“No one told me directly that the aid was tied to anything. I was presuming it was.”
That was U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 20, destroying the concept that $250 million of U.S. military assistance was ever being leveraged by President Donald Trump in exchange for investigations being pursued by Ukraine against Burisma Holdings.
Sondland had previously testified on Nov. 4 that he “presumed” military assistance to Ukraine was “likely” being conditioned by the administration when he spoke to a Ukrainian presidential aide on Sept. 1, but that he “did not know… when, why, or by whom the aid was suspended…”
So why is there an impeachment inquiry into conditioning military aid to Ukraine on investigations?
From that testimony, “I now do recall a conversation on September 1, 2019, in Warsaw with [Zelensky presidential aide Andriy] Yermak. This brief pull-aside conversation followed the larger meeting involving Vice President [Mike] Pence and President [Volodymyr] Zelensky, in which President Zelensky had raised the issue of the suspension of U.S. aid to Ukraine directly with Vice President Pence. After that large meeting, I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement we had been discussing for many weeks.”
But Sondland said he was speculating: “I always believed that suspending aid to Ukraine was ill-advised, although I did not know (and still do not know) when, why, or by whom the aid was suspended. However, by the beginning of September 2019, and in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement.”
Instead it was a meeting that was being sought by Ukraine with President Trump, and his attorney Rudy Giuliani who wanted a public statement from Ukraine based on cooperation with the U.S. on Attorney General William Barr’s ongoing investigation into the origins of the Russigate hoax including in Ukraine and a Burisma corruption probe.
Per Sondland’s prior testimony,“scheduling a White House visit for President Zelensky was conditioned upon President Zelensky’s agreement to make a public anti-corruption statement. This condition had been communicated by Rudy Giuliani, with whom President Trump directed Ambassador Volker, Secretary Perry and me, on May 23, 2019, to discuss issues related to the President’s concerns about Ukraine.”
But those conditions were dropped. According to former United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker’s Oct. 3 testimony, “To my knowledge, the news about a hold on security assistance did not get into Ukrainian Government circles, as indicated to me by the current foreign minister, then diplomatic adviser, until the end of August. And by the time that we had that, we had dropped the idea of even looking at a statement” in exchange for a meeting.
Further, Volker was asked about the conditioning the meeting, “Did the President ever withhold a meeting with President Zelensky… until the Ukrainians committed to investigate the allegations… concerning the 2016 election?”
To which, Volker replied, “The answer to the question is no… there was no linkage.” That’s because the Sept. 1 meeting in Warsaw — which was originally supposed to be President Trump and Zelensky not Pence but the Vice President went instead because of a hurricane hitting the U.S. — had already been scheduled.
And Sondland was attending that very meeting in Warsaw on Sept. 1 even though no public statement had ever been issued when he conveyed to Ukraine his presumption that now military aid was being conditioned on such investigations. That, even though per his testimony he “never received a clear answer” as to why the military aid was suspended.
And even though Zelensky had already agreed to the investigations on the July 25 phone call.
On assisting in the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into the origins of the Russiagate hoax, where intelligence agencies falsely accused President Trump of being a Russia agent, Zelensky said, “Yes, it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier… I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.”
And on Burisma, without any pressure from Trump, Zelensky said, “I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation… Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100 percent my person, my candidate, who will be approved by the parliament and will start as new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and work on the investigation of the case.”
Sondland had apparently arranged for Zelensky to tell Trump that in the phone call. In his testimony, Sondland had already conveyed to Washington, D.C. prior to the July 25 phone call that Zelensky had already agreed to “run a fully transparent investigation” and, in Zelensky’s words, to “turn over every stone.” Without any meeting and more than a month before the Sept. 1 meeting, Sondland had received word that Ukraine was on top of the investigations.
Sure enough, the new Ukrainian Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka confirmed on Nov. 20 that the investigation into Burisma has been expanded and has been ongoing for almost two years, predating Zelensky’s April 2019 election, for “theft of government funds on an especially large scale”.
The investigation into Burisma had been reopened in 2018, according to Nazar Kholodnytskyi, a top anti-corruption prosecutor in Ukraine, in an April 1 comment to The Hill’s John Solomon: “Kholodnytskyi, the lead anti-corruption prosecutor in Lutsenko’s office, confirmed to me in an interview that part of the Burisma investigation was reopened in 2018, after Joe Biden made his remarks” bragging about getting the former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin fired.
Kholodnytskyi said, “We were able to start this case again… [But] we don’t see any result from this case one year after the reopening because of some external influence,” citing problems with a separate Ukrainian agency that he said was dragging its feet in gathering evidence.
Shokin told Solomon in April told The Hill’s John Solomon, prior to the election of the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, that he was removed in 2016 because of his investigation of Burisma, which Biden’s son, Hunter, served on the Board of Directors of.
In other words, the investigation into Burisma has been ongoing in Ukraine for years.
As for the Russiagate, the Justice Department has already confirmed an active investigation into the origins of the Russigate hoax, including any origins in Ukraine.
On Sept. 25, Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec stated, “A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”
The U.S. and Ukraine have a mutual legal assistance treaty, signed in 1998, and now the investigations on have been confirmed in both countries. Meaning President Trump’s call to Ukrainian President Zelensky was perfectly legitimate, because the investigations are and always have been legitimate. As Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning noted in a statement on Nov. 20, “unless President Trump has a time machine, he did not initiate the probe” because they had started before Zelensky was even elected.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.