(WASHINGTON) — If there’s one witness in the House impeachment inquiry who could speak to exactly what President Donald Trump wanted in Ukraine, it would be Gordon Sondland and he’s testifying in public for the first time on Wednesday. A wealthy hotelier who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, Sondland was tapped by the president to serve as U.S. ambassador to the European Union and again handpicked by Trump to take a lead role on Ukraine. And in revised closed-door testimony, Sondland said he personally delivered the “quid pro quo” to Ukraine, telling a top Ukrainian aide that nearly $400 million in military aid that was already promised to the country was contingent upon an anti-corruption probe that would have included Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.”I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland testified, according to a transcript of his testimony to lawmakers behind closed doors.Sondland hasn’t said why exactly he delivered that message and whether if it was what Trump wanted.In closed-door testimony, the ambassador has downplayed his access to Trump. He said the two spoke “maybe five or six times” since he took on the role of EU ambassador and that one of those times was a “Merry Christmas call” with “zero substance.””I always called him. He never called me,” Sondland testified.Other witnesses though have described him as having a direct line to the president, bragging about being able to call him anytime, and who — from an outdoor restaurant terrace in Kyiv as his colleagues listened — assured Trump that Ukraine would do what he wants because its president “loves your ass.””Ambassador Sondland agreed that the president did not ‘give a s—t about Ukraine” but rather the “big stuff,” testified David Holmes behind closed doors. Homes is the State Department employee who said he could hear Trump over the phone talking to Sondland and later asked the ambassador what Trump wants with Ukraine.”I noted there was ‘big stuff’ going on in Ukraine, like a war,” Holmes added, according to his testimony released by the House Intelligence Committee. “And Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant ‘big stuff’ that benefits the President, like the ‘Biden investigation’ that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.”Timothy Morrison, the outgoing senior official at the National Security Council focused on Russia and Europe policy, said in closed-door testimony that Sondland represented himself as acting on a “mandate” from the president “to go and make deals.” Morrison said he was aware of roughly a half dozen times that Sondland and Trump spoke by phone between mid-July and mid-September when the military aid was frozen.”He bragged that he could call the President whenever he wanted,” Morrison testified of Sondland, according to the transcript.The number of times Sondland spoke to the president by phone remains in question. He told Congress that he’s requested his phone calls to the White House and State Department but hasn’t been able to review those logs and doesn’t remember specific dates or details.But one of those calls came on a key date — July 25 — just before Trump called Ukraine’s president. According to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House, Ukraine’s president mentions military aid and Trump appears to respond by asking the newly elected leader for a “favor” that includes the probe into the Bidens.In an interview with Ukrainian television, Sondland said he spoke with Trump “just a few minutes before he placed the call.” But in his closed-door testimony, he described it as a “kind of nothing call” and couldn’t recall the precise timing.Another key conversation between Sondland and the president would have happened on Sept. 9 — eight days after Sondland said he delivered the quid pro quo message on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting with the Ukrainians in Warsaw. After being confronted by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who said it’s “crazy” to withhold security aid in exchange to help Trump’s political campaign, Sondland said he called the president.”I asked him one open-ended question: What do you want from Ukraine? And as I recall, he was in a very bad mood. It was a very quick conversation. He said: I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing,” Sondland testified. “And I said: What does that mean? And he said: I want him to do what he ran on. And that was the end of the conversation. I wouldn’t say he hung up [on] me, but it was almost like he hung up on me.”Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
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