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Sondland Updates Previous Testimony In Impeachment Inquiry


The U.S. ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, is testifying now on Capitol Hill. Sondland has already testified once behind closed doors. And after that, he notably changed his testimony to say that there was indeed a quid pro quo. NPR's Susan Davis is here in studio. She's been following what Sondland has said today in his public hearing. Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Lots to talk about. So Gordon Sondland is in the middle of his public testimony right now. He's already read his prepared remarks. And he is pointing the finger directly at President Trump.

DAVIS: Yes, this is probably one of the most significant things he has offered so far this morning, in which he voiced a discomfort with the orders to work with Rudy Giuliani. But he said explicitly that it came directly from the top.


GORDON SONDLAND: First, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose a very important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine, so we followed the president's orders.

DAVIS: One point of clarity - Sondland, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Ambassador - Special Envoy Kurt Volker, were referred to as the three amigos, the idea that they were this irregular policy channel, just to clarify who he's talking about there. This also is very important because it puts the president directly, squarely in the middle of the action, calling the shots, which is central to the heart of the Democrats' impeachment investigation.

MARTIN: And let's talk about that allegation, that there was what Bill Taylor called - Ambassador Bill Taylor called an irregular channel that was spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani. Sondland refuted this characterization, right?

DAVIS: He did. I mean, all along, this has been described in other testimony as irregular, as outside the bounds of...

MARTIN: Rogue.

DAVIS: ...Normal policy, a rogue channel. And Sondland testifies and says, no, everyone that mattered was fully aware of what we were doing.


SONDLAND: Third, let me say, precisely because we did not think that we were engaging in improper behavior, we made every effort to ensure that the relevant decision-makers at the National Security Council and the State Department knew the important details of our efforts. The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false.

DAVIS: Two of the additional individuals that Sondland says were well-aware of what he was doing was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

MARTIN: Sondland also discussed - he talked a lot about Rudy Giuliani and how he was trying to navigate this quid pro quo. What did he say?

DAVIS: Well, one of the initial early blockbusters of this testimony is he refutes that - his original testimony, in which he initially told Congress there was no quid pro quo. And today, he backtracked on that and said, yes, indeed there was.


SONDLAND: Mr. Giuliani's requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelenskiy. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election, DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew these investigations were important to the president.

DAVIS: One quick point of clarity - in his definition, the quid pro quo was over a meeting at the White House with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy, not the withholding of military aid that he did not have specifics on.

MARTIN: One more name to mention, an important one - Vice President Mike Pence. Gordon Sondland also potentially implicates the vice president in terms of what he knew when.

DAVIS: He did say that he testified that, on September 1, he did speak directly to Vice President Mike Pence - this is new information - before a meeting with the Ukrainians in which he directly told the vice president that Sondland had concerns about the delay in military aid and that it was being tied to the issue of investigations. The vice president's office has not publicly acknowledged that they were aware of that information.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Susan Davis for us. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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