U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland (1st L, front) waits to testify before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, on Nov. 20, 2019. Gordon Sondland on Wednesday testified that U.S. President Donald Trump conditioned a White House meeting for Ukraine's new president on his assurance to conduct investigation into Trump's democratic adversaries. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)
WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on Wednesday testified that U.S. President Donald Trump conditioned a White House meeting for Ukraine's new president on his assurance to conduct investigation into Trump's democratic adversaries.
"I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a 'quid pro quo?' As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes," Sondland said in his opening statement at a House public hearing.
Wednesday marks the fourth day of the impeachment inquiry public hearings held by the House Intelligence Committee through which the investigators are seeking answers from witnesses whether Trump leveraged a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and millions of U.S. dollars in military aid to the country to pressure the Ukrainian leader to investigate Trump's political rivals.
Sondland, who is widely seen as a key witness in the Democrats-controlled House impeachment inquiry, said in the public hearing that the connection between these two issues was widely known throughout the Trump administration.
He specifically cited a July 19 email copied to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, then Energy Secretary Rick Perry and "a lot of senior officials," saying in that email, he revealed that he "just talked to Zelensky" and secured a commitment for a "fully transparent investigation."
However, Sondland said: "President Trump never told me directly that the aid was tied to that statement" about investigations over Former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
Trump on Wednesday quickly distanced himself from the top U.S. envoy in Europe. "I don't know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well," the president told reporters at the White House. "He seems like a nice guy though."
Sondland also said that he and other diplomats did not want to work with Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine issues, but did so at the direction of the president.
During the hearing, Democratic lawmaker Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sondland's testimony "goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes and misdemeanors."
"The veneer has been torn away." Schiff said.
Meanwhile, several Republican lawmakers portrayed Sondland as an unreliable witness and tried to highlight Sondland's claim that it was only his "presumption" that the military aid was part of a quid pro quo.
Sondland said that he never heard those words from Trump, but that after multiple conversations with the president about Ukraine, "it was abundantly clear to everyone that there was a link" between military aid and investigations.
The ambassador testified last month at a closed-door hearing before the House panel. At the time, Trump tweeted: "I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but 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..."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated the impeachment inquiry in late September to determine whether the president abused his office in his interactions with Ukraine.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing or a "quid pro quo," calling the impeachment inquiry a "hoax" and a "witch hunt," and the White House has refused to cooperate with the inquiry.