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US Ambassador revises testimony, now says he was aware of pressure on Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo is greeted by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and U.S. Ambassador to the Belgium Ronald Gidwitz upon arrival to Brussels, Belgium on July 10, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland has revised his earlier testimony before congressional impeachment investigators, now acknowledging he knew the administration withheld military aid to Ukraine while pressuring Kyiv to investigate President Donald Trump’s rivals.

The remarks made public on November 5 were part of transcripts being released this week by the Democratic-led committees spearheading the impeachment effort of Trump in the House of Representatives.

Following Sondland’s testimony last month, the ambassador’s lawyers gave House investigators a new sworn statement in which he updated his earlier remarks, also made under oath.

In the statement, Sondland claims his memory was refreshed after he read the opening statements of two other key witnesses who testified in the inquiry.

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Sondland said he now remembers a conversation in Warsaw with a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which he, Sondland, said military aid likely would not be resumed until Kyiv made clear it would investigate Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son’s ties to Ukraine energy firm Burisma.

Sondland told Andriy Yermak, an aide to the Ukrainian president, “that resumption of U.S. aid would not likely occur until Ukraine provided the anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for weeks,” he told investigators.

Sondland said the remarks were the culmination of months of pressure placed on Kyiv, mainly through Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to open “anti-corruption” investigations into the Bidens and into Trump’s unsubstantiated belief that Ukraine assisted the Democrats in the 2016 election.

Sondland admitted to House investigators that he understood the linkage was “improper.”

Asked during his testimony if it was illegal, Sondland responded: “I’m not a lawyer, but I assume so.”

The ambassador initially denied knowledge of any links between military aid and Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate the Bidens.

Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his office by pressuring a foreign government to investigate a political rival by threatening to withhold already approved military aid.

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Trump has denied he has done anything wrong and has called the impeachment process a “sham.”

Meanwhile, investigators on November 5 asked Trump’s acting chief of staff to appear before the impeachment inquiry.

Investigators say a news conference by Mick Mulvaney in October amounted to “nothing less than a televised confession” of Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals while he was blocking military aid.

Several top administration officials have so far refused to testify before House investigators.

The House, currently led by Democrats, has the sole authority to impeach a U.S. president. The case would then be tried in the Senate, which is controlled by Trump’s Republican party, meaning conviction and removal from office is unlikely.

If the House votes to impeach, it would be only the third time in U.S. history that a president has faced such a trial. The other two cases ended in acquittal.