Gordon Sondland, who donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee before being appointed by him as ambassador to the European Union, confirmed that Mr. Trump, through his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, set conditions for granting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the White House meeting he desperately wanted. The conditions, Mr. Sondland said, “kept getting more insidious” — first a promise to investigate corruption generally; then a specific pledge to investigate a gas company where Joe Biden’s son Hunter was a board member; then a requirement that Mr. Zelensky announce the probe publicly. Finally, Mr. Sondland concluded that Mr. Trump was withholding U.S. military aid to force Mr. Zelensky’s hand and communicated that to one of the Ukrainian president’s top aides.
Mr. Sondland said he believed the demand to investigate Mr. Biden was “improper” and probably illegal. Kurt Volker, a Republican whom Mr. Trump’s administration appointed as special envoy to Ukraine, testified that the allegations Mr. Trump wanted investigated about Mr. Biden were groundless and that their Ukrainian source was not credible. Remember: These men are not “deep state” bureaucrats or Never Trumpers. They are the very people appointed to represent the president who worked to broker the deal he sought with the Ukrainians.
Both men were dismayed by Mr. Trump’s delegation of decisions about Ukraine to Mr. Giuliani, who was spreading false conspiracy theories about Mr. Biden and the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Mr. Trump ordered recalled. But Mr. Sondland said he and career State Department officials were unable to do anything about Mr. Giuliani.
State was paralyzed and neutered because of the passivity of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who emerges from the transcripts as a portrait in cowardice. Mr. Sondland said when he raised the Giuliani problem, Mr. Pompeo rolled his eyes and said, “it’s something we have to deal with.” But he did not deal with it. He turned aside repeated requests from his senior counselor, P. Michael McKinley, for a statement defending Ms. Yovanovitch. Mr. Pompeo listened to a phone call in which Mr. Trump pushed Mr. Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, but unlike Mr. Volker, he did not object to the demand. There’s no evidence he ever spoke to Mr. Trump about the withholding of military aid.
The story that has emerged from the House investigation is far broader than the single phone call Mr. Graham and other Republicans would focus on. It describes a months-long and steadily escalating campaign to coerce Ukraine into aiding Mr. Trump’s reelection, accomplished by sidelining or removing the U.S. diplomats who normally managed relations. Even the officials who tried to do this dirty work ended up concluding it was wrong. About the only way Republican senators could judge otherwise is by adopting Mr. Graham’s read-no-evil gambit.