Trump said there was no quid pro quo, which you also included in that text message that you referred.
But then you went on -- and they had slight variations as to what you told them, but then you said that, to Ambassador Taylor, that President Zelensky, himself, not the prosecutor general needed to clean things up in public or there would be a stalemate. And Mr. Morrison recounted something similar.
You don't have any reason to doubt that both of their very similar recollections of the conversations they had with you, do you, Ambassador Sondland?
GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR THE E.U.: Let me break that down, Mr. Goldman. The text, as I said, about the no quid pro quo was my effort to respond to Ambassador Taylor's concerns to go to President Trump -- apparently, Ambassador Taylor had access to Secretary Pompeo. He did not have access to President Trump.
So I made the phone call. I said, what do you want. President Trump responded with what I put in the text. And then I strongly encouraged Ambassador Taylor to take it up with the secretary. And he responded, I agree, when I said that.
As far as the other part of your question relating to whether or not the prosecutor could make the statement or Zelensky could make the statement, I don't recall who told me, whether it was Volker, whether it was Giuliani or whether it was President Trump, it's got to be Zelensky, it can't be the prosecutor. But that's what I relayed.
Whoever I got that information from, I relayed that to, I believe, both Mr. -- or excuse me -- Ambassador Taylor and to Mr. Morrison.
GOLDMAN: But as of September 9th, you understood, did you not, that President Trump, either himself or through his agents, required that President Zelensky make a public announcement of the two investigations that President Trump cared about in order to get both the White House meeting and to release the security assistance, is that correct? SONDLAND: I believe that is correct.
GOLDMAN: Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): That concludes our 45 minutes. I now recognize Mr. Nunes.
OK. OK. Why don't we take five or 10-minute break?
SONDLAND: Thank you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so that was explosive testimony there that we just heard from Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who now has confirmed publicly that everything they were doing was authorized by the president of the United States, the direction to Rudy Giuliani, to go ahead and basically take charge of U.S.-Ukrainian policy.
This is -- Gloria, we got the advanced copy of his statement. He delivered it and then he answered a whole bunch of questions basically saying there's no doubt that the president orchestrated and ordered all of this.
Let me play a few of the clips, a little mashup of what we heard from the ambassador.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SONDLAND: I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States.
So we followed the president's orders.
I followed the direction of the president.
Because the president directed us to do so.
President Trump directed us to, quote, "talk with Rudy."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president keeps saying no quid pro quo, no quid pro quo. He specifically says, yes, in dealing with Ukraine, if the Ukrainian president wants a meeting with the president, if the Ukrainians want the military assistance to go forward, they've got to look into Burisma, the Bidens. They've got to look at the 2016 U.S. presidential election and at least make a public statement that they were doing so.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And what Mr. Goldman pointed out is that, in the president's phone call with Zelensky, he also said directly, you have to talk with Rudy so what he is doing is making link that Rudy equals Donald Trump.
What Sondland said as well, you know, when I spoke with Donald Trump, he never said, you know, you've got to do this. But the message came through. The message came directly through Rudy Giuliani.
The other, you know, the other point here is on this question of an announcement. Why was this announcement so important? Did it mean that the president and Rudy Giuliani really wanted an investigation? Or did it mean that what they really wanted was a public announcement, so that the president could use it politically and his presidential campaign. And that seems to be clear, coming from the Q&A with the attorney, Mr. Goldman.
BLITZER: What do you think?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think you can divide the Trump presidency into two periods, before November 20th, 2019 and after, because now we know. I mean, now we know that every fantasy about how corrupt this administration was is actually true.
That now we know that this was a corrupt enterprise from the very beginning, that the president didn't care at all about Ukraine.
TOOBIN: All he wanted out of this relationship was he wanted to embarrass Biden by getting a public announcement of an investigation of Burisma, where his son worked. And he was willing to use $400 million in taxpayer money to get it. And now we know.
Now the only question is, does anyone care. I mean, do the Republicans care? Does it matter to them that this corrupt enterprise is now proved clearly by the testimony and by these e-mails? That, I have no idea about. But whether it took place is settled.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And, Wolf, it's interesting that, the two key points out of Ambassador Sondland, the president ordered it and everybody knew.
So Republicans have spent the first part of this impeachment proceeding saying, you don't know what the president knew. You don't know what the big picture actually was. You're just saying what your beliefs were. Well, there it is.
GREGORY: What are you going to do about that?
BLITZER: He says the president ordered, the vice president knew, the secretary of state knew, the acting White House chief of staff knew. They all were in on this, on this so-called quid pro quo.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I would quote from a GOP lawmaker their morning on FOX News, Mike Turner. He said the following, "Under those who actually speak to the president of the United States and spoke to the Ukrainians, unless they tie this to the president of the United States, they have fallen short."
Talking about the Democrats. That's a GOP congressman setting a standard for Sondland's testimony.
Sondland, as Gloria said, used the words, "directed by the president," multiple times in this. And not that Sondland believed that, as you noted, that everybody in government knew, that there was no secret to this. So that standard has been met.
The other thing I would notice, to Jeffrey's point, you know, laying bear what happened here. He was challenged. Sondland was challenged on David Holmes' characterization of that phone call with the president. Sondland saying the president doesn't give a damn -- I'll substitute "damn" since my kid is sick from home and might be watching. He doesn't give a damn about Ukraine, only cares about helping himself. He did not challenge his own description of --
BLITZER: Hold on a second, the chairman is speaking to reporters.
SCHIFF: And I think today's testimony is among the most significant evidence to date. And what we have just heard from Ambassador Sondland is that the knowledge of this scheme, this conditioning of the White House meeting of the security assistance to get the deliverable the president wanted, these two political investigations that he believed would help his political campaign, was a basic quid pro quo.
It was the conditioning of official acts or something of great value to the president, these political investigations. It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.
But we also have heard for the first time that knowledge of this scheme was pervasive. The secretary of state was aware of it. The acting chief of staff, Mulvaney, was aware of it. Of course, at the very top, Donald Trump, through his personal lawyer and others, was implementing it.
And so this, I think, only goes to underscore just how significant the president's obstruction of this investigation has been.
We now can see the veneer has been torn away, just why Secretary Pompeo and President Donald Trump do not want any of these documents provided to Congress, because, apparently, they show, as Ambassador Sondland has testified, that the knowledge of this scheme, to condition official acts, a White House meeting and $400 million in security assistance to an ally at war with Russia, was conditioned on political favors the president wanted for his re-election.
So I think a very important moment in the history of this inquiry.
BLITZER: Preet, this is a moment that, of course, a lot of us anticipated, getting the advance copy of Ambassador Sondland's statement, but I can't emphasize how explosive this is right now.
I wonder what you think.
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Look, I think it was a huge inflexion point in the acceleration of the impeachment hearings. We were speculating this morning, between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m., what would Sondland say.
Some of us thought it's possible a good lawyer might tell, as Jeffrey was saying -- this is a good point -- a lawyer might tell his client in this position, don't testify at all, take the Fifth Amendment.
We'd be in a very different position talking about the nature of impeachment and how it's going if he had taken the Fifth. He decided to say a lot of things that maybe he didn't have to say.
There's some work the Republicans can do with him, because he's a problematic witness. I don't think he's as transparent and straight forward as he's been. He's changed his testimony. He's remembered things he didn't before. Tried a little at the end to protect the president, a little bit.
But, overall, essentially, systematically, Ambassador Sondland has exploded all of the defenses you expected the Republicans to mount. Sondland and company were acting as rogues. He comes with chapter and verse receipts, as they say, saying how many people were in the loop.
Another talking point on the defense side has been, well, the Ukrainians - which I don't think it's a good one, but it's been made -- the Ukrainians didn't know there was a shakedown going on, they didn't know about the linkage. Ambassador Sondland just told the world that the Ukrainians did know. You know how they knew? I told them there was a linkage.
I could go on. But everything the Republicans said in defense of the president he wrecked.
BORGER: He also says Vice President Pence knew --
BORGER: -- who have been very squirrely about answering these questions about this. It was completely devastating for the White House.
GREGORY: And it's striking. And when you look, there's two channels, an official diplomatic channel. And he -- Sondland is not an experienced diplomat. He is working with the experienced diplomats.
Then we learned there's a separate channel. It's the one that matters. It's the president, Rudy Giuliani and it appears to be Mike Pompeo, that they are working together independent of the experts on Ukraine and that it really is more top down. This is what Trump cares about. He doesn't care about Ukraine. He
cares about, did they interfere in 2016 and sabotage him. And let's go after Bidens.
BLITZER: Let's bring in John Dean. He knows about impeachment testimony by key witnesses.
Give me your reaction. How explosive is what we heard today?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Very explosive. It's really nice to see somebody who is putting country over party, somebody who is willing to come forward, fill in the details. Where there might be reluctance still in what he is saying, he is putting together a lot of pieces that are vital to understand this story.
BLITZER: Because a lot of us remember -- I'll play the clip. You tell me if you think there are any parallels to your testimony back during the Richard Nixon impeachment process. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency. And if the cancer was not removed, the president, himself, would be killed by it. I also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what do you think?
DEAN: That was about seven hours into my testimony.
There are some parallels. As I say, he is not a man who appears willing to lie for his colleagues. He is a man that appears to be really believe in the post he is serving in. And he wants to do the right thing and he's not going to be influenced by the pressure of the president. So --
BHARARA: He looks like he took a while to come around.
DEAN: He did.
BHARARA: He still has not been asked the question, I don't think, why did you say that the president was very clear there's no quid pro quo. He said I was --
BHARARA: On the one hand, he's problematic for the Democrats because he has this inconsistent testimony. On the other hand, he has some bullet-proof protection. And that is the president has said nice things about him. The president looks like he has a relationship with the guy.
When asked the question, you know, did you say -- did you use that terminology and say, "Zelensky loves your ass," he says that's sounds like something I would say. He went on to say, "The president and I used four-letter words all the time," suggesting there's a real relationship there.
BLITZER: It's interesting, and, Jeffrey Toobin, I want you to weigh in on this as well.
If you go back to the president's tweets, this is the president tweeting October 8th: "I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify. Unfortunately, he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court where Republican's rights have been taken away and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see."
"Importantly, Ambassador Sondland's tweets, which few reports stated," quote, "'I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quos of any kind,'" closed quote.
That says it all. That was the president on October 8th.
TOOBIN: It's almost like President Trump will have to change his position. You think that's ever happened before?
TOOBIN: Do you think it's like without precedent? He's just going to say -- I mean, the one thing he will say is that the text he sent of no quid pro quo was true then and is true now. I mean, he will cherry pick the parts of Sondland's testimony that he agrees with, like that text message he sent to Ambassador Taylor.
But you know, anyone who followed Sondland's testimony, we don't know, that there's no possible explanation for this except for this quid pro quo.
GREGORY: Do you think Republicans will go out there and basically - looks too good? Sondland looks like he's trying to look a little too clean in all of this at times?
BORGER: He looks like he's not going to take the fall.
BORGER: He's not going to take the fall for Donald Trump --
BORGER: I think that's what this is about.
TOOBIN: And they will go after him because, in his conversations with the president, the president doesn't say, you have to get the -- you have to get the announcement in return. It's, he says, talk to Rudy, and Rudy says it.
BORGER: Does that remind you of Michael Cohen?
TOOBIN: Michael Cohen.
BORGER: -- reminds you of Michael Cohen, when Michael Cohen said, the president never says exactly what he wants, but you kind of understand it. And this reminds me very much of that.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the reason that Ambassador Sondland's testimony has such gravity to it is precisely because he is a Trump insider. He has the close relationship.
That's why this testimony is credible. That's why he says when that after all of the information he's learned, it has become, quote, "abundantly clear to everyone that there was a link," and he's talking about the link between defense assistance and the announcement of investigations.
That when he says it, he's not speaking from a partisan perspective. He's not speaking with any political motivations. This is not advantageous to him. He didn't want to be in this position. He liked his position of access and wheeling and dealing and traveling around the world. This is not where he wanted to be. But he has, it seems, told the truth and identified what actually --
BLITZER: John Dean wants to make a point?
DEAN: I was going to say, he was somewhat in the position I was in that he's had to put together two and two to get to four. He wasn't on the scene, didn't get briefed on all these things.
He's also in the same position of being refused his own documents and notes. That's a problem I had. I'd made it much more difficult to compose the testimony.
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: But, Wolf, the distinction, I think, one, between this situation and John Dean is John Dean went to the president and said there's a cancer on the presidency.
I think one of the things we're going to hear about Sondland is that he didn't go to the president and say there was a big problem and nobody went to the president and said there was a big problem.
SCIUTTO: Yes. But he does. Then, again, they will attack his proximity to the president. We've already heard that. You heard Pam Bondi talking about him being a short-term ambassador, which he's not.
We all noticed this. In his testimony, he added the president when he said my job requires speaking with heads of state and senior government officials and the president almost every day. The president was not the initial testimony but he made a point of saying that under oath on television.
BLITZER: He said that.
Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill. The chairman is about to reconvene this session.
Quickly, Manu, what are you hearing from Republicans up here?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans are not commenting yet. I tried to ask a question to a Republican retiring, Will Hurd, of Texas, someone who has broken from the president in the past, whether he had concerns or comments what he heard. He declined to comment.
You heard Adam Schiff make some of the most striking comments he has made to date, saying this goes right to the heart of their case, that the president may have committed bribery, may have done something to reach that threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors, impeachable thresholds. He says this is the most significant evidence to date that could reach that threshold.
This is a clear sign from the Democrats. They believe what they heard from Gordon Sondland this morning, tying this military -- this meeting, to this declaration from Ukraine to investigate the president's political rivals is central to their case.
They believe -- you know, the president -- he testified the president did not tell him directly that aid was tied to this investigation, that all signs pointed to the president wanting that aid withheld. And Gordon Sondland confirmed that notion as well.
That is enough for Democrats to say, look, we have reached that point. We have gotten our case against this president. We're ready to move forward on impeachment. We're not there yet. Actually making clear that what they heard today is almost certainly enough to move forward with articles of impeachment.
So his comments moments ago, very significant from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee as they close up the public hearings.
In the next couple of days, we'll see how Republicans react. It's their time to ask questions. And Republicans who are wavering, whether they break from the president at all -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the committee, the top Republican. They're going to have 45 minutes, the Republicans, Devin Nunes and his counsel, Steve Castor. It will be fascinating to see how they respond.
Here comes Ambassador Sondland, Gloria, back into the hearing room. BORGER: You know, I think Sondland also explains what everybody in
the administration was doing. They had this elephant in the room they had to deal with.
By his explanation, they all wanted to get the aid to Ukraine. They all wanted to set up the meeting with Zelensky. What did they have to do? They had to get around the president of the United States and they had to get around Rudy Giuliani to do this.
That's his reason for doing this. This is his explanation for it. Whether people believe it or not is another question. It explains that, we had to do this. He said, based on the president's direction, to use the phrase that he uses, we were faced with a choice, and the choice is clear, we could abandon our efforts or we could listen to Rudy.
BLITZER: The photographers are leaving. The chairman is about to reconvene this session.
Very quickly, Jeffrey, this is a turning point, right?
TOOBIN: Absolutely. Lots of luck cross examining him.
BLITZER: Here we go.
SCHIFF: I now recognize Ranking Member Nunes and minority counsel for 45 minutes of questions.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): I thank the gentleman.
For those of you watching at home, that was not a bathroom break. That was actually a chance for the Democrats to go out and hold a press conference, Ambassador, for all the supposed bombshells that were in your opening testimony.
I want to get back to the facts of the matter here and the thing that the democrats have been unwilling to accept is that their operatives got campaign dirt from Ukrainians in the 2016 election. Now they know it. They know it's true because we have financial records that show it so they were - the democrats were heavily involved working with Ukrainians to dirty up the Trump campaign in 2016.
So Ambassador, I want to go through just a few of the incidents that we know. I know you may not know all about them. You may know about them now but I want to walk through some of those examples of why the president may be very upset with Ukraine and think that they're a country that's out to get him as I think both you've said that and Ambassador Volker have said that from that May 23rd meeting.
The first question I have is was you aware of the anti-Trump efforts by DNC operative Alexandra Chalupa?
SONDLAND: I'm not aware of it. NUNES: So in 2000 - there's a 2017 article that also quotes Ukrainian parliamentarian (inaudible) saying quote, it was clear that they were supporting, meaning Ukraine, supporting Hillary Clinton's candidacy and they did everything from organizing meetings with the Clinton team to publicly supporting her to criticizing Trump. I think that they simply didn't meet with the Trump campaign because they thought Hillary would win. Do you know that Ukrainian official by any chance that stated that?
SONDLAND: I don't.
NUNES: Were you aware that then Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Chaly wrote an op-ed in "The Hill" during the 2016 presidential campaign criticizing then candidate Trump.
SONDLAND: Not aware.
NUNES: But you know that now after the last few months.
NUNES: So probably one of the more disturbing ones is the Ukraine internal affairs minister, Avakov, mocked and disparaged then candidate Trump on Facebook and Twitter.
Were you aware that Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian parliamentarian admitted that part of his motivation in spreading the information about the so-called black ledger, a disputed document purported to reveal corruption by a former Trump campaign official was to undermine the Trump candidacy.
SONDLAND: I wasn't aware.
NUNES: So you may be familiar, the black ledger was used in the 2016 election to dirty up a campaign associate and later Mueller didn't use that as evidence in his report on election meddling. So knowing all of these facts from high-ranking Ukrainian officials Ambassador, It probably makes a little more sense now as to why the president may think that there's problems with Ukraine and that Ukraine was out to - out to get him. Is that correct?
SONDLAND: I understand your - I understand your point, yes Chairman, or Ranking Member.
NUNES: You said - you said in your deposition, and I'm just going to make sure this was your - just read it back to you. On page 279 for your legal team, quote, they're all corrupt. This is your - this is what you said about your conversation with the president. So this is your words about what the president told you.
SONDLAND: This is the May 23rd meeting?
NUNES: That's correct. They're all corrupt. They're all terrible people and you know I don't want to spend any time with that. And he also said, they tried to take me down.
SONDLAND: That's correct.
NUNES: They tried to take him down. I think any logical person that wants to do two plus two equal four games would say that that was in the 2016 election wasn't it?
SONDLAND: I believe that's what he was referring to, yes Ranking Member.
NUNES: So during all of this time, and remember in the spring the democrats Russia hoax witch hunt is still ongoing. They're still claiming that President Trump is a Russian agent. They're out to get President Trump at the time. His personal attorney is then interested in trying to figure out, hey who are these Ukrainians that are trying to get to my candidate? As those of us, the republicans on this committee who are also trying to get to the bottom of who are the sources of the Steel dossier that the democrats have paid for, the House Republicans wanted to know that all through the spring and even the summer of - and even as of today we'd still like to know. That's why we've subpoenaed the DNC operatives that they refuse to subpoena. We sent a letter this morning. I doubt we'll see those subpoenas. We want to know exactly, get to the bottom of exactly who are these democratic operatives that were dirtying up the Trump campaign in 2016 and they just can't get over that the president would send his personal attorney over there to try to get to the bottom of that.
And Ambassador, you had very few dealings with Rudy Giuliani and a few text messages.
SONDLAND: A few text messages and a few phone calls.
NUNES: Right. So the whistleblower, trying to put together here with their timeline - they seem to have a timeline problem because the whistleblower that only they know, who they won't subpoena, who clearly Mr. Vindman knows who they blocked testimony yesterday -would not allow Mr. Vindman to answer our questions, that whistleblower says on July 25th that there were all these promises being made yet the - I forget what they call it the drug deal that the three amigos were cooking up. It seems to be their latest. You're part of the three amigos in the drug deal, Ambassador. Were you aware of any drug deal on July 25th when the phone call actually occurred?
SONDLAND: I don't know about any drug deal.
NUNES: Right. And did you know you're part of the three amigos?
SONDLAND: I am. I'm a proud part of the three amigos.
NUNES: And that's the same thing Ambassador Volker said yesterday because by the time that the phone call that supposedly the whistleblower claims was the reason - was the original quid pro quo, has now got down to we're now a month later where you're involved and their quid pro quo has gotten down to the low level of well, they want a statement and you didn't even know about anything to do with - on July 25th, you knew nothing about military aid being withheld?
SONDLAND: I knew military aid was withheld beginning, I believe, on July 18 when Ambassador Taylor told both of us that that was the case.
NUNES: But on July - but you don't know about - you were not on the July 25 call?
SONDLAND: I was not.
NUNES: Where the aid doesn't come up at all?
SONDLAND: Again, I just read the readout when everyone else did.
NUNES: Well, we've had - everybody's testified that it was on the July 25 call that there was no aid discussed on the July 25 call. So then you're in the process. You have no idea that his is tied to Burisma or anybody else. You say you don't realize that until the end of August?
SONDLAND: I didn't realize that aid was tied. The Burisma and 2016 piece was much earlier Mister - or Ranking Member.
NUNES: I'm glad you've - you bring up Burisma because this is another issue that the Democrats don't want to go into. They refuse to call in Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden could get to the bottom of all of this. He could come in and talk about whether or not it was appropriate for him to receive over $50,000 a moth while his dad was vice president. And when they actually were able to stop and get an investigator fired. They could call in Hunter Biden, but they don't want to do it.
But let's talk about Burisma, Ambassador. I know you're the Ambassador to the E.U. I think some of the members later will get into whether or not it was appropriate for you to be in Ukraine or not. I believe it was. I think you have a clear mandate to do it, but you wouldn't be the first ambassador to actually be interested in Burisma.
Did you know that in September of 2015 then-ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, publicly called for an investigation into Zlochevsky, the president of Burisma? This was the Ukrainian ambassador appointed by President Obama in Ukraine.
SONDLAND: I wasn't aware of that, no.
NUNES: You were not aware of it.
NUNES: So you would not be the first one to be mentioning that investigations should be done on Burisma because it happened during the Obama administration. Did you know that financial records show Burisma routed more than $3 million to the American accounts tied to Hunter Biden?
SONDLAND: I did not know that.
NUNES: Did you know that Burisma's American lawyers tried to secure a meeting with the new state prosecutor the same day his predecessor, Viktor Shokin, who the vice president wanted fired, was announced? SONDLAND: I did not know that.
NUNES: Well, we're not going to get to the answer to many of these questions because the witnesses that need to come in and clarify exactly what the Democrats were doing in 2016, you're not - we're not going to be able to visit with those witnesses.
And so, it's an inconvenient truth that the Democrats don't want to admit their operatives that were dirtying up the Trump campaign, using Ukrainian sources in 2016, and they do not want us to get to the bottom of it, they don't want you, Ambassador to get to the bottom of it, they don't want the president's personal attorney even through he's under a special counsel investigation that they fed into the FBI that we've dealt with for over three years, they don't want to get to the bottom of that, Ambassador. I think Mr. Castor has some questions for you.
CASTOR: Thank you, Mr. Nunes. Good morning, Ambassador. How are you?
SONDLAND: Good morning, Mr. Castor.
CASTOR: Welcome back. You were here all day on the 17th late into the night, so thank you for your cooperation with the investigation. Did the president ever tell you personally about any preconditions for anything?
CASTOR: OK, so the president never told you about any preconditions for the aid to be released?
CASTOR: The president never told you about any preconditions for a White House meeting?
SONDLAND: Personally, no.
CASTOR: The - you said you didn't have your records or your documents from the State Department, but if you did, there wouldn't be any document or record that ties President Trump personally to any of this, correct?
SONDLAND: Boy, I don't want to speculate what would be on...
CASTOR: Your documents or records?
SONDLAND: I don't recall anything like that, no.
CASTOR: OK. It happens. OK. You testified Mr. Giuliani's requests for a quid pro quo for the White House meeting, and you indicated that you believe that was - he was evincing President Trump's interests, correct?
SONDLAND: My contact with Mr. Giuliani began, as I said, very late in the process after August 1 when I was first introduced to him via text from Ambassador Volker. So we had already begun those discussions, I believe, with the Ukrainians prior to August 1, so everything was being funneled through others, including Mr. Volker.
CASTOR: OK, but you testified that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president, correct?
SONDLAND: That's our understand, yes.
CASTOR: But how did you know that? Who told you?
SONDLAND: Well, 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. I don't - I don't - I'm not testifying that I heard the president tell Mr. Giuliani to tell us, so if that's your question.
CASTOR: Right, but in your deposition you said the question was at the May 23 meeting when the president said go talk to Rudy, you responded he didn't even say go talk. He said talk to Rudy. You subsequently said it was sort of like I don't want to talk about this. So it wasn't an order or a direction to go talk with Mr. Giuliani, correct?
SONDLAND: 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.
CASTOR: OK, and then that was May 23. And then you never had any personal communications with Giuliani until August, right?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
CASTOR: And Volker was handling - Ambassador Volker was - was he a primary...
SONDLAND: Volker, Perry - Volker, Perry, and others.
CASTOR: OK. Ambassador Volker, you testified he's a professional diplomat, correct?
SONDLAND: Yes, he is.
CASTOR: And you said you had a great relationship with him?
SONDLAND: I do, yes.
CASTOR: You said he was a very smart guy?
CASTOR: Ambassador Yovanovitch said he's a brilliant diplomat in fact. Do you agree with that?
SONDLAND: He's pretty smart.
CASTOR: You stated that he's one of those people I'd hand my wallet to? SONDLAND: I would.
CASTOR: And so, did you hear his testimony yesterday?
SONDLAND: I did not.
CASTOR: OK, because he was...
SONDLAND: I was busy getting ready for you.
CASTOR: He didn't have any - he didn't have any evidence of any of these preconditions, and he was the one most engaged with the Ukrainians, wasn't he?
CASTOR: OK. I mean, you testified, you know, this was his full-time job although he was doing it for free.
SONDLAND: He was the special envoy.
CASTOR: And you testified you came in and out of the events, correct?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
CASTOR: OK. Your deposition, we asked you about your communications with the president and we asked you whether there were so many that it would be impossible to chronicle. And you said, no, it wasn't that many. And we went down the path of building a list of communications you remember with the president, right?
CASTOR: And we talked about May 23 in the Oval Office.
CASTOR: You mentioned on July 25 before you went to Ukraine, you called the president, but there was no material information on the 25th call, correct?
SONDLAND: Not that I recall.
CASTOR: OK, then the last Friday, Mr. Holmes came in and I guess his testimony refreshed your recollection?
SONDLAND: Yeah, what refreshed my recollection was when he - when he mentioned A$AP Rocky, then all of a sudden it came back to me.
CASTOR: Yeah, in talking about the - President Zelensky loving the President and so forth?
SONDLAND: Well, the whole thing sort of came back to me after he mentioned A$AP Rocky. CASTOR: And then the - the next time, you know, we tried to unpack this, the - the next time you talked with the President was on the telephone - was September 9th, according to your deposition, right?
SONDLAND: I may have even spoken to him on September 6th but again I just don't have all the records. I wish I could get them, then I could answer your questions very easily.
CASTOR: OK. But on September 9th, at least at your deposition, you were extremely clear. You called the President, you said he was feeling cranky that day, right?
SONDLAND: He seemed very cranky to me.
CASTOR: And you said in no uncertain terms - and this is on the heel of - heels of the Bill Taylor text, right?
CASTOR: And why don't you tell us what - what did the President say to you on September 9th that you remember?
SONDLAND: Well words to the effect - I - I decided to ask the President the question in an open-ended fashion because there were so many different scenarios floating around as to what was going on with Ukraine.
So rather than ask the President nine different questions - is it this, is it this, is that - I just said what do you want from Ukraine? I may have even used a four letter word. And he said I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo, I just want Zelensky to do the right thing, to do what he ran on or - or words to that effect.
And that gave me the impetus to respond to Ambassador Taylor with the text that I sent. As I said to Mr. Goldman, it was not an artfully written text, I should have been more specific, put it in quotes, something like that.
But basically I wanted Mr. Taylor - Ambassador Taylor to pick up the ball and take it from there. I - I had gone as far as I could go.
CASTOR: And you believed the President, correct?
SONDLAND: You know what, I'm not going to characterize whether I believed or didn't believe. I was just trying to convey what he said on the phone.
CASTOR: OK and at that point in time the - the - the pause in the aid - the aid was paused for 55 days, there was a news article in Politico on August 28th talking about it. So by that point in time, the President had been receiving calls from senators, he had been getting pressure to lift the aid, correct?
SONDLAND: That's what I understand, yes.
CASTOR: I want to turn back to your - your opener on Page 5, under - when - when you talk about in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations. Correct?
CASTOR: And you acknowledged that this is speculation, right?
SONDLAND: It was a presumption.
CASTOR: OK but you - you - it was a guess, in fact, I think you even said this morning?
SONDLAND: Well I - I want to say that it - it goes back to Mr. Goldman's point - or - or Chairman Schiff's, 2+2=4 in my mind, at that point.
CASTOR: OK but you didn't have any evidence of that, correct?
SONDLAND: Other than the aid wasn't being released and we weren't getting anywhere with the Ukrainians.
CASTOR: OK but did Ambassador Volker clue you in that that was the - the issue? I mean, this is a pretty high - I mean, this is a pretty serious conclusion you've reached without precise evidence.
SONDLAND: Well I sent that e-mail to Secretary Pompeo to set up a potential meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky in Warsaw and when I referred to the log jam, I referred to the log jam in a very inclusive way.
Everything was jammed up at that point and Secretary Pompeo essentially gave me the green light to brief President Zelensky about making those - those announcements.
CASTOR: OK, we can - you know, we - we can turn to that. And then that was your e-mail dated - what - what date?
SONDLAND: Do you have the page there?
CASTOR: Well your e-mail to Secretary Pompeo.
SONDLAND: Is it ...
CASTOR: Was that August 11th? 16th.
SONDLAND: August 22nd.
CASTOR: OK so you're asking Secretary Pompeo whether we should block time in - I mean, is there any discussion of specific investigations, is there any discussion of Biden or Burisma or anything linking to aid in this - in this e-mail that you sent to Pompeo?
SONDLAND: No, this - this was a proposed briefing that I was going to give President Zelensky. And I was going to call President Zelensky and ask him to say what is in this e-mail and I was asking essentially President Pompeo's permission to do that.
SONDLAND: Which he said yes.
CASTOR: But - but - but at that - at that point in time, we're talking about investigations into - into the origins of the 2016 election. We're not talking about anything to do with Joe Biden.
SONDLAND: Joe Biden did not come up.
CASTOR: OK. Stepping back a page to your - your e-mail to the State Department on August 11th, you e-mail Secretary Pompeo and you say Kurt and I negotiated a statement from Zelensky to be delivered for our review in a day or two.
The question I have here is that - I mean, that statement never was issued and in fact Ambassador Volker has testified that he didn't think it was a good idea and ultimately the Ukrainians didn't think it was a good idea and so the - the statement never reached a finalized state.
SONDLAND: That's correct.
CASTOR: But even if it had, it - it - it doesn't talk about Bidens or Burisma or anything insidious. Correct?
SONDLAND: Well the statement, as - as I recall, would have mentioned the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma.
SONDLAND: It would not have mentioned the Bidens.
CASTOR: And have you heard Ambassador Volker, how he talks about what might be an investigation into Burisma?
CASTOR: OK. I mean, he has said that if there were Ukrainians engaged in violations of Ukrainian law, then the Prosecutor General with the new administration ought to investigate that. Did Ambassador Volker ever relate that to you?
SONDLAND: No, we just talked in generic terms about quote "investigating Burisma."
CASTOR: OK but it had nothing to do with Vice President Biden.
SONDLAND: I had never heard Vice President Biden come up until very late in the game.
CASTOR: When? SONDLAND: I don't recall the exact date but when it all sort of came together, maybe after the transcript of the July 25th call. I don't know - I don't know the exact date when I made the connection.
SONDLAND: Apparently a lot of people did not make the connection.
CASTOR: OK. I want to turn to the - the letter from Senator Johnson. He - when he heard about some of these issues and the hold of the aid, he - he wanted - he called the President - he called the President on August 31st, at the Page 6 of his letter.
Senator Johnson states or he writes "I asked him, the President, whether there was some kind of arrangement where Ukraine would take some action and the hold would be lifted. Without hesitation, President Trump immediately denied such an arrangement existed."
Senator Johnson quotes the President as saying, "No," and he prefaced it with a different word. "No way, I would never do that. Who told you that?" I have - Senator Johnson says, "I have accurately characterized the president's reaction is adamant, vehement, and angry."
Senator Johnson's telephone call with the president wasn't a public event. It was capturing a genuine, you know, moment with the president. And he had at this point in time on August 31, he was adamant, vehement, and angry that there was no connections to aid, there were no preconditions.
SONDLAND: Yes, I had my meeting with Senator Johnson where, again, I had made the presumption that I had made to both Mr. Yermak and the email I had sent to Secretary Pompeo, and we were sort of ruminating about what was going on, and Senator Johnson I believe said I'm going to call President Trump, you know, and find out. And then he obviously had that phone call. I wasn't involved in that phone call.
CASTOR: OK, but you've no reason to disbelieve that wasn't the way it went down, right?
SONDLAND: No. No reason to disbelieve Senator Johnson.
CASTOR: OK. And now that you've had some time since you're deposition and you've submitted an addendum relating to the Warsaw get together with Mr. Yermak, as you sit here today, are we missing a lot of your communications with the president?
SONDLAND: I haven't had that many communications with the president, and in fact, a bunch of the call records that I have had access to just the short period of time on the call indicates I never got through. In other words I was put on hold for one or two minutes and the call never connected. So I really can't give you an accurate count of how many conversations. Plus, Mr. Castor, I've had a lot of conversations with the president about completely unrelated matters that have nothing to do with Ukraine. CASTOR: So but you don't think we're missing any material conversations that you had with the president?
SONDLAND: I don't recall any material conversations today as I'm sitting here.
CASTOR: Or with Rudy Giuliani?
SONDLAND: Yes. My memory about the conversations with Rudy Giuliani whether they were direct, whether they were conference calls with Ambassador Volker or Secretary Perry is really vague without seeing the, you know, the call logs.
CASTOR: Are there any other key fact witnesses that would help us get to the bottom of whether there was any link to the aid and the...
SONDLAND: Maybe Brian McCormack, the Chief of Staff for Secretary Perry who was involved in and out as well.
CASTOR: OK. Now the aid was ultimately lifted in September 11, correct?
SONDLAND: I believe that's correct.
SONDLAND: And Senator Johnson in his letter on Page 6 quotes the president on August 31, "Ron, I understand your position. We're reviewing it now, and you'll probably like my final decision." So even on August 31 - and this is before any congressional investigation started - the president was signaling to Senator Johnson that he was going to lift the aid. Lift the clause (ph).
SONDLAND: Sounds like it, yes.
CASTOR: OK. And most of the other witnesses we talked to whether it's from the Department of Defense or OMB or, you know, have told us that all along during this 55-day period they genuinely believed the hold would be lifted. Was that you're feeling, too, at the time?
SONDLAND: I didn't know because every time I asked about the hold, I was never given a straight answer as to why it had been put in place to begin with.
CASTOR: Now, what do you know about the Ukrainians' knowledge of the hold?
SONDLAND: Oh, that's very vague. I don't know if the Politico article triggered it. I don't know if they were told by Mr. Giuliani. It would be pure, you know, guess work on my part, speculation. I don't - I don't know.
CASTOR: OK. I mean, during your deposition, you testified that you did not believe the Ukrainians believed the - were aware of the hold until the Politico article. SONDLAND: Yes. Again, I think I testified that I was not clear on the exact dates of when these things - when the light went on. There were a lot of conversations going on with the Ukrainians by a lot of people, so I don't know who communicated what to them.
CASTOR: We have testimony from several witnesses that the president was concerned about foreign aid generally. And so, he was - he had an appetite to put holds on aid because he was trying to be a good steward of U.S. taxpayer dollars. Do you - do you agree with that?
SONDLAND: I'm aware that that's been his position on aid and other matters, yes.
CASTOR: And are you aware that he was also interested in better understanding the contributions of our European allies?
SONDLAND: That I'm definitely aware of.
CASTOR: And there was some back and forth between the State Department officials trying to better understand the information for the president?
SONDLAND: Yes, that's correct.
CASTOR: And how do you know that wasn't the reason for the hold?
SONDLAND: I don't.
CASTOR: But yet you speculate that there was, you know, a link to this announcement.
SONDLAND: I presumed it, yes.
CASTOR: OK. I want to turn quickly to the July 10 meeting. The July 10 meeting at Ambassador Bolton's office involving Ambassador Volker, Mr. Danyliuk, Mr. Yermak has been the subject of some controversy. Ambassador Volker yesterday testified that it wasn't until the end of the meeting Mr. Danyliuk he said was going through some real detailed - some real detailed information about some of the plans he had, but it wasn't until the end of the meeting Ambassador Volker recollects that you mentioned something general about investigations. What do you remember from that meeting?
SONDLAND: Well again, I'm not going to dispute Ambassador Volker's recollection if he - particularly if he had notes. I know that the desire to have the 2016 election DNC server in Burisma were already being discussed by them. Again, I had no direct contact with Mr. Giuliani on July 10 but through Ambassador Volker.
And I probably mentioned that this needs to happen in order to move the process forward. That seemed to be the conventional wisdom at the time. I don't recall any abrupt ending of the meeting or people storming out or anything like that. That would have been very memorable if someone would have stormed out of a meeting based on something I said.
CASTOR: OK. Nobody accused you at that point in time of being involved with some sort of drug deal?
CASTOR: Did Dr. Hill ever relate to you her concerns about you being involved in a drug deal?
CASTOR: OK. So you were surprised when testimony emerged that she through there was a drug deal going on?
SONDLAND: I was shocked.
CASTOR: OK. And in fact, after the meeting you went you - you took a picture, right?
SONDLAND: Yes. We - Ambassador Bolton or his assistant indicated that he was out of time, that he needed - he had another meeting to attend, and we all walked out of the White House. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was happy, and we took a picture on the lawn on a nice, sunny day.
CASTOR: Then did you retire to the wardroom?
SONDLAND: I think Secretary Perry asked to use the wardroom to continue the conversation, and the real subject that was under debate and it wasn't an angry debate; it was a debate. Just should the call from President Trump to President Zelensky be made prior to the parliamentary election in Ukraine or after the parliamentary elections? And there was good reason for both. We felt, Ambassador Perry, Ambassador Volker and I thought it would help President Zelensky to have President Trump speak to him prior to the parliamentary elections because it would give President Zelensky more credibility and ultimately he would do better with his people in the parliamentary elections. Others, I believe, pushed back and said no, it's not appropriate to do it before it should be done after and ultimately it was done after.
CASTOR: There's no mention of Vice President in the Ward Room?
SONDLAND: Not that I remember, no.
CASTOR: For any specific investigation?
SONDLAND: Just the generic investigations.
CASTOR: OK. Got it. When again did the Vice President Biden Nexus come to your attention?
SONDLAND: Very late. Again, I don't - I can't recall the exact date the light bulb went on. It could have been as late as once the transcript was out but it was always Burisma to me and I didn't know about the connection between Burisma and Biden. CASTOR: And to the best of your knowledge, you never understood that anyone was asking Ukrainians to investigate U.S. persons, correct?
SONDLAND: Ukrainians to investigate U.S. persons?
CASTOR: And just to sort of be clear here, ultimately the aid was lifted...
CASTOR: ... on September 11th. There was never any announcement by the Ukranians about any investigations they were going to do. Correct?
CASTOR: The Ukrainians never, to your knowledge, started any of these investigations, correct?
SONDLAND: Not to my knowledge.
CASTOR: And consequently these allegations that there was a quid pro quo that had to be enforced before the aid was released and it never came to fruition. Right?
SONDLAND: I don't believe so.
CASTOR: I want to just step back a little bit and just verify with you that the president had some genuinely deep-rooted concerns about corruption in the Ukraine, correct?
SONDLAND: That's what he expressed to us, yes.
CASTOR: And you believed him, right, given his business dealings in the region?
SONDLAND: When we had the conversation I did.
CASTOR: And when you first started discussing the concerns the president had with corruption, Burisma wasn't the only company that was mentioned, right?
SONDLAND: It was a generic - as I think I testified to Chairman Schiff, it was a generic corruption, oligarchs, just bad stuff going on in Ukraine.
CASTOR: But other companies came up didn't they? SONDLAND: I don't know if they were mentioned specifically. It might have been NAFTA gas because we were working on another issue with NAFTA gas so that might have been one of them.
CASTOR: And at one point in your deposition, I believe you had NAFTA gas comes up at every conversation. Is that fair?
CASTOR: You had - I guess Dr. Hill at one point attributed to you the terminology that the president has given you a large remit. Are you familiar with her assertion of that?
SONDLAND: I didn't understand what she was talking about.
CASTOR: OK. But you - you - you have and we got into this a little bit in your deposition, you know, you said that the president gave you a special assignment with regard to Ukraine, correct?
SONDLAND: Well when the president appointed me as the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Ukraine was part of my portfolio. What made my assignment larger than just being part of my portfolio were the unique circumstances where there was no current sitting ambassador in Ukraine and there was a new president in Ukraine and the discussions that we had, the three amigos, Perry, Volker and I, was that Ukraine needed extraordinary, as high-level support as it could get from the United States during this period which we cleared with both Ambassador Bolton and with Chief of Staff Mulvaney to continue working on it.
So by extension, yes. If the National Security Advisor and the Chief of Staff approve your remit, it really is coming from the president.
CASTOR: OK. When we asked you that at the deposition, you said I was spinning a little bit.
SONDLAND: I was spinning about something else I think in the interview in Kiev.
CASTOR: OK. And you further testified, so when I said the president gave me an assignment, it wasn't really the president, it was the secretary through the president and that's where I receive my direction. Correct?
CASTOR: Did Ambassador Taylor ever bring any concerns to your attention to the so-called the channel he dubbed irregular?
SONDLAND: No, in fact the opposite. When he came to post, I think - I know I called him or he called me. I think he spoke with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker separately and in the course of the first few weeks he was highly appreciative that a new ambassador coming to post like himself was getting the kind of support he was getting from all three of us, having a cabinet member, a special envoy and a fellow ambassador all helping to raise the profile of Ukraine. He was highly appreciative and highly complementary. CASTOR: And you maintained an open - open line with him, correct?
SONDLAND: Correct. I think there are number of texts; some of which I have and some of which I don't where he is reaching out constantly to me and to the others for advice and help.
CASTOR: OK. I think tried to count them up. I think 215 or something text messages between you, Volker and Ambassador Taylor during the early August timeframe. Does that make sense to you? Does that...
SONDLAND: I think Taylor started in late June or early July was when he first took post and I think we began communicating fairly shortly thereafter.
CASTOR: And he never communicated any concerns to you during this timeframe that he had issues with what was going on?
SONDLAND: What do you mean by what was going on?
CASTOR: This request for some sort of investigation?
SONDLAND: Not in the early stages. He - you know as his - as time went on his emails began to be a little more pointed and frantic and that's when we had very little visibility as to what was going on either. I think it had to do more with the aid and as to why the aid was suspended.
CASTOR: Right. And ultimately you put a period on that issue by having the September 9th communication with the president, correct?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
CASTOR: And when you share that feedback with Ambassador Taylor, was he satisfied that this issue was now behind them?
SONDLAND: I don't really know because he responded when I said get a hold of the secretary. He said, I agree and I never knew - knew whether he reached out to the Secretary or not. That was sort of -