Ambassador Gordon Sondland, a witness at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed about “key developments” in the the effort “to pressure Ukraine’s leader into public commitments” sought by President Donald Trump, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The Times, citing conversations with two people briefed on the matter, said Sondland told Pompeo in mid-August about a statement he and another US diplomat drafted with the help of Ukrainians that they had hoped would get Trump to agree to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House.
The paper also said that later in August, Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, spoke with Pompeo about potentially getting Zelensky to pledge during a meeting with Trump in Poland that he “would take the steps being sought” by Trump as a way to “break the logjam in relations between the two countries.” The Times said Pompeo “expressed his approval of the plan” but that Trump later canceled the trip to Poland.
Sondland is set to publicly testify Wednesday morning before the House Intelligence Committee in the impeachment probe, and he could face tough questioning from the panel’s members about his briefings to Pompeo. Those briefings, the Times said, “more directly” link the secretary to the Trump administration’s efforts to get Ukraine to open investigations into Trump’s political rivals and an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for hacking Democratic Party emails in 2016. The paper notes that it’s “not clear” how “specific” Sondland was about what was being sought from Ukraine by the administration.
The Times said that the ambassador’s briefings with Pompeo “suggest that he could use his testimony to counter the testimonies of other administration officials” who have said he was part of a group of people operating outside official government channels in order to carry out the wishes of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal attorney.
Sondland, the paper notes, said last month during a closed-door deposition that he and US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker tried to get Ukraine to release a statement announcing the investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company his son, Hunter Biden, had served on the board on, in order to “satisfy” Giuliani, “and, by extension, (Trump), and to reset relations between the two countries.” No such statement was ever released by the county, the Times said.