Here’s a guide to some of the key differences that have emerged from a review of the private and public testimony collected by the House Intelligence Committee.
Interactions with President Trump
Sondland minimized his contacts with President Trump: “I think I’ve spoken with President Trump — and this is a guess — maybe five or six times since I’ve been an ambassador. And one of those I recall was a Christmas, Merry Christmas, and it was zero substance.”
But other witnesses say the relationship was much more expansive. National Security Council senior director Tim Morrison was asked: “It was your understanding that, in his own mind, he believed he had a lot of conversations with the President?’ Answer: “Yes.”
Morrison added: “Ambassador Sondland believed and at least related to me that the president was giving him instructions. … He related to he was acting — he was discussing these matters with the president.”
Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, said: “I just know that he had a relationship with President Trump that I did not have. … He felt that he could call the President and that they could have conversations.”
July 25 call with Trump
Sondland related that he spoke briefly to Trump before traveling Ukraine for meetings on July 26, just before Trump was to speak with his Ukrainian counterpart: “I do recall a brief discussion with President Trump before my visit to Kyiv. The call was very short, nonsubstantive, and did not encompass any of the substance of the July 25, 2019, White House call with President [Volodymyr] Zelensky.”
But Morrison disputed that. Regarding the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, Morrison said: “Ambassador Sondland emailed me and several other White House staff to inform us that he had spoken to the President that morning to brief him on the call.”
July 26 call with Trump
Sondland did not disclose any conversation with Trump while in Kyiv in his testimony or in the follow-up statement. In his initial deposition, he said: “Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about former vice president Biden or his son. Nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.”
But David A. Holmes, political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, said he had heard Sondland speak to Trump after a meeting with Zelensky aides: “During the lunch , Ambassador Sondland said that he was going to call President Trump to give him an update. … The President’s voice was very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume. … I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine and went on to state that President Zelensky ‘loves your ass.’ I then heard President Trump ask, ‘he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,” adding that President Zelensky will do “anything you ask him to.”
Sondland is certain to be closely questioned on why he did not disclose this call earlier.
Knowledge of Bidens and Burisma
Sondland in his testimony indicated he did not understand until late in the game that administration requests that Ukraine investigate the Ukrainian gas company Burisma — where Hunter Biden was a director — were related to the Biden family. He expressed ignorance about statements and tweets made by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, making that connection.
“I became aware of his [Giuliani’s] interest in Burisma sometime in the intervening period, but I never made the connection between Burisma and the Bidens until the very end,” Sondland said. “I heard the word ‘Burisma,’ but I didn't understand that Biden and Burisma were connected.”
But Holmes also testified that at the July 26 lunch he asked Sondland whether it was true that Trump did not “give a s--- about Ukraine.” He said “Sondland stated that the president only cares about ‘big stuff’. I noted that there was ‘big stuff’ going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant ‘big stuff’ that benefits the president, like the Biden investigation Mr. Giuliani was pushing.”
His role in Ukraine policy
Asked whether he ever said he had a special assignment related to Ukraine, Sondland said: “I was spinning a little, to be candid.” But he framed it in terms of his discussions with Ukrainian officials. “The Ukrainians were very concerned that they weren’t getting full support. … So when I said that the president gave me an assignment, it was really the secretary through the president.”
But others said that Sondland frequently told U.S. officials he had a writ from the president. NSC senior director Fiona Hill told investigators: “I said, who has said you’re 'in charge of Ukraine, Gordon? And he said, the president. Well, that shut me up, because you can’t really argue with that. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure.”
Sondland also asserted that Hill’s boss, national security adviser John Bolton, was aware of his elevated role: “Ambassador Bolton signed off on that sometime in June of 2019.”
Hill denied that: “It was very unusual because we were given no instructions. There wasn't a directive. Ambassador Bolton didn't know about this. Nobody at the State Department seemed to know about this either.”
Aid suspension ordered by Trump
In mid-July, Trump ordered the suspension of nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, and officials scrambled to restore it before the funding window closed in September.
Sondland initially said he could not explain a Sept. 1 text from the acting U.S. ambassador, William B. Taylor Jr., asking: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland replied by text, saying “call me.” But he also initially did not remember a call, just that they “probably did” have a call. He added: “I don’t know that we were discussing it,” meaning a link between the security aid and the announcement of investigations.
But Taylor said he had heard from Morrison that Sondland had had a conversation with Andriy Yermak, a Zelensky aide, after the suspension of the security assistance became public. Sondland had not disclosed the conversation with Yermak in his initial testimony. “The security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation,” Taylor said he was told. (Morrison recalls Sondland said it was sufficient for the prosecutor general, not the president, to make a public statement of an investigation.)
Taylor also described his conversation with Sondland after he sent the text.
“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 U.S. Election,” Taylor said. “Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.”
Release of the opening statements by Taylor and Morrison prompted Sondland to revise his testimony, acknowledging the conversations. But he made no mention of hearing this directive from Trump himself.
“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,” Sondland said. He added he did not recall how he learned the statement would have to come from Zelensky himself, but he believed it may have come from Giuliani or Volker.
Interactions with White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney
Asked whether he had any conversations with Mulvaney, Sondland minimized the relationship: “I don’t believe I’ve ever even had a formal meeting with Chief Mulvaney. I’ve seen him in the White House. We say hello, we walk by and wave.”
But others told a different story.
NSC European affairs director Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman said that at a July 10 meeting, “Ambassador Sondland relatively quickly went into outlining how the — you know, these investigations need to — on the deliverable for these investigations in order to secure this [White House] meeting [between Trump and Zelensky] … I heard him say that this had been coordinated with White House Chief of Staff Mr. Mick Mulvaney. … He just said that he had had a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney, and this is what was required in order to get a meeting.”
Hill recalled: “Sondland said repeatedly he was meeting with Chief of Staff Mulvaney.” At the July 10 meeting, “Ambassador Sondland, in front of the Ukrainians, as I came in, was talking about how he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations,” Hill said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent noted that Sondland unexpectedly emerged as a name on the official delegation to Zelensky’s swearing-in in May: “He was not somebody that we initially proposed, but Ambassador Sondland has his own networks of influence, including chief of staff Mulvaney.” He added that then the delegation was able to get a meeting with Trump after the inauguration “because of Ambassador Sondland’s connections through Chief of Staff Mulvaney.”
Hill testified Bolton told her he would not be “part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this.”
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