7, The President 's Conditioning of Military Assistance and a White House Meeting on Announcement of Investigations Raised Alarm
Following the public disclosure in late August 2019 of a hold on U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, President Trump made clear that" everything''-- an Oval Office meeting and the release of taxpayer-funded U.S. security assistance-- was contingent on the Ukrainian president announcing investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. President Trump wanted the Ukrainian leader" in a public box,'' even as Ambassador Bill Taylor warned that it was" crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.''
On August 28, 2019, Politico first reported that President Trump was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars of Congressionally-appropriated U.S. security assistance from Ukraine, a fact that had been previously suspected by Ukrainian officials in July. Public revelations about the freeze raised questions about the U.S. commitment to Ukraine and harming efforts to deter Russian influence and aggression in Europe.
Around this time, American officials made clear to Ukrainians that a public announcement about investigations into Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden was a pre-condition-- not only to obtain a White House meeting for President Zelensky, but also to end the freeze on military and other security assistance for Ukraine.
In early September, Ambassador Gordon Sondland conveyed President Trump 's demands to both U.S. and Ukrainian officials. On September 1, he informed a senior Ukrainian official that the military aid would be released if the" prosecutor general would to go the mike[ sic]'' and announce the investigations. Later, on September 7, President Trump informed Ambassador Sondland that he wanted President Zelensky-- not the Prosecutor General-- in a" public box'' and demanded that the Ukrainian president personally announce the investigations to" clear things up.'' Only then would Ukraine end the" stalemate'' with the White House related to security assistance. President Zelensky proceeded to schedule an interview on CNN in order to announce the investigations and satisfy President Trump.
The President 's efforts to withhold vital military and security assistance in exchange for political investigations troubled U.S. officials. NSC Senior Director for Europe and Russia Timothy Morrison twice reported what he understood to be the President 's requirement of a quid pro quo to National Security Advisor John Bolton, who advised him to" make sure the lawyers are tracking.'' Ambassador Bill Taylor expressed his concerns to Ambassador Sondland, stating plainly that it was" crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.''
Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Sondland Worked to" Break the Logjam''
President Trump 's hold on security assistance persisted throughout August, without explanation to U.S. officials and contrary to the consensus recommendation of the President 's national security team. At the same time, President Trump refused to schedule a coveted White House visit for President Zelensky until he announced two investigations that could benefit President Trump 's reelection prospects. The confluence of those two circumstances led some American officials, including Ambassador Sondland and David Holmes, Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, to conclude that the military assistance was conditioned on Ukraine 's public announcement of the investigations.
On August 20, Ambassador Kurt Volker met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper. Ms. Cooper and Ambassador Volker agreed that if the hold on security assistance was not lifted," it would be very damaging to the relationship'' between the U.S. and Ukraine. During this meeting, Ambassador Volker mentioned that he was talking to an advisor to President Zelensky about making a statement" that would somehow disavow any interference in U.S. elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference.'' Ambassador Volker indicated that if his efforts to get a statement were successful, the hold on security assistance might be lifted.
Although he did not mention that conversation during his deposition, Ambassador Volker had a similar recollection, during his public testimony, of the meeting with Ms. Cooper. Ambassador Volker recalled discussing with Ms. Cooper the draft statement that had been coordinated with Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak-- which included reference to the two investigations that President Trump demanded in the July 25 call-- and that such a statement" could be helpful in getting a reset of the thinking of the President, the negative view of Ukraine that he had'' which might, in turn," unblock whatever hold there was on security assistance.''
Around this time, Ambassador Sondland sought to" break the logjam'' on the security assistance and the White House meeting by coordinating a meeting between the two Presidents through Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. On August 22, Ambassador Sondland emailed Secretary Pompeo, copying the State Department 's Executive Secretary, Lisa Kenna:
Should we block time in Warsaw for a short pull-aside for POTUS to meet Zelensky? I would ask Zelensky to look him in the eye and tell him that once Ukraine 's new justice folks are in place( mid-Sept) Ze should be able to move forward publicly and with confidence on those issues of importance to Potus and to the US. Hopefully, that will break the logjam.
Secretary Pompeo replied," Yes.''
Ambassador Sondland testified that when he referenced" issues of importance to Potus,'' he meant the investigation into the false allegations about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and the investigation into the Bidens. He told the Committee that his goal was to" do what was necessary to get the aid released, to break the logjam.'' Ambassador Sondland believed that President Trump would not release the aid until Ukraine announced the two investigations the President wanted.
Ambassador Sondland testified:" Secretary Pompeo essentially gave me the green light to brief President Zelensky about making those announcements.'' He explained:
This was a proposed briefing that I was going to give President Zelensky, and I was going to call President Zelensky and ask him to say what is in this email. And I was asking essentially...[ Secretary] Pompeo 's permission to do that, which he said yes.
He then forwarded the email to Ms. Kenna, seeking confirmation of" 10-15 min on the Warsaw sched[ ule]'' for the pull-aside meeting. The Ambassador stated that he was seeking confirmation in order to brief President Zelensky. Ms. Kenna replied," I will try for sure.''
On August 24, Ukraine celebrated its Independence Day. According to Mr. Holmes, Ukrainian Independence Day presented" another good opportunity to show support for Ukraine.'' However, nobody senior to Ambassador Volker attended the festivities, even though Secretary of Defense James Mattis attended in 2017 and Ambassador Bolton attended in 2018.
Two days later, on August 26, Ambassador Bolton 's office requested Mr. Giuliani 's contact information from Ambassador Sondland. Ambassador Sondland sent Ambassador Bolton the information directly. Ambassador Sondland testified that he had" no idea'' why Ambassador Bolton requested the contact information.
Ambassador Bolton Visited Kyiv
On August 27, Ambassador Bolton arrived in Kyiv for an official visit. Ambassador Bolton emphasized to Andriy Bohdan, President Zelensky 's chief of staff, that an upcoming meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, scheduled for September 1 in Warsaw, Poland, would be" crucial to cementing their relationship.'' Mr. Holmes, who accompanied Ambassador Bolton in Kyiv, testified that he also heard" Ambassador Bolton express to Ambassador Taylor and Mr. Morrison his frustration about Mr. Giuliani 's influence with the President, making clear there was nothing he could do about it.''
Prior to Ambassador Bolton 's departure from Kyiv, Ambassador Taylor asked to meet with him privately. Ambassador Taylor expressed his" serious concern about the withholding of military assistance to Ukraine while the Ukrainians were defending their country from Russian aggression.'' During the conversation, Ambassador Bolton" indicated that he was very sympathetic'' to Ambassador 's Taylor 's concerns. He advised that Ambassador Taylor" send a first-person cable to Secretary Pompeo directly relaying my concerns'' about the withholding of military assistance.
Mr. Holmes testified that Ambassador Bolton advised during his trip that" the hold on security assistance would not be lifted prior to the upcoming meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky in Warsaw, where it would hang on whether Zelensky was able to favorably impress President Trump.''
Ukrainian Concern Over Military Aid Intensified After First Public Report of Hold
On August 28, 2019, Politico first reported that President Trump had implemented a hold on nearly$ 400 million of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine that had been appropriated by Congress.
Almost immediately after the news became public, Ukrainian officials expressed alarm to their American counterparts. Mr. Yermak sent Ambassador Volker a link to the Politico story and then texted:" Need to talk with you.'' Other Ukrainian officials also expressed concerns to Ambassador Volker that the Ukrainian government was being" singled out and penalized for some reason.''
On August 29, Mr. Yermak also contacted Ambassador Taylor to express that he was" very concerned'' about the hold on military assistance. Mr. Yermak and other Ukrainian officials told Ambassador Taylor that they were" just desperate'' and would be willing to travel to Washington to raise with U.S. officials the importance of the assistance. Ambassador Taylor described confusion among Ukrainian officials over the hold on military aid:
I mean, the obvious question was," Why? '' So Mr. Yermak and others were trying to figure out why this was... They thought that there must be some rational reason for this being held up, and they just did n't-- and maybe in Washington they did n't understand how important this assistance was to their fight and to their armed forces. And so maybe they could figure-- so they were just desperate.
Without any official explanation for the hold, American officials could provide little reassurance to their Ukrainian counterparts. Ambassador Taylor continued," And I could n't tell them. I did n't know and I did n't tell them, because we had n't-- we had n't-- there 'd been no guidance that I could give them.''
Ambassador Taylor 's First-Person Cable Described the" Folly'' in Withholding Military Aid
The same day that Ambassador Taylor heard from Mr. Yermak about his concerns about the hold on military aid, Ambassador Taylor transmitted his classified, first-person cable to Washington. It was the first and only time in Ambassador Taylor 's career that he sent such a cable to the Secretary of State. The cable described" the folly I saw in withholding military aid to Ukraine at a time when hostilities were still active in the east and when Russia was watching closely to gauge the level of American support for the Ukrainian Government.''
Ambassador Taylor worried about the public message that such a hold on vital military assistance would send in the midst of Ukraine 's hot war with Russia:" The Russians, as I said at my deposition, would love to see the humiliation of President Zelensky at the hands of the Americans. I told the Secretary that I could not and would not defend such a policy.''
The cable also sought to explain clearly" the importance of Ukraine and the security assistance to U.S. national security,'' according to Mr. Holmes. However, Mr. Holmes worried that the national security argument might not achieve its purpose given the reasons he suspected for the hold on military aid. His" clear impression'' at the time was that" the security assistance hold was likely intended by the President either as an expression of dissatisfaction with the Ukrainians, who had not yet agreed to the Burisma/Biden investigation, or as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so.'' Mr. Holmes viewed this as" the only logical conclusion.'' He had" no other explanation for why there was disinterest in this[ White House] meeting that the President had already offered'' and there was a" hold of the security assistance with no explanation whatsoever.''
Ambassador Taylor never received a response to his cable, but was told that Secretary Pompeo carried it with him to a White House meeting about security assistance to Ukraine.
Ambassador Sondland Told Senator Johnson That Ukraine Aid Was Conditioned on Investigations
The next day, on August 30, Republican Senator Ron Johnson spoke with Ambassador Sondland to express his concern about President Trump 's decision to withhold military assistance to Ukraine. According to Senator Johnson, Ambassador Sondland told him that if Ukraine would commit to" get to the bottom of what happened in 2016-- if President Trump has that confidence, then he 'll release the military spending.''
On August 31, Senator Johnson spoke by phone with President Trump regarding the decision to withhold aid to Ukraine. President Trump denied the quid pro quo that Senator Johnson had learned of from Ambassador Sondland. At the same time, however, President Trump refused to Senator Johnson to tell Ukrainian officials that the aid would be forthcoming.
The message that Ambassador Sondland communicated to Senator Johnson mirrored that used by President Trump during his July 25 call with President Zelensky, in which President Trump twice asked that the Ukrainian leader" get to the bottom of it,'' including in connection to an investigation into the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton. To the contrary, the U.S. unanimously assessed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump, as did Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In a November 18 letter to House Republicans, Senator Johnson confirmed the accuracy of the Wall Street Journal 's account of his August 30 call with Ambassador Sondland.
Ambassador Sondland testified that he had" no reason to dispute'' Senator Johnson 's recollection of the August 30 call and testified that by late August 2019, he had concluded that" if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention to fight corruption, and specifically addressing Burisma and the 2016, then the hold on military aid would be lifted.''
Ambassador Sondland Raised the Link Between Investigations and Security Assistance to Vice President Pence Before Meeting with President Zelensky
On September 1, President Trump was scheduled to meet President Zelensky in Warsaw, Poland during an event commemorating World War II. Citing the approach of Hurricane Dorian towards American soil, the President canceled his trip just days beforehand. Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Warsaw instead.
Jennifer Williams, Special Advisor to the Vice President for Europe and Russia, learned of the change in the President 's travel plans on August 29 and" relied heavily on the NSC briefing papers'' originally prepared for President Trump. Ms. Williams recalled that" prior to leaving,[ National Security Advisor to the Vice President] General Kellogg had asked, at the request of the Vice President, for an update on the status of the security assistance that was at that time still on hold.'' Given the public reporting about the hold on August 29, White House officials expected that President Zelensky would seek further information on the status of the funds.
The delegation arrived in Warsaw and gathered in a hotel room to brief the Vice President shortly before his engagement with President Zelensky. Ambassador Bolton, who had just arrived from Kyiv, led the Ukraine briefing. He updated Vice President Pence on President Zelensky 's efforts to combat corruption and explained" what the security assistance was for.'' Advisors in the room" agreed on the need to get a final decision on that security assistance as soon as possible so that it could be implemented before the end of the fiscal year.''
Before the bilateral meeting between Vice President Pence and President Zelensky, Ambassador Sondland attended a" general briefing'' for the Vice President. Ambassador Sondland testified that he raised concerns that the delay in security assistance had" become tied to the issue of investigations.'' The Vice President" nodded like, you know, he heard what I said.''
During Ambassador Sondland 's public testimony, Vice President Pence 's office issued a carefully worded statement claiming that the Vice President" never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations,'' and that" Ambassador Gordon Sondland was never alone with the Vice President on the September 1 trip to Poland.'' Ambassador Sondland did not testify that he specifically mentioned the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine during his discussion with Vice President Pence, nor did he testify that he was alone with the Vice President.
Before Vice President Pence 's meeting with President Zelensky, Ukrainian National Security Advisor Oleksandr" Sasha'' Danyliuk wrote Ambassador Taylor, incorrectly describing the failure to provide security assistance as a" gradually increasing problem.'' 89 In the hours before Vice President Pence 's meeting with President Zelensky, Ambassador Taylor replied, clarifying that" the delay of U.S. security assistance was an all-or-nothing proposition, in the sense that if the White House did not lift the hold prior to the end of the fiscal year, September 30th, the funds would expire and Ukraine would receive nothing.'' Ambassador Taylor wanted to make sure Mr. Danyliuk understood that if the assistance was not provided" by the end of the fiscal year, then it goes away.'' President Zelensky Immediately Asked Vice President Pence About Security Assistance
As expected, at the outset of the bilateral meeting, President Zelensky immediately asked Vice President Pence about the status of U.S. security assistance. It was" the very first question'' that he raised. President Zelensky emphasized the multifold importance of American assistance, stating that" the symbolic value of U.S. support in terms of security assistance... was just as valuable to the Ukrainians as the actual dollars.'' President Zelensky also expressed concern that" any hold or appearance of reconsideration of such assistance might embolden Russia to think that the United States was no longer committed to Ukraine.''
According to Ms. Williams, the Vice President" assured President Zelensky that there was no change in U.S. policy in terms of our... full-throated support for Ukraine and its sovereignty and territorial integrity.'' Vice President Pence also assured the Ukrainian delegation that he would convey to President Trump the details of President Zelensky 's" good progress on reforms, so that hopefully we could get a decision on the security assistance as soon as possible.''
The reassurance proved to be ineffective. The Washington Post later reported that one of President Zelensky 's aides told Vice President Pence:" You 're the only country providing us military assistance. You 're punishing us.''
Mr. Holmes testified that President Trump 's decision to cancel his Warsaw trip effectively meant that" the hold[ on security assistance] remained in place, with no clear means to get it lifted.''
Ambassador Sondland Informed President Zelensky 's Advisor that Military Aid Was Contingent on Ukraine Publicly Announcing the Investigations
After the bilateral meeting between Vice President Pence and President Zelensky, Ambassador Sondland briefly spoke to President Zelensky 's aide, Mr. Yermak. Ambassador Sondland conveyed his belief that" the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks'' regarding the investigations that President Trump discussed during the July 25 call.
Immediately following the conversation, Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Morrison what had transpired during his aside with Mr. Yermak. Mr. Morrison recounted to the Committees that Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak" what could help them move the aid was if the prosecutor general would go to the mike[ sic] and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation.''
Mr. Morrison Reported Ambassador Sondland 's Proposal to Get Ukrainians" Pulled Into Our Politics'' to White House Officials and Ambassador Taylor
Mr. Morrison felt uncomfortable with" any idea that President Zelensky should allow himself to be involved in our politics.'' He promptly reported the conversation between Ambassador Sondland and Mr. Yermak to Ambassador Bolton. Mr. Morrison had concerns with" what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics.'' Ambassador Bolton told Mr. Morrison-- consistent with his own" instinct''-- to" make sure the lawyers are tracking.'' Upon his return to Washington, Mr. Morrison reported his concerns to NSC lawyers John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis.
Mr. Morrison testified that, in speaking to the NSC legal advisors, he wanted to ensure" that there was a record of what Ambassador Sondland was doing, to protect the President.'' 905 At this point, Mr. Morrison was not certain that the President had Ambassador Sondland 's activities, but Mr. Morrison agreed that if the President had been aware of Ambassador Sondland 's activities, the effect could be to create a paper trail that incriminated President Trump.
Mr. Morrison also reported the conversation to Ambassador Taylor" because I wanted him to be in a position to advise the Ukrainians not to do it.'' Ambassador Taylor said that he was" alarmed'' to hear about the to Mr. Yermak. He explained that" this was the first time that I had heard that the security assistance, not just the White House meeting, was conditioned on the investigations.'' To Ambassador Taylor," It 's one thing to try to leverage a meeting in the White House. It 's another thing, I thought, to leverage security assistance... to a country at war, dependent on both the security assistance and the demonstration of support.''
President Trump Wanted President Zelensky in a" Public Box,'' and Said" Everything'' Depended on Announcing the Investigations
Upon hearing from Mr. Morrison about the conditionality of the military aid on Ukraine publicly announcing the two investigations, Ambassador Taylor sent a text message to Ambassador Sondland:" Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations? '' Ambassador Sondland responded," Call me.''
Ambassador Sondland confirmed over the phone to Ambassador Taylor that" everything''-- the Oval Office meeting and the security assistance-- was dependent on the Ukrainian government publicly announcing the political investigations President Trump requested on July 25. Informed by a review of contemporaneous notes that he took during his phone call, Ambassador Taylor testified:
During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling Ukrainian officials that only a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of the investigations. In fact, Ambassador Sondland said, everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky in a public box, by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.
By this point, Ambassador Taylor 's" clear understanding'' was that President Trump would withhold security assistance until President Zelensky" committed to pursue the investigation.'' He agreed that the U.S. position was" if they do n't do this,'' referring to the investigations," they are not going to get that,'' referring to the security assistance. Ambassador Taylor also concurred with the statement that" if they do n't do this, they are not going to get that'' was the literal definition of a quid pro quo.
Ambassador Taylor testified that his contemporaneous notes of the phone call with Ambassador Sondland reflect that Ambassador Sondland used the phrase" public box'' to describe President Trump 's desire to ensure that the initiation of his desired investigations was announced publicly. Ambassador Sondland, who did not take contemporaneous notes of any of his conversations, did not dispute that he used those words. He also testified that, when he spoke to Mr. Yermak, he believed that it would be sufficient to satisfy the requirements of President Trump and Mr. Giuliani if the new Ukrainian prosecutor general issued a statement about investigations, but his understanding soon changed.
President Trump Informed Ambassador Sondland that President Zelensky Personally" Must Announce the Opening of the Investigations''
On September 7, Ambassador Sondland called Mr. Morrison to report that he had just concluded a call with President Trump. Mr. Morrison testified that Ambassador Sondland told him" that there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelensky must announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it.'' This led Mr. Morrison to believe that a public announcement of investigations by the Ukrainian president-- and not the prosecutor general-- was a prerequisite for the release of the security assistance. He reported the conversation to Ambassador Bolton, who once again instructed him to" tell the lawyers,'' which Mr. Morrison did. Later on September 7, Mr. Morrison relayed the substance of Ambassador Sondland 's conversation with President Trump to Ambassador Taylor. Ambassador Taylor explained:
I had a conversation with Mr. Morrison in which he described a phone conversation earlier that day between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump. Mr. Morrison said that he had a sinking feeling after learning about this conversation from Ambassador Sondland. According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland he was not asking for a quid pro quo, but President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself. Mr. Morrison said that he told Ambassador Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland.
The following day, on September 8, Ambassador Sondland texted Ambassadors Volker and Taylor:" Guys multiple convos with Ze, Potus. Lets talk.'' Ambassador Taylor responded one minute later," Now is fine with me.'' On the phone, Ambassador Sondland" confirmed that he had talked to President Trump'' and that" President Trump was adamant that President Zelensky himself had to clear things up and do it in public. President Trump said it was not a quid pro quo.'' Ambassador Sondland also that he told President Zelensky and Mr. Yermak that," although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelensky did not clear things up in public, we would be at a stalemate.'' Ambassador Taylor testified that he understood" stalemate'' to mean that" Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance.'' During his public testimony, Ambassador Sondland did not dispute Ambassador Taylor 's recollection of events and agreed that the term" stalemate'' referred to the hold on U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.
Although Ambassador Sondland otherwise could not independently recall any details about his September 7 conversation with President Trump, he testified that he had no reason to dispute the testimony from Ambassador Taylor or Mr. Morrison-- which was based on their contemporaneous notes-- regarding this conversation. Ambassador Sondland, however, did recall that President Zelensky agreed to make a public announcement about the investigations into Burisma and the Bidens and the 2016 election in an interview on CNN.''
According to Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Sondland explained that President Trump was a" businessman,'' and that when" a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.'' Ambassador Taylor was concerned that President Trump believed Ukraine" owed him something'' in exchange for the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded U.S. security assistance. He argued to Ambassador Sondland that" the explanation made no sense. The Ukrainians did not owe President Trump anything. And holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was crazy.'' Ambassador Sondland did not recall this exchange specifically, but did not dispute Ambassador Taylor 's testimony.
Ambassador Taylor Texted Ambassador Sondland that" It 's Crazy to Withhold Security Assistance for Help with a Political Campaign''
Ambassador Taylor remained concerned by the President 's directive that" everything'' was conditioned on President Zelensky publicly announcing the investigations. He also worried that, even if the Ukrainian leader did as President Trump required, the President might continue to withhold the vital U.S. security assistance in any event. Ambassador Taylor texted his concerns to Ambassadors Volker and Sondland stating:" The nightmare is they give the interview and do n't get the security assistance. The Russians love it.( And I quit.)'' Ambassador Taylor testified:
" The nightmare'' is the scenario where President Zelensky goes out in public, makes an announcement that he 's going to investigate the Burisma and the... interference in 2016 election, maybe among other things. He might put that in some series of investigations.
But... the nightmare was he would mention those two, take all the heat from that, get himself in big trouble in this country and probably in his country as well, and the security assistance would not be released. That was the nightmare.
Early in the morning in Europe on September 9, Ambassador Taylor reiterated his concerns about the President 's" quid pro quo'' in another series of text messages with Ambassadors Volker and Sondland:
Taylor: The message to the Ukrainians( and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. Thus my nightmare scenario.
Taylor: Counting on you to be right about this interview, Gordon.
Sondland: Bill, I never said I was" right''. I said we are where we are and believe we have identified the best pathway forward. Lets hope it works.
Taylor: As I said on the phone, I think it 's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
By" help with a political campaign,'' Ambassador Taylor was referring to President Trump 's 2020 reelection effort. Ambassador Taylor testified:" The investigation of Burisma and the Bidens was clearly identified by Mr. Giuliani in public for months as a way to get information on the two Bidens.'' Ambassador Taylor framed the broader national security implications of President Trump 's decision to withhold vital security assistance from Ukraine. He said:
[ T] he United States was trying to support Ukraine as a frontline state against Russian attack. And, again, the whole notion of a rules-based order was being threatened by the Russians in Ukraine. So our security assistance was designed to support Ukraine. And it was not just the United States; it was all of our allies. Ambassador Taylor explained:
[ S] ecurity assistance was so important for Ukraine as well as our own national interests, to withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with a political campaign made no sense. It was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do. It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy.
Ambassador Sondland Repeated the President 's Denial of a" Quid Pro Quo'' to Ambassador Taylor, While He and President Trump Continued to Demand Public Investigations In response to Ambassador Taylor 's text message that it was" crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,'' Ambassador Sondland denied that the President had demanded a" quid pro quo.''
At approximately 5:17 a.m. Eastern Time, Ambassador Sondland responded to Ambassador Taylor:
Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump 's intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo 's of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign. I suggest we stop the back and forth by text. If you still have concerns, I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S[ Secretary Pompeo] a call to discuss them directly. Thanks.
Notably, Ambassador Sondland recalled that President Trump raised the possible existence of a quid pro quo entirely on his own, without any prompting. Ambassador Sondland asked President Trump what he affirmatively wanted from Ukraine, yet President Trump reportedly responded by asserting what was not the case:
Q: Okay. During that telephone conversation with President Trump, you did n't ask the President directly if there was a quid pro quo, correct?
A: No. As I testified, I asked the question open ended, what do you want from Ukraine?
Q: President Trump was the first person to use the word" quid pro quo,'' correct? A: That is correct.
In contrast, Ambassador Sondland testified unequivocally there was a quid pro quo in connection to a telephone call between President Trump and President Zelensky, as well as a White House meeting for President Zelensky. He acknowledged that the reference to" transparency and reforms'' in his text message to Ambassador Taylor" was my clumsy way of saying he wanted these announcement to be made.''
Ambassador Sondland also testified that President Trump immediately followed his stated denial of a quid pro quo by demanding that President Zelensky still make a public announcement, while the military assistance remained on an unexplained hold. Ambassador Sondland agreed that President Trump said that he wanted President Zelensky to" clear things up and do it in public,'' as Ambassador Taylor had testified. Ambassador Sondland testified that nothing on his call with President Trump changed his understanding of a quid pro quo and, at least as of September 8, he was" absolutely convinced'' the White House meeting and President Trump 's release of the military assistance were conditioned on the public announcement of the investigations President Trump sought.
After hearing from President Trump, Ambassador Sondland promptly told the Ukrainian leader and Mr. Yermak that" if President Zelensky did not clear things up in public, we would be at a stalemate.'' 947 President Zelensky responded to the demand relayed by Ambassador Sondland, by agreeing to make an announcement of investigations on CNN.
Regardless of when the call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland occurred, both that phone call and Ambassador 's Sondland text message denying any quid pro quo occurred after the White House had been informed of the whistleblower complaint discussing the hold on security assistance. The White House first received notice of the whistleblower complaint alleging wrongdoing concerning the President 's July 25 call with President Zelensky on August 26-- over a week before the" no quid pro quo'' denial. In addition, Ambassador Sondland wrote his text message on September 9, the same day that the ICIG informed the Committee of the existence of a" credible'' and" urgent'' whistleblower complaint that was later revealed to be related to Ukraine. The Administration received prior notice of the ICIG 's intent to inform the Committee.
Ambassador Sondland 's Testimony is the Only Evidence the Committees Received Indicating That President Trump Denied Any" Quid Pro Quo'' on the Phone on September 9
Ambassador Sondland testified in his deposition that he sent a text message to Ambassador Taylor after speaking directly with President Trump on September 9. However, testimony from other witnesses and documents available to the Committees do not confirm that Ambassador Sondland and President Trump spoke on that day.
Ambassador Sondland 's own testimony indicated some ambiguity in his recollection of the timing of the call. At a public hearing on November 20, Ambassador Sondland testified that he" still can not find a record of that call[ on September 9] because the State Department and the White House can not locate it.'' While Ambassador Sondland testified that" I 'm pretty sure I had the call on that day,'' he acknowledged that he might have misremembered the date of the September 9 call--" I may have even spoken to him on September 6th''-- and that without his call records, he could not be certain about when he spoke to President Trump.
After the deposition transcripts of Ambassador Taylor and Mr. Morrison were made public, including their detailed accounts of the September 7 conversation that Ambassador Sondland had with President Trump, Ambassador Sondland submitted a written addendum to his deposition based on his" refreshed'' recollection. In that addendum, Ambassador Sondland amended his testimony and stated," I can not specifically recall if I had one or two phone calls with President Trump in the September 6-9 time frame.''
Furthermore, the conversation recalled by Ambassador Sondland as having taken place on September 9 is consistent with a conversation that Ambassador Sondland relayed to Mr. Morrison and Ambassador Taylor during the previous two days. Both Mr. Morrison and Ambassador Taylor, after reviewing their contemporaneous written notes, provided detailed testimony about Ambassador Sondland 's description of his call with President Trump. For example, Ambassador Sondland with Ambassador Taylor that even though President Trump asserted that" there is no quid pro quo,'' President Trump" did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.'' Mr. Morrison and Ambassador Taylor both testified that this conversation occurred on September 7.
Ambassador Sondland acknowledged that he had no basis to dispute the recollections of Mr. Morrison and Ambassador Taylor. Ambassador Sondland, who testified that he does not take notes, stated:" If they have notes and they recall that, I do n't have any reason to dispute it.''
Text messages produced to the Committees also indicate that Ambassador Sondland spoke to President Trump prior to September 8. On September 4, Ambassador Volker texted Mr. Yermak that Ambassador Sondland planned to speak to President Trump on September 6 or 7. Ambassador Volker wrote:" Hi Andrey. Reports are that pence liked meeting and will press trump on scheduling Ze visit. Gordon will follow up with pence and, if nothing moving, will have a chance to talk with President on Saturday[ September 7].'' Ambassador Volker then corrected himself:" Sorry-- on Friday[ September 6].''
On Sunday, September 8, at 11:20 a.m. Eastern Time, Ambassador Sondland texted Ambassadors Taylor and Volker:" Guys multiple convos with Ze, Potus. Lets talk.'' Shortly after this text, Ambassador Taylor testified that he spoke to Ambassador Sondland, who recounted his conversation with President Trump on September 7, as well as a separate conversation that Ambassador Sondland had with President Zelensky.
The timing of the text messages also raises questions about Ambassador Sondland 's recollection. If Ambassador Sondland spoke to President Trump after receiving Ambassador Taylor 's text message on September 9, and before he responded, then the timing of the text messages would mean that President Trump took Ambassador Sondland 's call in the middle of the night in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Taylor sent his message on September 9 at 12:47 a.m. Eastern Time, and Ambassador Sondland responded less than five hours later at 5:19 a.m. Eastern Time.
In any event, President Trump 's purported denial of the" quid pro quo'' was also contradicted when Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney publicly admitted that security assistance was withheld in order to pressure Ukraine to conduct an investigation into the 2016 election.
On October 17, at a press briefing in the White House, Mr. Mulvaney confirmed that President Trump withheld the essential military aid for Ukraine as leverage to pressure Ukraine to investigate the conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, which was also promoted by Vladimir Putin. Mr. Mulvaney confirmed that President Trump" absolutely'' mentioned" corruption related to the DNC server.... No question about that.'' When the White House press corps attempted to clarify this acknowledgement of a quid pro quo related to security assistance, Mr. Mulvaney replied:" We do that all the time with foreign policy.'' He continued." I have news for everybody: get over it.''