Gordon Sondland defies Trump, saying there was a quid pro quo

The ambassador to the EU said it was an order from the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who he presumed was acting at the direction of the commander in chief.
7:26 | 11/21/19

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Transcript for Gordon Sondland defies Trump, saying there was a quid pro quo
And they begin tonight with the most pivotal witness yesterday in the impeachment inquiry, who said there was a quid pro quo, and that many in the trump administration knew about it. Republicans tonight firing back. The ambassador to the eu, Gordon sondland, a trump megadonor, hand-picked by the president, today testifying on live television there was that quid pro quo, pressure on Ukraine to open investigations into the president's political opponents in order to get an official white house visit. Sondland saying he believed that's why the $400 million in U.S. Military aid was being withheld, too. Sondland also saying that he was not part of a rogue operation that, quote, everyone was in the loop, including secretary of state Pompeo, saying he talked to vice president pence, as well. And providing an email he sent to the secretary of state signaling that Ukraine was ready to act on the issues important to president trump. Republicans striking back tonight, asking, did the president ever directly tell sondland why he was withholding the U.S. Aid, sondland answering, no. ABC's Mary Bruce leads us off tonight from the hill. Reporter: Today on capitol hill, a true Washington blockbuster. Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you god? Reporter: Gordon sondland, president trump's hand-picked point person in Ukraine, defying the president, telling the nation there was a quid pro quo, on order from the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, acting at the direction of the president. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. We followed the president's orders. Reporter: Sondland said the Ukrainian president would only get a coveted meeting at the white house if he agreed to announce an investigation into the president's political rivals. I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question. Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested white house call and the white house meeting, the answer is yes. Reporter: And it wasn't just the white house visit at stake. The president was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid. It became your clear understanding that the military assistance was also being withheld pending zelensky announcing these investigations. Correct? That was my presumption. My personal presumption based on the facts at the time. Nothing was moving. Reporter: But sondland acknowledges the president never told him directly. I don't recall president trump ever talking to me about any security assistance, ever. Is this kind of a two plus two equals four conclusion that you reached? Pretty much. It's the only logical conclusion to you that given all of these factors, that the aid was also apart of this quid pro quo? Yep. Reporter: Republicans pounced. So, nobody else on this planet told you that Donald Trump was tying aid to these investigations, is that correct? I think I already testified -- No, answer the question. No one on this planet told you that president trump was tying aid to investigations, yes or Yes. So, you really have no testimony today that ties president trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations? Other than my own presumptions. Which is nothing. Reporter: Chairman Schiff pushing back. My colleagues seem to think unless the president says the magic words that I hereby bribe the Ukrainians, that there's no evidence of bribery or other high crimes and misdee me nors. Reporter: Sondland insisted he wasn't acting alone. He said everyone was in the loop, and he named names. Declaring that everyone from secretary of state Mike Pompeo to vice president Mike pence knew about the campaign to pressure Ukraine. The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false. Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Reporter: Sondland says the state department refused to let him look over his old emails, but he did bring one, an exchange with Pompeo, where sondland said Ukraine was ready to move forward publicly and with confidence on those issues of importance to trump, adding, hopefully, that will break the logjam. And when you're talking here about breaking the logjam, you're talking about the logjam over the security assistance, correct? I was talking generically, because nothing was moving. That included the security assistance, did it not? Correct. Reporter: Sondland says he talked to the vice president, too. You said, we really need to get these investigations from Ukraine in order to release the aid, in the premeeting? That's right. And vice president pence just nodded? He heard what I said. Reporter: Sondlandch theed that the most important thing to trump was that Ukrainian president zelensky publicly announce the investigations. He had to announce the investigations. He didn't actually have to do them, as I understood it. Reporter: Sondland confirmed the testimony of another diplomat, David Holmes, who says he overheard a phone call between sondland and trump in a restaurant in kiev. You confirmedpresident trump that you were in Ukraine at the time and that president zelensky, quote, loves your ass, unquote. Do you recall saying that? Sounds like something I would say. That's how president trump and I communicate. A lot of four-letter words. In this case, three letters. Holmes then said that he heard president trump ask, quote, is he, meaning zelensky, going to do the investigation? To which you replied, he's going to do it. Do you recall that? I probably said something to that effect, putting it in trump-speak, by saying he loves your ass, he'll do whatever you want. Reporter: But Republicans pointed to a different phone call, one sondland described in a text message to the top American diplomat in Ukraine. You testified that in your September 9th call with president trump, the president said, quote, no quid pro quo, I want nothing. I want nothing. I want president zelensky to do the right thing. Do what he ran on, end quote. Is that correct? That's correct. Reporter: But that call came one day after the white house learned of the whistle-blower's complaint and just as congress was launching its investigation. Very busy day. Let's get right to Mary Bruce on the hill tonight. Mary with us all day long. And Mary, many were wonder eck as this was playing out today, would the president react in real-time as he did during last week's hearings to what he was hearing from ambassador sondland today. Sondland actually saying that he spoke with president trump about 20 times or so on the phone. He was able to call the president up, so, what did the president say about sondland today? Reporter: Well, David, even though sondland donated $1 million to the president's inauguration, trump today insisted that he does not know sondland well and that he hasn't spoken to him much, and trump even noted that sondland previously supported another candidate. Now, sondland was asked about the president trying to distance himself. His response, David, easy come, easy go. All right, Mary Bruce leading us off.

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

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