WASHINGTON — Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, acknowledged telling one of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's advisers that resumption of U.S. aid was tied to an anti-corruption pledge sought by President Donald Trump.
The acknowledgment in a deposition as part of the House impeachment inquiry released Tuesday, Nov. 5, was a reversal from his earlier testimony. It puts Sondland in the middle of what national security officials saw as an attempt by the White House to leverage nearly $400 million in security assistance for investigations that could benefit Trump politically.
House investigators also released the transcript of Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine, as they continue to probe Trump's efforts to press for an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
The leaders of the three committees involved in the impeachment inquiry said Tuesday that the newly released Volker and Sondland testimony reveals the extent of efforts of Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to "use the State Department to press Ukraine to announce investigations beneficial to the president's personal and political interests."
Those efforts began as early as May 2019, they said.
"Finally, with the release of the full production of text messages provided to the Committees by Ambassador Volker, and an additional declaration by Ambassador Sondland, the president's scheme comes into clearer focus," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Intelligence Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and acting Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement.
The three chairs accused the State Department of "blanket stonewalling," which they said will "only continue to build the case against the president for obstruction of Congress, especially in light of the damning evidentiary record the Committees have already gathered."
Sondland had initially testified that he knew of only one quid pro quo: a coveted White House invitation for Ukraine's new president if Ukraine would commit to launching investigations that could have impugned the reputation of Joe Biden.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) doubled down Nov. 4 on his push for hold public hearings during the impeachment inquiry process. (The Washington Post)
But William Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, challenged Sondland's claim that he did not know of a second quid pro quo involving the security aid.
Taylor testified that Sondland had conditioned the release of the funding on the investigations targeting Biden in a meeting in Poland in September.
Taylor said he understood that on Sept. 1, Sondland warned Zelensky aide Andrey Yermak that the security assistance "would not come" unless Zelensky committed to pursuing the investigation into Burisma, an energy company where Hunter Biden had held a board position.
"I was alarmed," Taylor wrote, saying a national security official had told him that the demand was relayed in person by Sondland while the ambassador was traveling in Poland with Vice President Mike Pence. "This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance . . . was conditioned on the investigation."
On Monday, transcripts of two other witnesses were made public: Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, and P. Michael McKinley, a former adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
House Democrats are seeking a deposition of acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Friday, targeting the highest-ranking White House official to date in the Democratic-led inquiry.He is not expected to comply with the request.
"Based on evidence gathered in the impeachment inquiry and public reporting, we believe that you possess substantial first-hand knowledge and information relevant to the House's impeachment inquiry," the Democratic chairmen of the three committees conducting the inquiry wrote to Mulvaney.
Meanwhile, Republicans are considering changes to their lineup on the House Intelligence Committee ahead of public hearings on the impeachment inquiry, including the installation of Rep. Jim Jordan , R-Ohio, a boisterous Trump supporter.
"We'll see. That's a call for Leader McCarthy," Jordan said, referring to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in an interview on Fox News.
"I just want to help our team," Jordan said. "I want to help the country see the truth here, that President Trump didn't do anything wrong, and that what the Democrats are doing is partisan, it's unfair and frankly it's ridiculous."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday laid out the steps for a Senate trial, but said that the outcome is probably already known.
"I will say, I'm pretty sure how it's likely to end. If it were today, I don't think there's any question it would not lead to a removal," McConnell told reporters. "So the question is how long does the Senate want to take, how long do the presidential candidates want to be here on the floor instead of Iowa and New Hampshire?"
McConnell refused to answer questions about the House impeachment inquiry, including whether the whistleblower who filed the complaint, or whistleblowers generally, deserve to have their identities protected.
Trump went on Twitter on Tuesday morning to retweet some of his previous commentary on the impeachment inquiry. Among other things, he advocated that the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the inquiry testify publicly.
Mark Zaid, a lawyer for the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry, suggested Tuesday that Republicans who have called for his client to testify publicly should follow the counsel of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
A morning tweet by Zaid was aimed at two Republican senators: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
"Perhaps @LindseyGrahamSC & @RandPaul should listen to their senior colleague," Zaid tweeted. "He understands how & the need to protect #whistleblowers."
Zaid attached a news story about comments made Monday by Grassley about whether the whistleblower should come forward.
"That's strictly up to the whistleblower," Grassley said. "A person like me that has advocated for whistleblowers for a long period of time, including this whistleblower, I want maximum protection for whistleblowers."
This article was written by John Wagner and Colby Itkowitz, reporters for The Washington Post. The Washington Post's Rachael Bade, Devlin Barrett, Aaron C. Davis, Mike DeBonis, Rosalind Helderman and Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.