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U.S. Ambassador To European Union Gordon Sondland To Testify In House Public Impeachment Hearings. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired November 20, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SONDLAND: I don't recall the specifics of our conversation but I believe the issue of investigations was probably a part of that agenda or meeting.
Also on July 26th, shortly after our Kyiv meetings, I spoke by phone with President Trump. The White House, which has finally -- finally shared certain call dates and times with my attorneys, confirms this. The call lasted five minutes. I remember I was at a restaurant in Kyiv, and I have no reason to doubt that this conversation included the subject of investigations.
Again, given Mr. Giuliani's demand that President Zelensky make a public statement about investigations, I knew investigations were important to President Trump. We did not discuss any classified information.
Other witnesses have recently shared their recollection of overhearing this call. For the most part, I have no reason to doubt their accounts. It's true that the president speaks loudly at times. And it's also true, I think, we primarily discussed A$AP Rocky.
It's true that the president likes to use colorful language. Anyone who has met with him at any reasonable amount of time knows this. While I cannot remember the precise details -- again, the White House has not allowed me to see any read-outs of that call -- and the July 26th call did not strike me as significant at the time.
Actually -- actually, I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly give what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the president's concerns. However, I have no recollection of discussing Vice President Biden or his son on that call or after the call ended.
I know that members of this committee frequently frame 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 the White House meeting, the answer is yes.
Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and others that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election. Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to the Ukrainians and Mr. Giuliani also expressed those requests directly to us. We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and the right -- White House meeting reflected President Trump's desires and requirements.
Within my State Department e-mails, there is a July 19th e-mail. This e-mail was sent -- this e-mail was sent to Secretary Pompeo; Secretary Perry; Brian McCormack, who was Secretary Perry's chief of staff at the time; Ms. Kenna, who is the acting -- pardon me -- who is the executive secretary for Secretary Pompeo; Chief of Staff Mulvaney; and, Mr. Mulvaney's Senior Advisor Rob Blair. A lot of senior officials. A lot of senior officials.
Here is my exact quote from that e-mail: "I talked to Zelensky just now. He is prepared to receive POTUS' call. Will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will 'turn over every stone.' He would greatly appreciate a call prior to Sunday so that he can put out some media about a 'friendly and productive call' (no details) prior to Ukraine election on Sunday."
Chief of Staff Mulvaney responded, I asked the NSC to set it up for tomorrow.
Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via e-mail on July 19th, days before the presidential call. As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to "run a fully transparent investigation" and "turn over every stone" were necessary in this call with President Trump.
On July 19th in a WhatsApp message between Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Volker, and me, Ambassador Volker stated, had breakfast with Rudy this morning.
That's Ambassador Volker and Rudy Giuliani -- teeing up call with Yermak Monday -- that's senior advisor Andriy Yermak -- must have helped. Most important is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation and address any specific personnel issues, if there are any.
On August 10th, the next day, Mr. Yermak texted me. Once we have a date -- which is a date for the White House meeting -- we will call for a press briefing announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations.
This is from Mr. Yermak to me.
The following day, August 11th -- and this is critical -- I sent an e- mail to Counsel Brechbuhl and Lisa Kenna. Lisa Kenna was frequently used as the pathway to Secretary Pompeo, as sometimes he preferred to receive his e-mails through her. She would print them out and put them in front of him. With the subject Ukraine, I wrote, Mike -- referring to Mike Pompeo -- Kurt and I negotiated a statement from Zelensky to be delivered for our review in a day or two. The contents will hopefully make the boss happy enough -- the boss being the president -- to authorize an invitation. Zelensky plans to have a big presser -- press conference -- on the openness subject, including specifics, next week.
All of which referred to the 2016 and the Burisma.
Ms. Kenna replied, Gordon, I'll pass to the secretary, thank you.
Again, everyone was in the loop.
Curiously, and this was very interesting to me -- on August 26th, shortly before his visit to Kyiv, Ambassador Bolton's office requested Mr. Giuliani's contact information from me. I sent Ambassador Bolton the information directly. They requested Mr. Giuliani's contact information on August 26th.
I was first informed that the White House was withholding security aid to Ukraine during conversations with Ambassador Taylor on July 18th, 2019. However, as I testified before, I was never able to obtain a clear answer regarding the specific reason for the hold, whether it was bureaucratic in nature -- which often happens -- or reflected some other concern in the interagency process.
I never participated in any of the subsequent DOD or DOS review meetings that others have described, so I can't speak to what was discussed in those meetings.
Nonetheless, before the September 1st Warsaw meeting, the Ukrainians had become aware that security funds had yet to be dispersed. In the absence of any credible explanation for the hold, I came to the conclusion that the aid, like the White House visit, was jeopardized. In preparation for the September 1 Warsaw meeting, I asked Secretary Pompeo whether a face-to-face conversation between Trump and Zelensky would help to break the logjam. And this was when President Trump was still intending to travel to Warsaw.
Specifically, on August 22nd, I e-mailed Secretary Pompeo directly, copying Secretariat Kenna.
I wrote -- and this is my e-mail to Secretary Pompeo. Should we block time in Warsaw for a short pull-aside for POTUS to meet Zelensky? I would ask Zelensky to look him in the eye and tell him that once Ukraine's new justice folks are in place in mid-September, that Zelensky -- he, Zelensky, should be able to move forward publicly and with confidence on those issues of importance to POTUS and the U.S. Hopefully, that will help break the logjam.
The secretary replied, yes.
I followed up the next day asking to get 10 to 15 minutes on the Warsaw schedule for this. I said we'd like to know when it's locked so that I can tell Zelensky and brief him.
Executive Secretary Kenna replied, I will try for sure.
Moreover, given my concerns about the security aid, I have no reason to dispute that portion of Senator Johnson's recent letter, in which he recalls conversations he and I had on August 30th. By the end of August, my belief was that if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention to fight corruption and specifically addressing Burisma and the 2016, then the hold on military hold would be lifted.
There was a September 1st meeting with President Zelensky in Warsaw. Unfortunately, President Trump's attendance at the Warsaw meeting was canceled due to Hurricane Dorian. Vice President Pence attended instead. I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations. I recall mentioning that before the Zelensky meeting.
During the actual meeting, President Zelensky raised the issue of security assistance directly with Vice President Pence. And the vice president said that he would speak to President Trump about it.
Based on my previous communication with Secretary Pompeo, I felt comfortable sharing my concerns with Mr. Yermak. It was a very, very brief pull-aside conversation that happened within a few seconds. I told Mr. Yermak that I believed that the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.
As my other State Department colleagues have testified, this security aid was critical to Ukraine's defense and should not have been delayed. I expressed this view many during this period. But my goal, at the time, was to do what was necessary to get the aid released, to break the logjam. I believed that the public statement we had been discussing for weeks was essential to advancing that goal. You know, I really regret that the Ukrainians were placed in that predicament, but I do not regret doing what I could to try to break the logjam and to solve the problem.
I mentioned at the outset that throughout these events we kept State Department leadership and others apprised of what we were doing. State Department was fully supportive of our engagement in Ukraine efforts, and was aware that a commitment to investigations was among the issues we were pursuing.
To provide just two examples, on June 5th the day after the U.S. E.U. Mission hosted our Independence Day -- we did it a month early -- Acting Assistant Secretary Phil Reeker sent an e-mail to me, to Secretary Perry, and to others forwarding some positive media coverage of President Zelensky's attendance at our event.
Mr. Reeker wrote, and I quote, "This headline underscores the importance and timeliness of Zelensky's visit to Brussels, and the critical -- and the critical, perhaps historic -- role of the dinner and engagement Gordon coordinated. Thank you for your participation and dedication to this effort." Months later, on September 3rd, I sent Secretary Pompeo an e-mail to express my appreciation for his joining a series of meetings in Brussels following the Warsaw trip.
I wrote, Mike, thanks for schlepping to Europe, I think it was really important and the chemistry seems promising. Really appreciate it.
Secretary Pompeo replied the next day, on Wednesday, September 4th, quote, "All good. You're doing great work; keep banging away."
State Department leadership expressed total support for effort to engage the new Ukrainian Administration.
Look, I've never doubted the strategic value of strengthening our alliance with Ukraine. And at all times -- at all times -- our efforts were in good faith and fully transparent to those tasked with overseeing them. Our efforts were reported and approved. And not once do I recall encountering an objection.
It remains an honor to serve the people of the United States as their United States ambassador to the European Union. I look forward to answering the committee's questions. Thank you.
SCHIFF: We will now proceed to the first round of questions.
As detailed in the memo provided to committee members, there'll be 45 minutes of questions conducted by the chairman or majority counsel, followed by 45 minutes for the ranking member or minority counsel. Following that, unless I specify additional equal time for extended questioning, we'll proceed under the five-minute rule and every member will have the chance to ask questions.
I recognize myself or majority counsel for the first round of questions.
Mr. Sondland, there's a lot of new material in your opening statement for us to get through. But I want to start with a few top-line questions before passing it over to Mr. Goldman.
In your deposition, you testified that you found yourself on a continuum that became more insidious over time. Can you describe what you mean by this continuum of insidiousness?
SONDLAND: Well, Mr. Chairman, when we left the Oval Office, I believe on May 23rd, the request was very generic for an investigation of corruption in a very vanilla sense and dealing with some of the oligarch problems in Ukraine, which were long-standing problems.
And then as time went on, more specific items got added to the menu, including the Burisma and 2016 election meddling, specifically -- the DNC server, specifically. And over this -- over this continuum, it became more and more difficult to secure the White House meeting because more conditions were being placed on the White House meeting. SCHIFF: And then, of course, on July 25th -- although you were not privy to the call -- another condition was added and that being the investigation of the Bidens?
SONDLAND: I was not privy to the call. And I did not know that the condition of -- of investing the Bidens was a condition. Correct.
SCHIFF: You saw that on the call record, correct?
SONDLAND: It was not in any record I received.
SCHIFF: But when you did see?
SONDLAND: Yes. I saw that in September, correct.
SCHIFF: So under -- on this continuum, the beginning of the continuum begins on May 23rd when the president instructs you to "Talk to Rudy"?
SCHIFF: And you understood that as a direction by the president that you needed to satisfy the concerns that Rudy Giuliani would express to you about what the president wanted in Ukraine?
SONDLAND: Not to me, to the entire group; Volker, Perry, and myself. Correct.
SCHIFF: Now, in your opening statement, you confirm that there was a quid pro quo between the White House meeting and the investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election that Giuliani was publicly promoting. Is that right?
SCHIFF: And in fact, you say that other senior officials in the State Department and chief of staff's office -- including Mick Mulvaney, Secretary Pompeo -- were aware of this quid pro quo that, in order to get the White House meeting, there were going to have to be these investigations the president wanted?
SCHIFF: And those, again, are investigations into 2016 and Burisma/the Bidens?
SONDLAND: 2016/Burisma. The Bidens did not come up.
SCHIFF: But you would ultimately learn that Burisma meant the Bidens when you saw the call record, correct?
SONDLAND: Of course. Today, I know exactly what it means. I didn't know at the time.
SCHIFF: And then on July 26th, you confirmed you did indeed have the conversation with President Trump from a restaurant in Kyiv that David Holmes testified about last week. Is that right? SONDLAND: Correct.
SCHIFF: And you have no doubts -- no reason to doubt Mr. Holmes' recounting of your conversation with the President?
SONDLAND: The only part of Mr. Holmes' recounting that I take exception with is I do not recall mentioning the Bidens. That did not enter my mind. It was Burisma and 2016 elections.
SCHIFF: You have no reason to believe that Mr. Holmes would make that up? If that's what he recalls you saying, you have no reason to question that, do you?
SONDLAND: I don't recall saying Biden. I never recall saying Biden.
SCHIFF: But the rest of Mr. Holmes' recollection is consistent with your own?
SONDLAND: Well, I can't testify to Mr. Holmes might or might not have heard through the phone. I don't know how he heard the conversation.
SCHIFF: But are you familiar with his testimony?
SONDLAND: Vaguely, yes.
SCHIFF: And the only exception you take is to the mention of the name Biden?
SCHIFF: And I think you said in your testimony this morning that, not only is it correct that the president brought up with you investigations on the phone the day after the July 25th call, but that you would have been surprised had he not brought that up. Is that right?
SONDLAND: Right, because we had been hearing about it from Rudy and we presumed Rudy was getting it from the president. So it seemed like a logical conclusion.
SCHIFF: Mr. Holmes also testified that you told him President Trump doesn't care about Ukraine. He only cares about big stuff that relates to him personally. I take it from your comment you don't dispute that part of the conversation?
SONDLAND: Well, he made that clear in the May 23rd meeting that he was not particularly fond of Ukraine. And we had a lot of heavy lifting to do to get him to engage.
SCHIFF: So you don't dispute that part of Mr. Holmes' recollection?
SCHIFF: In August, when you worked with Rudy Giuliani and a top Ukrainian aide to draft a public statement for President Zelensky to issue that includes the announcement of investigations into Burisma, you understood that was required by President Trump before he would grant the White House meeting to President Zelensky?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
SCHIFF: And the Ukrainians understood that as well?
SONDLAND: I believe they did.
SCHIFF: And you informed Secretary Pompeo about that statement as well?
SONDLAND: I did.
SCHIFF: Later, in August, you told Secretary Pompeo that President Zelensky would be prepared to tell President Trump that his new justice officials would be able to announce matters of interest to the president, which could break the logjam.
When you say matters of interest to the president, you mean the investigations that President Trump wanted. Is that right?
SCHIFF: And that involved 2016 and Burisma or the Bidens?
SONDLAND: 2016 and Burisma.
SCHIFF: And when you're talking here about breaking the logjam, you're talking about the logjam over the security assistance. Correct?
SONDLAND: I was talking logjam generically because nothing was moving.
SCHIFF: But that included the security assistance, did it not?
SCHIFF: And based on the context of that e-mail, this was not the first time you had discussed these investigations with Secretary Pompeo, was it?
SCHIFF: He was aware of the connections that you were making between the investigations, and the White House meeting and security assistance?
SCHIFF: Did he ever take issue with you and say, no, that connection is not there or you're wrong?
SONDLAND: Not that I recall.
SCHIFF: You mentioned that you also had a conversation with Vice President Pence before his meeting with President Zelensky in Warsaw. And that you raised the concern you had, as well, that the security assistance was being withheld because of the president's desire to get a commitment from Zelensky to pursue these political investigations.
What did you say to the Vice President?
SONDLAND: I was in a briefing with several people. And I just spoke up and I said it appears that everything is stalled until this statement gets made, something that -- words to that effect. And that's what I believe to be the case, based on, you know, the work that the three of us had been doing, Volker, Perry, and myself.
And the Vice President nodded, like, you know, he heard what I said. And that was pretty much it, as I recall.
SCHIFF: And you understood that the Ukrainians were going to raise the security assistance with the vice president at this meeting?
SONDLAND: I didn't know what they were going to raise. But they -- they, in fact, did raise it, Mr. Chairman.
SCHIFF: Well, it was public by that point that there was a hold on the security assistance, correct?
SONDLAND: Yes, but I didn't know what they were going to raise. I didn't get a pre-brief from the Ukrainians.
SCHIFF: Well, you knew, certainly, they were concerned about the hold on the security assistance, right?
SONDLAND: They were concerned, obviously.
SCHIFF: And you wanted to help prepare the vice president for the meeting by letting him know what you thought was responsible for the hold on the security assistance.
SONDLAND: That's fair.
SCHIFF: Do you recall anything else the president -- the vice president said, other than nodding his head, when you made him aware of this fact?
SONDLAND: No. I -- I don't have a read out of that meeting. So I can't remember anything else.
SCHIFF: And it was immediately after this meeting between the vice president and Zelensky that you went to speak with Yermak. And you told him, similarly, that in order to release the military assistance they were going to have to publicly announce these investigations?
SONDLAND: Yes. Much has been made of that meeting, and it really wasn't a meeting. What happened was, everyone got up after the bilateral meeting between President Zelensky and Vice President Pence, and people do what they normally do. They get up. They mill around. They shake hands.
And I don't know if I came over to Yermak or he came over to me. But he said, you know, what's going on here?
And I said, I don't know. It might all be tied together now. I have -- you know, I have no idea. I was presuming that it was, but it was a very short conversation.
SCHIFF: Well, in that short conversation -- as you would later relay to Mr. Morrison and Ambassador Taylor -- you informed Mr. Yermak that they would need to announce these investigations in order to get the aid. Did you not?
SONDLAND: Well, Mr. Yermak was already working on those investigation -- or on the statement about the investigations.
SCHIFF: And you confirmed for him that he needed to get it done if they were going to get the military aid?
SONDLAND: I likely did.
SCHIFF: Mr. Morrison and Ambassador Taylor have also related (ph) a conversation you had with the president following the Warsaw meeting, in which the president relayed to you that there was no quid pro quo but, nevertheless, unless Zelensky went to the mic and announced these investigations, there would be a stalemate over the aid. Is that correct?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
SCHIFF: And that was an accurate reflection of your discussion with the president?
SONDLAND: Well, that e-mail was not artfully written. I'm the first to admit. What I was trying to convey to Ambassador Taylor, after his frantic e-mails to me and to others, about the security assistance -- which, by the way, I agreed with him. I thought it was a very bad idea to hold that money.
I finally called the president. I believe it was on the 9th of September. I can't find the records and they won't provide them to me.
But I believe I just asked him and open-ended question, Mr. Chairman. What do you want from Ukraine? I keep hearing all these different ideas, and theories, and this and that. What do you want?
And it was a very short, abrupt conversation. He was not in a good mood. And he just said I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.
Something to that effect.
So I typed out a text to Ambassador Taylor. And my reason for telling him this was not to defend what the president was saying, not to opine on whether the president was being truthful or untruthful, but simply to relay I've gone as far as I can go. This is the final word that I heard from the president of the United States. If you're still concerned -- you, Ambassador Taylor, are still concerned -- please get a hold of the secretary. Maybe he can help (ph)...
SCHIFF: (inaudible) I'm not asking about your text message. I'm asking your -- about your conversations with Mr. Morrison and Ambassador Taylor after you spoke with the president, either on that call or in a different call.
SONDLAND: I'm confused, Mr. Chairman. Which conversations with Mr. Morrison and Mr. Taylor?
SCHIFF: Well, Mr. Morrison testified that you related a conversation you had with the president, in which the president told you no quid pro quo, but President Zelensky must go to a microphone and announce these investigations and that he should want to.
Similarly, you told Ambassador Taylor that, while the president said no quid pro quo, unless Zelensky announced these investigations they would be at a stalemate -- presumably, a stalemate over the military assistance.
Do you have any reason to question those conversations that Mr. Morrison and Ambassador Taylor took notes about?
SONDLAND: Well, I think it's tied to my text, Mr. Chairman. Because, in my text, I think I said something to the effect that he wants Zelensky to do what he ran on, I believe -- his transparency, et cetera, et cetera -- which was my clumsy way of saying he wanted -- he wanted these announcements to be made.
SCHIFF: Again, ambassador, I'm not asking about your text message. I'm asking what you relayed to Ambassador Taylor and Mr. Morrison about your conversation with the president. Do you have any reason to question their recollection of what you told them?
SONDLAND: All I can say is that I expressed what I told -- or what the president told me in that text. And if I had relayed anything other than what was in that text, I don't recall.
SCHIFF: You don't recall?
SONDLAND: I don't recall.
SCHIFF: But you have no reason to question Ambassador Taylor or Mr. Morrison of what they wrote in their notes about your conversation with them.
SONDLAND: Could you kindly repeat what they wrote?
SCHIFF: I'll have Mr. Goldman go through that with you.
SONDLAND: That'd be great.
SCHIFF: But let me get to the very -- the top line here, Ambassador Sondland.
SCHIFF: You've testified that the White House meeting that President Zelensky desperately wanted -- and that was very important to President Zelensky, was it not?
SCHIFF: You testified that that meeting was conditioned -- was a quid pro quo -- for what the president wanted, these two investigations. Isn't that right?
SCHIFF: And that everybody knew it.
SCHIFF: Now that White House meeting was going to be an official meeting between the two presidents, correct?
SCHIFF: It would be an Oval Office meeting, hopefully?
SONDLAND: A working meeting, yes.
SCHIFF: A working meeting. So an official act, correct?
SCHIFF: And in order to perform that official act, Donald Trump wanted these two investigations that would help his reelection campaign. Correct?
SONDLAND: I can't characterize why he wanted them. All I can tell you is this is what we heard from Mr. Giuliani.
SCHIFF: But he had -- he had to get those two investigations, if that official act was going to take place, correct?
SONDLAND: He had to announce the investigations. He didn't actually have to do them, as I understood it.
SCHIFF: OK. President Zelensky had to announce the two investigations the president wanted. Make a public announcement. Correct?
SCHIFF: And those were of great value to the president, he was quite insistent upon them and his attorney was insistent on them?
SONDLAND: I don't what to characterize whether they are of value or not value. Again, through Mr. Giuliani, we were led to believe that that's what he wanted.
SCHIFF: Well, and you said that Mr. Giuliani was acting at the president's demand. Correct?
SONDLAND: Right. When the president says talk to my personal lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, we followed his direction.
SCHIFF: And so that official act of that meeting was being conditioned on the performance of these things the president wanted, as expressed both directly and through his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, correct?
SONDLAND: As expressed through Rudy Giuliani, correct.
SCHIFF: And you've also testified that your understanding -- it became your clear understanding that the military assistance was also being withheld, pending Zelensky announcing these investigations. Correct?
SONDLAND: That was my presumption, my personal presumption, based on the facts at the time. Nothing was moving.
SCHIFF: And in fact you had a discussion, a communication with the secretary of State, in which you said that logjam over aid could be lifted if Zelensky announced these investigations, right?
SONDLAND: I did not -- I don't recall saying the logjam over aid. I recall saying the logjam. I don't know that...
SCHIFF: That's what you -- that's what you meant, right, ambassador?
SONDLAND: I meant that whatever was holding up the meeting -- whatever was holding up our deal with Ukraine, I was trying to break. Again, I was presuming...
SCHIFF: Well, here is what you said in your testimony a moment ago...
SCHIFF: ... Page 18, "But my goal, at the time, was to do what was necessary to get the aid released, to break the logjam." OK, and that's still your testimony, right?
SCHIFF: So the military aid is also an official act. Am I right?
SCHIFF: This is not President Trump's personal bank account he's writing a check from. This is $400 million of U.S. taxpayer money. Is it not?
SCHIFF: And there was a logjam, in which the president would not write that U.S. check -- you believed -- until Ukraine announced these two investigations the president wanted. Correct? SONDLAND: That was my belief.
SCHIFF: Mr. Goldman?
GOLDMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In your opening statement, Ambassador Sondland, you -- you detailed the benefits that you have gained from obtaining some additional documents over the past few weeks. Is that right?
SONDLAND: In terms of refreshing my recollection, that's...
GOLDMAN: Right. Because reviewing these documents has helped you to remember the events that we're asking about. Is that correct?
GOLDMAN: Because you acknowledge, of course, that when you can place a document, and a date, and a context it helps to jog your memory.
SONDLAND: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: And so, you would agree that for people unlike yourself who take notes, that that is very helpful to their own recollection of events, right?
SONDLAND: I -- I think you asked your question backwards. Are you saying people that take notes, it's helpful to have those documents? Or people that don't take notes, it's helpful to have those documents?
GOLDMAN: No, no. You are not a note-taker, right?
SONDLAND: I'm not a note-taker, never have been.
GOLDMAN: But you would agree that people who take contemporaneous notes generally can -- are -- are more able to remember things than people who don't.
SONDLAND: Some, yes.
GOLDMAN: And there are additional documents that you've been unable to obtain. Is that right?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: And I think you even said in your opening statement that the State Department prevented you and your staff from trying to gather more documents. Is that correct?
SONDLAND: Certain documents, yes.
GOLDMAN: Which documents?
SONDLAND: Documents that I didn't have immediate access to.
GOLDMAN: And who at the State Department prevented you from doing that? SONDLAND: You'll have to ask my counsel. He was dealing with them.
GOLDMAN: But certainly, based on the additional memory that you have gained over the past few weeks from reading the testimony of others, based on their notes and reviewing your own documents, you have remembered a lot more than you did when you were deposed. Is that right?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: And one of the things that you now remember is the discussion that you had with President Trump on July 26th in that restaurant in Kyiv, right?
SONDLAND: Yes, what triggered my memory was someone's reference to A$AP Rocky which was, I believe, the primary focus of the phone call.
GOLDMAN: Certainly. So that's one way memory works, isn't it? And you were sitting in a restaurant with David Holmes in Kyiv, right, having lunch?
SONDLAND: I think I took the whole team out to lunch after the meeting, yes.
GOLDMAN: And it was a meeting -- a one-on-one meeting you had with Andriy Yermak?
SONDLAND: Again, trying to reconstruct a very busy day without the benefit -- but if someone said I had a meeting and I went to the meeting, then I'm not going to dispute that.
GOLDMAN: And particularly if that person took notes at that meeting?
GOLDMAN: Or sat outside the door when you didn't let them in?
SONDLAND: I -- I have no control over who goes into a meeting in Ukraine. That was the Ukrainians that didn't let him in.
GOLDMAN: And you had also met with President Zelensky, among others, that day. Is that right?
SONDLAND: That's -- that's correct.
GOLDMAN: And you called President Trump from your cell phone from the restaurant. Is that right?
SONDLAND: That's right.
GOLDMAN: And this was not a secure line, was it?
SONDLAND: No, it was an open line.
GOLDMAN: Did you worry that a foreign government may be listening to your phone call with the president of United States?
SONDLAND: Well, I have unclassified conversations all the time from landlines that are unsecured and cell phones.
If the topic is not classified -- and it's up to the president to decide what's classified and what's not classified. And we were having -- he -- he was aware that it was an open line, as well.
GOLDMAN: And you don't recall the specifics of holding your phone outside -- far aware from your ear, as Mr. Holmes testified.
But you have no reason to question his recollection of that, do you?
SONDLAND: I mean, it seems a little strange. I would hold my phone here. I probably had my phone close to my ear.
And he claims to have overheard part of the conversation. And I'm not going to dispute what he did or didn't hear.
GOLDMAN: Well, he also testified that you confirmed to President Trump that you were in Ukraine at the time and that President Zelensky, quote, "loves your ass," unquote. Do you recall saying that?
SONDLAND: Yes, it sounds like something I would say.
That's how President Trump and I communicate, a lot of four-letter words. In this case, three-letter.
GOLDMAN: Holmes then said that he heard President Trump ask, quote, "Is he (ph)," meaning Zelensky, "going to do the investigation?"
To which, you replied, "He's going to do it." And then you added that President Zelensky will do "anything that you," meaning President Trump, "ask him to." Do you recall that?
SONDLAND: I probably said something to that affect because I remember the meeting the president -- or President Zelensky was very -- solicitous is not a good word. He was just very willing to work with the United States and was being very amicable.
And so, putting it in Trump-speak by saying he loves your ass, he'll do whatever you want meant that he would really work with us on a whole host of issues.
GOLDMAN: He was not only willing. He was very eager, right?
SONDLAND: That's fair.
GOLDMAN: Because Ukraine depends on the United States as its most significant ally. Isn't that correct?
SONDLAND: One of its most, absolutely. GOLDMAN: So just so we understand, you -- you were in Kyiv the day after President Trump spoke to President Zelensky on the phone. And you now know from reading the call record that, in that phone call, he requested a favor for President Zelensky to do investigations related to the Bidens and the 2016 election, right?
SONDLAND: I do now know that, yes.
GOLDMAN: And you met with President Zelensky and his aides on the day after that phone call.
And then you had a conversation with President Trump from your cell phone from a restaurant terrace. And he asked you whether President Zelensky will do the investigations.
And you responded that he's going to do them -- or it, and that President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to do.
Is that an accurate recitation of what happened there?
SONDLAND: It could have been words to that effect. I don't remember my exact response.
GOLDMAN: But you don't have any reason to dispute Mr. Holmes' recollection, correct?
SONDLAND: I won't dispute it. But again, I don't recall.
GOLDMAN: After you hung up with the president, Mr. Holmes testified about a conversation that you and he had, where he says that you told Mr. Holmes that the president does not care about Ukraine. But the president used the more colorful language, including a four-letter word that you just referenced to -- or just referenced.
Do you recall saying that to Mr. Holmes?
SONDLAND: Again, I don't recall my exact words. But clearly, the president -- beginning on May 23rd when we met with him in the Oval Office -- was not a big fan.
GOLDMAN: But he was a big fan of the investigations?
SONDLAND: Apparently so.
GOLDMAN: And in fact, Mr. Holmes said that you -- that you said that President Trump only cares about the, quote, "big stuff" that benefits himself. Is that something that you would have said at the time?
SONDLAND: I don't think I would have said that. I would have -- I would have honestly said that he was not a big fan of Ukraine, and he wants the investigations that we had been talking about for quite some time to move forward. That's what I would have said because that's that fact. GOLDMAN: Mr. Holmes also remembers that you told him, in giving an example of the "big stuff," the Biden investigation that Rudy Giuliani was pushing. Do you recall that?
SONDLAND: I don't. I recall Burisma, not Biden.
GOLDMAN: And -- but do you recall saying -- at least referring to an investigation that Rudy Giuliani was pushing? Is that something that you likely would have said?
SONDLAND: I would have, yes.
GOLDMAN: Now, even if you don't recall specifically mentioning the Biden investigation to David Holmes, we know that it was certainly on President Trump's mind because just the day before, in his call with President Zelensky, he mentions specifically the Biden investigation.
And I want to show you that exhibit or that excerpt from the call on July 25th, where President Trump says, "The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it, it sounds horrible to me."
President Zelensky then responds with a reference to "the company" that he's referring to. And two witnesses yesterday said that, when President Zelensky actually said "the company," he said Burisma.
So you would agree that, regardless of whether you knew about the connection to the Bidens, at the very least that you now know that that's what President Trump wanted at the time through the Burisma investigation?
SONDLAND: I now know it all, of course.
GOLDMAN: And at this time, you were aware of the president's desire, along with Rudy Giuliani, to do these investigations, including the 2016 election interference investigation. Is that right?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: And you said President Trump had directed you to talk -- you and the others to talk to Rudy Giuliani at the Oval Office on May 23rd. Is that right?
SONDLAND: If we wanted to get anything done with Ukraine, it was apparent to us we needed to talk to Rudy.
GOLDMAN: Right. You understood that Mr. Giuliani spoke for the president, correct?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: And in fact, President Trump also made that clear to President Zelensky in that same July 25th phone call. He said, "Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the attorney general. Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy."
GOLDMAN: And after this, President Trump then mentions Mr. Giuliani twice more in that call.
Now, from Mr. Giuliani, by this point, you understood that in order to get that White House meeting, that you wanted President Zelensky to have and that President Zelensky desperately wanted to have, that Ukraine would have to initiate these two investigations. Is that right?
SONDLAND: Well, they would have to announce that they were going to do it.
GOLDMAN: Right, because they -- because Giuliani and President Trump didn't actually care if they did them, right?
SONDLAND: I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed. The only thing I heard, from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise, was that they had to be announced in some form. And that form kept changing.
GOLDMAN: Announced publicly?
SONDLAND: Announced publicly, correct (ph)...
GOLDMAN: And you, of course, recognized that there would be political benefits to a public announcement as opposed to a private confirmation, right?
SONDLAND: Well, the way it was expressed to me was that the Ukrainians had a long history of committing to things privately and then never following through.
So President Trump, presumably -- again, communicated through Mr. Giuliani -- wanted the Ukrainians on record publicly that they were going to do these investigations. That's the reason that was given to me.
GOLDMAN: But you never heard anyone say that they really wanted them to do the investigations. Just that they wanted to announce them.
SONDLAND: I didn't hear -- I didn't hear either way. I didn't hear either way.
GOLDMAN: Now, your July 26th call with the president was not the only time that you spoke to the president surrounding that Ukraine trip, was it?
SONDLAND: I believe I spoke to him before his call. GOLDMAN: And that's -- so that would be on July 25th, the day before?
SONDLAND: Yes, I think I was flying to Ukraine and I spoke with him, if I recall correctly, just before I got on the plane.
GOLDMAN: So that's two private telephone calls with President Trump in the span of two days. Is that right?
GOLDMAN: You had direct access, then, to President Trump. Correct?
SONDLAND: I had occasional access when he chose to take my calls. Sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn't.
GOLDMAN: Well, he certainly took your call twice, as it related to Ukraine, on these two days. Is that right?
SONDLAND: He did.
GOLDMAN: Now the morning of July 25th, you texted Ambassador Volker -- and we can bring up the next text exchange -- at 7:54 a.m., and you said call ASAP.
Ambassador Volker did not respond to you for another hour and a half. And he said "Hi Gordon, got your message, had a great lunch with Yermak and then passed your message to him. He will see you tomorrow, think everything in place."
Volker, though, an hour before that and about half an hour before the phone call, had texted Andriy Yermak, a top aide for President Zelensky. And he wrote, "Good lunch -- thanks. Heard from White House -- assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate/'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck. See you tomorrow."
Ambassador Sondland, was this message that Kurt Volker passed to Andriy Yermak the message you left for Kurt Volker on that voicemail that he referenced?
SONDLAND: You know, I don't remember, Mr. Goldman, but it very well could have been.
GOLDMAN: You don't have any reason to think it wasn't, right?
SONDLAND: Again, I honestly, honestly don't remember. But seems logical to me.
GOLDMAN: And if Ambassador Volker testified that he did get that message from you, you have no reason to doubt that, right?
SONDLAND: No, if he testified that he got that message from me, then I would concur with that.
GOLDMAN: So is it fair to say that this message is what you received from President Trump in that phone call that morning? SONDLAND: Again, if he testified to that -- to refresh my own memory -- then, yes, likely I would have received that from President Trump.
GOLDMAN: But the sequence certainly makes sense, right?
SONDLAND: Yes, it does.
GOLDMAN: You talked to President Trump.
GOLDMAN: You told Kurt Volker to call you. You left a message for Kurt Volker. Kurt Volker sent this text message to Andriy Yermak to prepare President Zelensky. And then, President Trump had a phone call, where President Zelensky spoke very similar to what was in this text message, right?
GOLDMAN: And you would agree that the message in this -- that is expressed here is that President Zelensky needs to convince Trump that he will do the investigations in order to nail down the date for a visit to Washington, D.C. Is that correct?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: Now, I'm going to move ahead in time to the end of August and early September, when you came to believe -- I believe, as you testified -- that it wasn't just the White House meeting that was contingent on the announcement of these investigations that the president wanted, but security assistance as well.
You testified that in the absence of any credible explanation for the hold on security assistance, you came to the conclusion that, like the White House visit, the aid was conditioned on the investigations that President Trump wanted. Is that what you said in your opening statement?
SONDLAND: It is.
GOLDMAN: So let me break this down with you. By this time, you and many top officials knew that that coveted White House meeting for President Zelensky was conditioned on these investigations, right?
SONDLAND: The announcement of the investigations, correct.
GOLDMAN: Thank you. And that includes Secretary Pompeo, right?
SONDLAND: Many, many people.
GOLDMAN: And -- well, Secretary Pompeo?
GOLDMAN: And Acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney?
GOLDMAN: And you testified that this was a quid pro quo. Is that right?
SONDLAND: I did.
GOLDMAN: And you, at this point by the end of August, knew that the aid had been held up for at least six weeks. Is that correct?
SONDLAND: I believe I found out through Ambassador Taylor that the aid had been held up around July 18th is when I -- when I heard originally.
GOLDMAN: And even though you searched for reasons, you were never given a credible explanation. Is that right?
SONDLAND: That's right.
GOLDMAN: And no one you spoke to thought that the aid should be held, to your knowledge. Is that right?
SONDLAND: I never heard anyone advocate for holding the aid.
GOLDMAN: And now, by this point at the end of August it went public and the Ukrainians knew about it, right?
SONDLAND: I believe there was some press reports -- you know, presuming or who knows. But I think at that point, it became sort of common knowledge that everything might be tied together.
GOLDMAN: And in fact, President Zelensky brought it up at that September 1st meeting with Vice President Pence that you were at, right?
SONDLAND: I don't know if he brought it up specifically, but asked where the aid was I think was more -- I think he -- he sort of asked. Again, very vague recollection because I don't have a readout of the -- of the bilateral meeting but, why don't I have my check, essentially.
GOLDMAN: And you -- you understood the Ukrainians received no credible explanation, is that right?
SONDLAND: I certainly didn't -- couldn't give them one.
GOLDMAN: So is this kind of a two plus two equals four conclusion that you reached?
SONDLAND: Pretty much.
GOLDMAN: Was the only logical conclusion to you that, given all of these factors, that the aid was also a part of this quid pro quo?
SONDLAND: Yes. GOLDMAN: Now, I want to go back to that conversation that you had with Vice President Pence, right before that meeting in Warsaw.
And you indicated that you said to him that you were concerned that the delay in the aid was tied to the issue of (ph) investigations. Is that right?
SONDLAND: I don't know exactly what I said to him. This was a briefing attended by many people and I was invited at the very last minute. I wasn't scheduled to be there.
But I think I spoke up at some point late in the meeting and said it looks like everything is being held up until these statements get made. And that's my, you know, personal belief.
GOLDMAN: And Vice President Pence just nodded his head?
SONDLAND: I -- again, I don't recall any exchange or where he asked me any questions. I think he -- it was sort of a duly noted response.
GOLDMAN: Well, he didn't say, Gordon, what are you talking about?
SONDLAND: No, he did not.
GOLDMAN: He didn't say, what investigations?
SONDLAND: He did not.
GOLDMAN: Now, after this meeting you discussed this pull-aside you had with Mr. Yermak where you relayed your belief that they needed to announce these investigations prior to the aid being released. Is that right?
SONDLAND: I said I didn't know exactly why but this could be a reason.
GOLDMAN: And obviously, you had been speaking with Mr. Yermak for quite a while about a public announcement of these investigations, right?
SONDLAND: We had all been working on -- toward that end, yes.
GOLDMAN: And so you indicated to him that, in addition to the White House meeting, security aid was now also involved in that?
SONDLAND: As I said, I said it could have been involved, yes.
GOLDMAN: Now, I'm going to show you another text exchange you had on September 1st, where Ambassador Taylor says to you, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"
And you respond, "Call me."
Ambassador Taylor recalls that he did call you and you did have a conversation. And in that conversation, you told Ambassador Taylor that he announcement of these investigations by President Zelensky needed to be public and that that announcement was conditioned on -- that announcement would ultimately release the -- the aid.
Do you recall that conversation with Ambassador Taylor?
SONDLAND: Again, my conversation with Ambassador Taylor, my conversation with Senator Johnson were all my personal belief, just based on -- as you put it -- two plus two equals four.
GOLDMAN: Well, in that -- in his testimony, Ambassador Taylor says that you said that President Trump had told you that he wanted President Zelensky to state publicly, as of September 1st.
Do you have any reason to doubt Ambassador Taylor's testimony, which he said was based on his meticulous, contemporaneous notes?
SONDLAND: President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from Giuliani was that the Burisma and 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting.
The aid was my own personal, you know, guess, based -- again, on your analogy, two plus two equals four.
GOLDMAN: So you didn't talk to President Trump, when Ambassador Taylor says that that's what you told him? Is that your testimony here?
SONDLAND: My testimony is I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement of elections.
GOLDMAN: So you never heard those specific words.
GOLDMAN: Right, but...
SONDLAND: I never heard those words.
GOLDMAN: ... and -- well, let's move ahead. Because you have another conversation in -- in a little bit later, that both Tim Morrison and Ambassador Taylor recount.
But in this September 1st conversation, Ambassador Taylor also says that -- testified under oath that you said that President Trump wanted Zelensky "in a public box." Do you recall using that expression?
SONDLAND: Yes, it goes back to my earlier comment that, again, coming from the Giuliani source because we didn't discuss this specifically with President Trump, that they wanted whatever commitments Ukraine made to be made publicly. So that they would be on the record and be held more accountable, whatever those commitments were.
GOLDMAN: You also testified -- or Ambassador Taylor, rather, testified that you told him that you had made a mistake in telling the Ukrainians that only the White House meeting was conditioned on the announcement of the investigations and that, in fact, everything was, including the security assistance. Do you remember saying that?
SONDLAND: When I referenced a mistake, I -- what I recall was I thought that a statement made by the new Ukrainian prosecutor, that these investigations would be started up again or commenced, would be sufficient to satisfy Mr. Giuliani/President Trump.
As I recall, my mistake was someone came back, through Volker or otherwise, and said, no, it's not going to do if the prosecutor makes these statements. The president wants to hear it from Zelensky directly. That's the mistake I think I made.
GOLDMAN: Do you have any reason to question Ambassador Taylor's testimony based on his meticulous and careful contemporaneous notes?
SONDLAND: I'm not going to question or not question. I'm just telling you what I believe I -- I was -- was referring to.
GOLDMAN: Let me fast-forward a week and show you another text exchange, which may help refresh your recollection.
On September 8th, you had a -- you sent a text to Ambassador Taylor and Ambassador Volker. Can you read what you wrote there?
SONDLAND: "Guys, multiple convos with Zelensky, POTUS. Let's talk."
GOLDMAN: And so this was September 8th at 11:20 in the morning.
And Ambassador Taylor responds immediately, "Now, is fine with me."
And if we could, go to the next exchange. Ambassador Taylor then, 15 minutes later, says, "Gordon and I just spoke," or 20 minutes later rather, "I can brief you if you and Gordon don't connect," speaking to Ambassador Volker.
Then Ambassador Taylor, an hour later, says, "The nightmare is they give the interview and don't get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)"
You would agree that, in this text message after you had spoken earlier -- an hour earlier with Ambassador Taylor, that he is linking the security assistance to this interview, this public announcement by President Zelensky. Is that right?
GOLDMAN: And in fact, Ambassador Taylor testified that you did have a conversation with him at that point. And he did -- and that you told him that, just as your text message indicates, you did have a conversation with President Trump prior to that text message.
Does that help to refresh your recollection that you, in fact, spoke to President Trump at that time?
SONDLAND: Again, I don't recall President Trump ever talking to me about any security assistance, ever. What this tells me, refreshing my memory, is that by the 8th of September it was -- it was abundantly clear to everyone that there was a link. And that we were discussing the chicken-and-egg issue of should the Ukrainians go out on a ledge and make the statement that President Trump wanted them to make, and then they still don't get their White House visit and their aid. That would be really bad for our credibility. I think that's what he was referring to.
GOLDMAN: So you do acknowledge you spoke to President Trump, as you indicated in that text, right?
SONDLAND: If I said I did, I did.
GOLDMAN: And that after that conversation, you were still under the impression that the aid was contingent on these public announcements?
SONDLAND: I did not get that from President Trump, but I was under the impression that, absolutely, it was contingent.
GOLDMAN: Well, you weren't dissuaded then, right? Because you still thought that the aid was conditioned on the public announcement of the investigations after speaking to President Trump?
SONDLAND: By September 8th, I was absolutely convinced it was.
GOLDMAN: And President Trump did not dissuade you of that in the conversation that you acknowledge you had with him?
SONDLAND: I don't ever recall -- because that would have changed my entire calculus. If President Trump had told me directly I'm not...
GOLDMAN: That's not what I'm asking, Ambassador Sondland. I'm just saying you still believed that the security assistance was conditioned on the investigation after you spoke to President Trump. Yes or no?
SONDLAND: From a timeframe standpoint, yes.
GOLDMAN: 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 you -