Sondland said several senior U.S. officials knew about a “quid pro quo” linking a White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigations into Trump’s political rivals. In addition to Pompeo, he said, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and then-national security adviser John Bolton were aware of the effort.
“They knew what we were doing and why,” Sondland said in his opening statement. “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”
Pompeo, at a NATO meeting in Brussels, rebuffed a question about Sondland’s testimony. “I didn’t see a single thing today. I was working,” he told reporters. “Sounds like you might not have been. I was in meetings all day and haven’t had a chance to see any of that testimony.”
One of the emails Sondland divulged is an Aug. 11 correspondence in which he describes the statement at the heart of the alleged quid pro quo to Pompeo’s senior aides Lisa Kenna and Ulrich Brechbuhl.
Sondland told the two aides he “negotiated a statement” with Ukrainian officials that “will hopefully make the boss happy enough to authorize an invitation.”
Kenna replied, “Gordon, I’ll pass to S,” referring to the secretary of state.
Sondland and others have testified that the statement would entail Ukraine announcing investigations into Burisma — a Ukrainian energy company that employed the son of former vice president Joe Biden — and into an unfounded conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. Ukraine’s president would then win a meeting at the White House after issuing the statement.
At the time, Zelensky was desperately seeking the meeting to project that his country had the support of the United States as it fended off a Russian-backed insurgency. By September, Ukrainians had also become aware that the United States had suspended about $400 million in military aid, Sondland testified.
Eleven days after emailing Kenna and Brechbuhl, Sondland emailed Pompeo proposing that Zelensky and Trump meet in Warsaw. The Ukrainian president could then “look him in the eye and tell him that once Ukraine’s new justice folks are in place,” he could move forward on “those issues of importance” to Trump, Sondland said.
“Hopefully that will break the logjam,” Sondland said.
“Yes,” replied Pompeo.
Sondland testified that because Pompeo listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, he would have known that the “issues of importance” to the president were the investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma.
Pompeo did not deny the main substance of Sondland’s remarks, but his spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, issued a statement later in the day saying that Sondland never told Pompeo that Trump was “linking aid to investigations of political opponents.”
The main claim in Sondland’s testimony is that he told Pompeo about plans to secure a White House meeting for Zelensky in exchange for the announcement of the political investigations.
Sondland’s remarks come as Pompeo contemplates a run for the U.S. Senate in Kansas, which he has visited four times this year. As he mulls his political future, he has tried to maintain his status as Trump’s most favored foreign policy adviser, a mission many in the State Department say has come at the cost of defending U.S. diplomats under siege by Trump for testifying about an “irregular” Ukraine channel led by his personal attorney to instigate the alleged quid pro quo.
“Secretary Pompeo’s refusal the past several weeks to defend career diplomats looks even uglier now that we understand he knew about the White House pressure campaign and demand for a quid pro quo,” said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Despite such criticisms, Pompeo’s bid for the Senate maintains the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and national Republicans, according to two officials familiar with the GOP sentiments. The contest could be decisive in whether Republicans retain control of the Senate beyond 2020.
To that end, Kevin McLaughlin, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, implored a crowd of senators and donors at a recent Senate Leadership Fund event at the Trump International Hotel to push Pompeo to run for Senate, according to one of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private event.
Ortagus denied suggestions in recent reporting that Pompeo is worried the impeachment scandal is hurting his future political prospects and may seek to step down sooner rather than later. “I spoke to the secretary, and he said this story is completely false. He is 100 percent focused on being President Trump’s Secretary of State,” she said.
Two people with knowledge of Pompeo’s deliberations said Wednesday that the top diplomat had not conveyed a final decision about the Senate race to them but has remained open to the idea. One of the people expressed a belief that Pompeo was still making up his mind, and the other said Pompeo had intended to consider the possibility over the holiday season.
Pompeo’s allies have defended his actions, saying he did what he could under the circumstances. They point to the fact that the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was reassigned rather than fired outright. They also point out that Pompeo fought for the U.S. provision of antitank missiles to Ukraine, which had not been provided under the Obama administration. Pompeo’s defenders spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss his situation candidly.
In his testimony, Sondland said he regretted he could not recount all of his conversations with perfect clarity and attributed that to the State Department preventing him from handing over his text messages and emails to the committee.
A State Department official pushed back against Sondland’s claim, saying he “continues to retain full access to his State Department documentary records and his State Department e-mail account.”
When asked, Pompeo said he would not recuse himself from State Department decisions related to turning over documents.
“I’m not going to recuse myself from this,” he told reporters. “I know precisely what American policy was with respect to Ukraine. I was working on it, and I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished. There were remarkable outcomes for the Ukrainian people. I hope that we’re able to continue to do so.”
Carol Morello in Brussels and Seung Min Kim and Sean Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.