Secretary of State Pompeo was 'in the loop' on Trump's Ukraine pressure campaign, Sondland reveals in impeachment testimony

Key Points
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "was in the loop" with an effort pressure Ukraine's president into announcing investigations of President Donald Trump's political rivals like ex-Vice President Joe Biden, a top diplomat testifies.
  • "It was no secret," Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, says during an impeachment hearing by the House Intelligence Committee.
  • Sondland says the pressure campaign on Ukraine was not a rogue operation conducted by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Department of State on November 18, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed Tuesday he wasn't watching impeachment hearings targeting his boss, President Donald Trump.

"I'm not transfixed with it," Pompeo told reporters.

On Wednesday, Pompeo became a key figure in those hearings.

A top American ambassador said that Pompeo — and other high-level Trump advisors — "was in the loop" with a campaign over the summer to pressure Ukraine's new president into announcing investigations of Trump's political rivals such as former Vice President Joe Biden in order to win a personal meeting with Trump.

Watch Amb. Gordon Sondland's opening statement at the impeachment hearing
Watch Gordon Sondland make opening statement at impeachment hearing

"Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret," Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said in his opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee.

And that effort was done at Trump's explicit behest with the awareness and cooperation of the State Department's leader, Pompeo, and other official members of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, said Sondland, a hotelier who was appointed ambassador after donating $1 million to Trump's inauguration.

Sondland also testified that he later became aware in July that congressionally appropriated military aid was being held from Ukraine at the same time Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was asking Ukraine to launch the investigations.

Hours after Sondland began testifying, Pompeo spoke to reporters in Brussels, where he did not deny the claims made by the ambassador.

"I didn't see a single thing today I was working. Sounds like you might not have been," Pompeo said when a reporter asked for his response to Sondland's statement. "I was in meetings all day and haven't had a chance to see any of that testimony."

Pompeo said he would not recuse himself from any involvement in authority role involving the impeachment probe, and added: "I know precisely what American policy was with respect to Ukraine I was working on it. And I'm incredibly proud of what we've accomplished."

Pompeo's spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, later said, "Gordon Sondland never told Secretary Pompeo that he believed the President was linking aid to investigations of political opponents. Any suggestions to the contrary is flat out false."

Trump''s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said, "Ambassador Sondland's testimony made clear that in one of the few brief phone calls he had with President Trump, the President clearly stated that he 'wanted nothing' from Ukraine and repeated 'no quid pro quo over and over again.' "

"In fact, no quid pro quo ever occurred, "Grisham said. "The U.S. aid to Ukraine flowed, no investigation was launched, and President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelensky. Democrats keep chasing ghosts."

Sondland's statement — which mentions Pompeo by name 19 times over 23 pages — effectively says that the pressure campaign on Ukraine was not some kind of rogue operation conducted by Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

He said that Giuliani, acting at Trump's direction, demanded that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy make a public announcement of investigations of a conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and of a Ukraine natural gas company that had Biden's son, Hunter Biden, on its board.

Zelenskiy had to make those announcements — which could have boosted Trump's effort to win reelection in 2020 — in order to win a meeting with Trump, Sondland testified.

Witness Sondland points finger at Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton
Witness Sondland points finger at Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton

The ambassador said he became aware in July that the White House had suspended almost $400 million in military assistant to Ukraine, which for the past several years has been fighting Russian-backed separatists.

Sondland said that "in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of the aid" he came to believe that it would not be released without Zelenskiy publicly committing to the investigations, as "Mr. Giuliani had demanded."

Sondland said he, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and special Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker worked with "Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express behest of the President of the United States."

"We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani," Sondland noted.

"Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President's orders."

Sondland said that because he and others involved in the effort did not believe that it was "improper behavior, we made every effort to ensure that relevant decision-makers at the National Security Council and State Department knew the important details of our efforts."

"The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false."

Sondland said that after attending Zelenskiy's inauguration in May, with Pompeo's "express support," he and other diplomats asked Trump to have a phone call with his Ukraine counterpart, and also to grant him "a working Oval Office visit."

Sondland said both steps would have been "vital to cementing the U.S.-Ukraine relationship," and would demonstrate "support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression."

But he said Trump "was skeptical" about those requests, and expressed concerns that Ukraine's government "was not serious about reform."

"He even mentioned that Ukraine tried to take him down in the last election," Sondland said.

Gordon Sondland confirms quid pro quo, implicates Trump in blistering testimony
Gordon Sondland confirms quid pro quo, implicates Trump in blistering testimony

A right-wing conspiracy theory has suggested that Ukraine was involved in efforts to make it appear that Russian agents had hacked Democratic Party computers to obtain emails that might have damaged Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016.

Variants of that theory argue that Ukraine, in an effort to damage Trump's campaign that same year, also fabricated or improperly released documents detailing work by one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Manafort resigned on the heels of those documents becoming public.

Trump told Sondland and others to "talk to Rudy," Giuliani, about Ukraine, Sondland testified.

Sondland said that on July 10, when he, Volker and Perry were meeting with Ukraine officials in Washington, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, received a communication that Giuliani was talking to a "reportedly corrupt" Ukrainian prosecutor "without our knowledge" about whether a meeting between Trump and Zelenskiy would happen.

"With this alarming news, Ambassador Taylor briefed Ulrich [Brechbuhl], who is the Counselor to Secretary of State Pompeo," Sondland said.

But "even as late as September 24, Secretary Pompeo was directing Kurt Volker to speak with Rudy Giuliani," Sondland testified.

"In a WhatsApp message, Kurt Volker told me in part: 'Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S.' S means the Secretary of State," Sondland testified.

Sondland's statement also included details of a July 19 email he sent to Pompeo, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Perry, Perry's chief of staff and Mulvaney's senior advisor.

"Here is my exact quote from that email," Sondland said: "I Talked to Zelenskiy just now… He is prepared to receive Potus' call. Will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will 'turn over every stone'. He would greatly appreciate a call prior to Sunday so that he can put out some media about a 'friendly and productive call' (no details) prior to Ukraine election on Sunday." Mulvaney responded, "I asked NSC to set it up for tomorrow."

Another email, on Aug. 11, had the subject line Ukraine, and was directed at Pompeo via his senior advisors, including his executive secretary Lisa Kenna.

The email said: "Mike – Kurt and I negotiated a statement from Ze[lenskiy] to be delivered for our review in a day or two. The contents will hopefully make the boss happy enough to authorize an invitation. Ze plans to have a big presser on the openness subject (including specifics) next week."

Sondland noted that Kenna replied: "'Gordon, I'll pass to S,' meaning Secretary Pompeo. 'Thank you.'"

"Again, everyone was in the loop," Sondland testified.

The ambassador noted that before a Sept. 1 meeting in Warsaw, the Ukrainians learned that security funds from the United States had not been disbursed.

Sondland then spoke with Pompeo and asked if a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Zelenskiy "could help break the logjam."

"Specifically, on Thursday, August 22, I emailed Secretary Pompeo directly, copying Secretariat Kenna," Sondland said.

"I wrote: 'Should we block time in Warsaw for a short pull-aside for Potus to meet Zelenskiy? I would ask Zelenskiy to look him in the eye and tell him that once Ukraine's new justice folks are in place ([in] mid-Sept[ember), that Ze should be able to move forward publicly and with confidence on those issues of importance to Potus and to the US. Hopefully, that will break the logjam.'

"Secretary Pompeo replied, 'Yes.'" Sondland said.