Transcripts Show Sondland Had Greater Role in Pressuring Ukraine

Tim Morrison, the top Russia official on President Trump’s National Security Council, gets off of an elevator as he returns to Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 6, 2019, to review his testimony before the House impeachment inquiry last week. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CN) – Ambassador Gordon Sondland was described as having a central role in President Trump’s push to have Ukraine investigate his political rival in exchange for release of military aid funding, according to new transcripts released Saturday.

House investigators released hundreds of pages of testimony from former National Security Council official Tim Morrison and Jennifer Williams, special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.

Morrison, a longtime Republican, and his predecessor Fiona Hill spoke about Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and what other witnesses testified were irregular foreign policy channels he had set up.

“She described Ambassador Sondland as a problem,” Morrison said. “We both discussed that Ukraine was not in the EU, which led to the follow-on question of, why is he involved in Ukraine?”

“It was less about his role in Ukraine and more about how he conducted himself. He did not participate in the process,” Morrison added. “So we are very process-oriented on the NSC; we have a way we do things that works. And so when people come in and get involved in issues and they’re not of that process, it creates risk.”

The testimony from the two aides contradict Sondland’s own testimony about his knowledge of Trump’s push for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Morrison said Sondland “related to me he was acting – he was discussing these matters with the President.”

Morrison put Sondland at the top of the push for Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden as his role on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, saying that he “chiefly led” the process that included Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.

“There was the normal process, where decision-making went through the duly appointed personnel, whether that’s the Chief of Mission, Ambassador (William) Taylor, (former US special envoy to Ukraine Envoy Kurt) Volker, the appropriate personnel from the Departments of State and Defense and Energy and intelligence agencies and so forth,” Morrison said. “And there was this second track, chiefly led by Ambassador (Gordon) Sondland, where Rudy Giuliani’s name would come up.”

Morrison later testified that he spoke to Sondland after he saw the ambassador speaking with an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“He told me that in his – that what he communicated was that he believed the – what could help them move the aid was if the prosecutor general would to go the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation,” Morrison said.

“My concern was what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics,” Morrison added. “It was the first time something like this had been injected as a condition on the release of the assistance.”

In her testimony, Williams told House investigators she had not heard of any discussion of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election or possible investigations into Joe Biden and his son prior to Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky.

She said “the mention of those specific investigations seemed unusual compared to other discussions with foreign leaders.”

“I believed those references to be more political in nature and so that struck me as unusual,” she said.

Morrison and Sondland are both expected to testify publicly before House investigators next week.

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