Amb. Gordon Sondland delivers opening statement at House Impeachment hearing

Ambassador Gordon Sondland was tapped by President Donald Trump to serve as U.S. ambassador to the European Union and handpicked to take a lead role on Ukraine.
41:45 | 11/20/19

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Transcript for Amb. Gordon Sondland delivers opening statement at House Impeachment hearing
It is my honor to serve as the US ambassador to the European Union. The US mission to the EU is the direct link between the United States and the European Union and its members. America is longest standing allies and one of the largest economic blocs in the world. Every day. I worked to support a strong united and peaceful Europe. Strengthening our ties with Europe serves both American and European goals. As we together promote political stability. And economic prosperity around the world. I expect that few Americans have heard my name before these events so. Before I begin my substantive testimony. Please let me share some of my personal background. My parents fled Europe during the Holocaust. Escaping the atrocities of that time. My parents left Germany for org Y. And then in 1953. Emigrated to Seattle Washington. Where I was born and raised. Like so many immigrants my family was eager for freedom and hungry for opportunity. They raise my sister and me to be humble hardworking and patriotic. And I am forever grateful for the sacrifices they made on our behalf. Public service has always been important to me. As a lifelong Republican. I have contributed to initiatives of both Republican and democratic administrations. In 2003. I served as a member of the transition team. For Oregon democratic governor Ted Kulongoski. Governor Kulongoski. Also appointed me to serve and various state wide boards. In 2007. President George W. Bush appointed me as a member of the commission on White House fellows. I worked with President Bush on charitable events for his Foundation's military service initiative. And I also worked briefly. With former vice president Joseph Biden's office in connection. With the vice presidents nationwide answer anti cancer initiative. At a local Northwest Hospital. And of course the highest honor in my public life came when president trump. Asked me to serve as the United States ambassador to the European Union. The senate confirm me as an ambassador on a bipartisan voice vote and I assumed the role in Brussels. On July 9. 2018. Although today is my first public testimony. I'm the Ukraine matters. This is not my first time cooperating with its committee. As you know. I've already provided ten hours of deposition testimony. And I did so. Despite directives from the White House and the State Department that I refuse to appear. As many others have done. I agreed to testify because. I respect. The gravity of the moment and I believe I have an obligation. To account fully for my role in these events. But I also must acknowledge that this process has been challenging. And in many respects. Less than fair. I have not had access to all of my phone records. State Department emails. And many many other State Department documents. And I was told I could not work with my EU's staff to pull together the relevant files and information. Having access to the State Department materials would have been very helpful to me and trying to reconstruct. With whom I spoke and met and when and what was set. As ambassador. I've had hundreds of meetings and calls with individuals. But I'm not a note taker or a memo writer. Never have been. My job requires. That I speak with heads of state. Senior government officials. Members of the cabinet the president. Almost each and every day. Talking with foreign leaders. Might be memorable to some people. Let this is my job I do it all the time. My lawyers and I have made multiple requests to the State Department and the White House for these materials. Yet these materials were not provided to me and they are also refused to share these materials with this committee. These documents. Are not classified. And in fairness. And in fairness should have been made available. In the absence of these materials my memory admittedly has not been perfect. And I have no doubt that a more fair open and orderly process of allowing meter read the State Department records and other materials. Would have made this process far more transparent. I don't intend to repeat my prior opening statement or attempt to summarize ten hours of previous deposition testimony. However a few critical points have been obscured by noise over the last few days and weeks. And I am worried that the bigger picture is being ignored. So let me make a few key points. First. Secretary Perry. Ambassador. Volcker and high. 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 it we were playing the hand we were dealt. We all understood. That if we refuse 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. Second. Although we disagreed. With the need to involve mr. Giuliani. At the time we did not believe that his role was improper. As I previously testified that if I had known of all of mr. Giuliani's dealings or his associations. With individuals. Some of whom are now under criminal indictment. IA personally would not have acquiesced to his participation. Still. Given what we knew at the time. What we were asked to do did not appear to be wrong. Third. Let me say. Precisely. Because we did not think that we were engaging any 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. The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular. Or rogue diplomacy. Is absolutely false. I have now identified certain State Department emails and messages. That provide contemporaneous. Support for my view. These emails show that the leadership. Of the State Department. The National Security Council and the White House. Were all informed about the Ukraine efforts. For May 23 2019. Until the security aide was released. On September 11 2019. I will quote from some of those messages. With you shortly. Fourth. As I testified previously. As I testified previously. Mr. Giuliani's requests were a quid pro quo. For arranging a White House visit for president so Lansky. Mr. Giuliani. Demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations. Of the 2016. Election. DNC server. And for Reese mine. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States. And we knew these investigations were important to the president. Fifth. In July and August of 2019. We learned that the White House had also suspended security aid to Ukraine. I was adamantly opposed to any suspension of aid. I was adamantly soup oh adamantly opposed to any suspension of aid as the ukrainians needed those funds. To fight against Russian aggression. I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended. But I never received a clear answer still haven't to this day. 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 of the 2016. Elections. Amber Reese not. As mr. Giuliani had demanded. I share concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aide was senator Ron Johnson. And I also shared my concerns. With the ukrainians. Finally. At all times. I was acting in good faith. I was acting in good faith. As a presidential appointee. I followed the directions of the president. We worked with mr. Giuliani because the president directed us to do so. We had no desire to set any conditions. We had no desire to set any conditions on the ukrainians. Indeed my own personal view which I shared repeatedly with others. Was at the White House and security security assistance. Should have preceded. With out preconditions. Of any kind. We were working to overcome the problems. Given the fact since they existed. Our only interest. And my only interest was to advance longstanding US policy. And to support Ukraine's fragile democracy. Now let me provide additional deet tails specifically about Ukraine and my involvement. First. Might bury you first days as ambassador to the EU which was starting back in July of 2018. Ukraine has featured prominently in my broader portfolio. Ukraine's political and economic development are critical to the longstanding. And long lasting stability of Europe. Moreover the conflict in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Remains one of the most significant security crisis for Europe. And the United States. Our efforts to counter balance and aggressive Russia. Depends in substantial part. On a strong Ukraine. On April 21 2019. Vladimir is a Lansky was elected president of Ukraine and head in a hat in and historic election. With the expressed support of secretary Pompeo. I attended presidents the land skis inauguration on May twentieth as part of the US delegation. Which was led by a energy secretary Rick Perry. The US delegation also included senator Johnson. Ukraine special envoy Volcker and lieutenant colonel Alex abandonment the National Security Council. My attendance at president celeb skis inauguration. Was not my first involvement with Ukraine. As I testified previously. Just four days after assuming. My post as ambassador. In July of 2018. I received an official delegation from the government of then Ukraine president Petra par Shiancoe. The meeting took place at the US mission in Brussels and was pre arranged by my career EU mission staff. And I've had several meetings since then in Brussels. Later in February of 2019. I worked well with US ambassador Marie Ivanovic. In making my first official visit to Ukraine. For a US navy visit to the strategic Black Sea port of Odessa. The reason I raise these prior Ukraine activities the meetings in Brussels my visit to Odessa. It's to emphasize. That Ukraine has been a part of my portfolio from my very first days as the US ambassador. Any claim that I somehow. Muscled my way end to the Ukraine relationship. Is simply false. During does a Lansky inauguration on May twentieth. The US delegation. Developed a very positive view of the Ukraine government. We were impressed by presidents a lends his desire to promote a stronger relationship with the United States. We admired his commitment to reform. And we were excited. About the possibility of Ukraine. Making the changes necessary. To support a greater western economic and investment. And we were excited that Ukraine might after years and years of lip service. Finally get serious about addressing. Its own well known corruption problems. With that enthusiasm. We returned to the white house on May 23. To brief president trump. We advise the president of the strategic importance of Ukraine. And the value of strengthening the relationship with presidents a Lansky. To support this reformer we asked the White House for two things first. A working phone call between presidents trumpets a Lansky. And second in a working Oval Office visit. In our view. Both were vital to cementing the US Ukraine relationship. Demonstrating support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. And advancing broader US foreign policy interest. Unfortunately president trump was skeptical. He expressed concerns that the Ukrainian government was not serious about reform and he even mentioned. That Ukraine try to take him down in the last election. In response to our persistent. Efforts. In that meeting to change his views. President trump directed us to quote talk with Rudy. We understood that talk with Rudy meant tock with mr. Rudy Giuliani. The president's personal lawyer. Let me say again. We weren't happy with the president's directive to talk with Rudy. We did not want to involved mr. Giuliani. I believe Dennis I do now. That the men and women of the State Department not the president's personal lawyer should take responsibility. For Ukraine matters. Nonetheless. Based on the president's direction. We were faced with a choice. We could a band of the efforts to schedule the White House phone call and a White House visit. Between presidents trumpet as a Lansky. Which was unquestionably. In our foreign policy interest or. We could do as president trump had directed. And talk with really. We chose the latter course. Not because we liked it back because it was the only constructive path open to us. Over the course of the next several months. Secretary Perry ambassador Volcker and I. Were in communication with mr. Giuliani. Secretary Perry volunteered to make the initial calls with mr. Giuliani. Given their prior relationship. Ambassador Volcker made several of the early calls. And generally informed us of what was discussed. I first communicated with mr. Giuliani in early August several months later. Mr. Giuliani emphasized. That the president wanted a public statement. From president's a Lansky. Committing Ukraine to look into the corruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016. Election. Including the DNC server. And the Reece much as two topics of importance to the president. We kept the leadership. Of the State Department and the NSC. Informed of our activities. And that included communications. With secretary of state Pompeo. His counselor. Already Breck bull. His executive secretary Lisa Kana. And also communications. With ambassador Bolton. Doctor hill mr. Moore a son and their staff at the NSA. They knew what we were doing and why. I'm July 10 2019. Senior Ukrainian national security officials. Met with ambassador Bolton. Ambassador Volcker. Doctor hill secretary Perry. Myself and several others in Washington DC. During that meeting we all discuss the importance. Of the two action items identified earlier. Won. A working phone call and to a White House meeting between presidents trump and so Lansky. From my perspective. The July 10 meeting was a positive step toward accomplishing our shared goals. While I am now aware of accounts of the meeting from doctor hill and lieutenant colonel Ben men. Their recollections of those events simply don't square with my own. Or with those of ambassador Volker. I recall mentioning the prerequisite of investigations. Before any. White House call or meeting. But I do not recall any yelling or screaming or abrupt terminations as as others have set. Instead after the meeting. Ambassador Bolton walked outside with our group and we all took some great pictures together outside on the White House lawn. More important. Those recollections of protests do not square with the documentary record. Of our interactions with the NSC. In the days and weeks that followed. We kept the NSC apprised of our efforts including. Specifically. Our efforts to secure a public statement from the ukrainians. That would satisfy president trumps concerns. For example. On July 13. And this is three days after that July 10 meeting. I emailed Tim Morrison. He had just taken over doctor goals post as the NSC Eurasia director. And I met him that day for the first time. I wrote to mr. Moore Sen. With these words. But call between its eleven ski and haute this president of the United States. Should happen before 721. Which is the parliamentary elections in Ukraine. Sole purpose is for is a landscape to give Potisk assurances. Of new sheriff in town. Corruption and dean and bundling moving forward. And and I emphasize. Any hampered investigations. Will be allowed to move forward transparently. Goal is for Potisk to invite him to oval. Volcker Perry Bolton and I strongly recommend. Mr. Morrison acknowledged and said thank you. And specifically noted that he was tracking these issues. Again. There was no secret regarding moving forward and the discussion of investigations. Moreover. I've reviewed other State Department documents some of which are not currently in the public domain. Detailing mr. Giuliani's efforts. For example. On July 10 the very same today. That ambassador Volcker secretary Perry and I were meeting. With the Ukraine officials in Washington. Ambassador Taylor. Received a communication. That mr. Giuliani was still talking with Ukrainian prosecutor. Yuri looked Sankoh. In what sapped messages. With ambassador vault for NI. Ambassador Taylor. Wrote to us as follows. Just had a meeting with Andrea and Vadim. Referring to Ukraine foreign minister of a dean Crist aiko. Taylor said the ukrainians were quote. Very concerned about what looked Sankoh told them. That according to our G meaning Rudy Giuliani does a landscape Otis meeting will not happen. Volcker responded. Good grief please tell the deemed to let the official US government representatives. Speak for the US. Loot Sankoh has his own self interest here. Taylor confirmed that he had communicated that message to the ukrainians. And he added that. I briefed all Rick this afternoon on this referring to State Department counselor. Allred practical. Again every once in the loop. Three things are critical about this what sap exchange. First while the ukrainians were in Washington at the White House mr. Giuliani was communicating with ukrainians without our knowledge. Ambassador Taylor ambassador Volcker and I were all surprised by this. Second. Mr. Giuliani was communicating. With the reportedly corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor that Sankoh. And discussing whether is a Len ski trump meeting was going to happen. Again without our knowledge. And third with this alarming news ambassador Taylor briefed all rip rec ball that was the counselor. To secretary of state Pompeo. And even as late as September 24. Of this year secretary Pompeo. Was directing Kurt Volcker to speak with mr. Giuliani. You know what sap message. Kurt Volcker told me in part. Spoke with Rudy per guidance from SS is the state department's official designee Ater for the secretary. Spoke with Rudy her guidance from S. Look. We tried our best to fix the problem. While keeping the State Department. And the NSC. Closely apprised of the challenges we face. On July 25. President's trumpet as a Lansky had their official call. I was not on the call and I don't think I was invited to be on the call. In fact. I first read the transcript on September 25. The day it was publicly released. All I had heard at that time. Was that the college gone well. Looking back I find it very high very high. That neither I nor ambassador Taylor nor ambassador Volcker. Ever received a detailed readout of that call with the Biden references. Now there are people who say they had concerns about the call. But no one shared any concerns about the call with me at the time which frankly would've been very helpful to know. I'm July 26 ambassador Taylor ambassador Volcker and I were all in Kiev to meet with presidents a Lansky. The timing of that trip. Immediately after the call between presidents trump and so Lansky was entirely entirely coincidental. The key of meetings have been scheduled well before the date that the White House finally fixed the call. During our Kiet meeting I do not recall. Presidents a Lansky discussing the substance. Of his July 25 call with president trop. Nor did he discuss any request to investigate Vice President Biden which we all later learned. Was discussed on July 25 call. And this is consistent with the reported comments from ambassadors Volcker and Taylor. After there's a Lansky meeting I also met was a Lansky senior aide Andrzej your Mac. I don't recall the specifics of our conversation. But I believe the issue of investigations was probably a part of that. Agenda are meeting. Also on July 26 shortly after our -- meetings. I spoke by phone with president trop. The White House which is 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 key have. And I have no reason to doubt that this conversation included the subject of investigations. Again given mr. Giuliani's demand the president's a Lansky make a public statement about investigations. I knew that investigations were important to president trop. We did not discuss any classified information. Other witnesses have recently shared their recollection of over curing 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 sap a 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 26 call did not strike me as significant at the time. Actually. Actually I would've been more surprised. If president trump had not mention investigations. Particularly given 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 collar after the call and I know that members of this committee. 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 the White House meeting the answer is yes. Mr. Giuliani conveyed to secretary Perry ambassador Volcker and others. That president trump wanted a public statement. From presidents a Lansky. Committing to investigations. Of the Reese ma 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 trumps. Desires and requirements. Within my State Department emails there is a July 19 email. This email was sent. This email was sent. To secretary Pompeo. Secretary Perry. Bryan McCormick who is secretary Perry's chief of staff at the time. Miss Canada who is the acting and a pardon me who is the executive secretary app for secretary Pompeo. Chief of staff Maldini. And mr. ball Davies senior advisor rob Blair. A lot of senior officials. A lot of senior officials here is my exact quote from that email. I talked to is a landscape just now. He is prepared to receive code us this call. Will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation. And will turn over every stone. He would greatly appreciate it call prior to Sunday. So that he could put out some media about a friendly and productive call no details. Prior to Ukraine election on Sunday. Chief of staff from all baby responded. I asked the NS seat to set it up for tomorrow. Everyone. Was in the loop. It was no C great. Everyone was informed via email on July 19. Days before the presidential call. As I communicated to the team. I told president so Lansky an advance that assurance as to run a fully transparent investigation. And turn over every stone. Were necessary in its call with president trump. On July 19 and oh what sap message between ambassador Taylor ambassador Volcker and me. Ambassador bull bull for stated. Had breakfast with 3:30 this morning. That's ambassador. All current Rudy Giuliani. Teeing up call with your Mac Monday at senior advisor Andrei your Mac. Must have helped. Most important is from is a landscape to say that he will help investigation. And address any specific personnel issues if there aren't. On August 10 the next day mr. your Mac 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 US Ukraine relationship. Including among other things we're recent. And election meddling in investigations. This is from mr. your Mac to me. The following day. August 11. And this is critical. I sent an email to counselor Brecht bull and Lisa Kana. Lisa can I was frequently used as the pathway to secretary Pompeo. As sometimes he'd prefer to receive his emails through occur 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 the Len ski. To be delivered for our review in a day or to you. The contents will hopefully make the boss happy enough the boss being the president. To authorize an invitation. It's a landscape plans to have a big presser press conference. On the openness subject. Including specifics next week. All of which referred to. The 2006. Team. And the policeman. Ms. Kantor replied Gordon and I'll pass to the secretary. Thank you. Again. Everyone who was in the loop. Curiously. And this was very interesting to me on August 26. Shortly before his visit to Kia. Ambassador Bolton as office requested. Mr. Giuliani's. Contact information for me. I send ambassador Bolton the information directly. They requested. Mr. Giuliani's contact information. On August 26. I was first informed that the White House. Was withholding security aid to Ukraine. During conversations with the ambassador Taylor on July 18. 2019. However as I testified before. I was never able to obtain a clear answer regarding the specific reason for the hold. Weather was bureaucratic in nature which often happens. Or reflected some other concern in the inner agency 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 1 Warsaw meeting. The ukrainians had become aware that security finds 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 of one Warsaw meeting. I asked secretary Pompeo. Whether a face to face conversation between trump and so Len ski. Would help to break the logjam. And this was when president trump was still intending to travel to Warsaw. Specifically. On August 22. I emailed secretary Pompeo directly. Copying secretary at Kana. I wrote this is my email to secretary Pompeo. Should we block time in Warsaw. For a short pull aside for a code is two meets a Lansky. I would asks a Lansky to look him in the EI. And tell him that once Ukraine's new justice folks are in place in mid September. That's eleven scheme he's a Lansky should be able to move forward publicly and with confidence. On those issues of importance to code us in the US. Hopefully that will help break the logjam. The secretary replied yes. I followed up the next day asking to get ten to fifteen minutes. On the Warsaw schedule for this. I said we'd like to know when it's locked so that I can tells a Lansky and brief him. Executive secretary Ken a replied I will try for sure. Moreover given my concerns about the security aide I have no reason to dispute that portion of senator Johnson's recent letter. In which he recalls conversations he and I had I not August 30. By the end of August my belief. Was that if Ukraine did something. To demonstrate a serious intention to fight corruption. And specifically addressing her Reese not and the 2016. Then the hold on military aid would be lifted. There was a September 1 meeting with presidents a Lansky and Warsaw. Unfortunately president trumps attendance at the Warsaw meeting was canceled. Due to hurricane Dorian. Vice president pence attended instead. I'd mentioned a vice president pence before the meetings. With the ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid to become tied to the issue of investigations. I recall mentioning that before there's a Lansky meeting. During the actual meeting presidents a Lansky raise the issue of security assistance directly with vice president pants. 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 of mystery your Mac. It was a very very brief pull aside conversation that happened within a few seconds. I told mr. your Mac that I believe that the resumption of US 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 aide was critical to Ukraine's defense and should not have been delayed. I express this view to many during this period. But my goal at the time was to dole is necessary to get the aid released to break the logjam. I believe that the public statement we have 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 5. The day after the US EU mission hosted our Independence Day we did it among thoroughly. Acting assistant secretary Phil reeker sent an email to mean to secretary Perry and others. Forwarding some positive media coverage of presidents a Lance he's attendance at our event. Mr. reeker wrote and I quote. This headline underscores the importance and timeliness of the lens skis 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 of this effort. Months later. On September 3. I sent secretary Pompeo and emailed to express my appreciation. For his joining a series of meetings in Brussels. Following the Warsaw trip. I wrote. Mike. Thanks for shopping B Europe. I think it was really important and the chemistry seems promising really appreciate it. Secretary Pompeo replied the next stay on Wednesday September 4. Quote. All good day. You're doing great work keep banging away. State Department leadership expressed total support for our efforts 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 it and approved. And not once do I recall encountering an objection. Remains an honor. To serve the people of the United States is there United States ambassador to the European Union. I look forward to answering the committee's questions thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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