A lawyer for the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told The Wall Street Journal that his client told the House committees last week that he believed that US President Trump’s request for an investigation into a Ukrainian gas company constituted a quid pro quo (from the Latin: "something for something").
Asking a lawmakers’ question on the matter, Sondland answered affirmatively, but warned that “he is not a lawyer,” the report says.
Earlier this week, a transcript of a congressional speech by US charge d’affaires in Ukraine Bill Taylor was released, which US media touted as “explosive.”
According to the testimony, Sondland was one of those involved in an “unofficial” diplomatic channel with Ukraine, which relayed messages to Ukrainian representatives in circumvention of the official route, which was led by Taylor, an embassy head. During their exchanges, Sondland told Taylor that not only had a meeting between the two presidents occurred, but also US military aid was conditioned on a public statement by Ukrainian President Zelensky.
Sondland told Taylor that Trump wanted Zelensky to publicly announce that he would investigate Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings, where presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son had a seat at the board. Trump told Sondland that he was not asking for a quid pro quo.
When Taylor noted that “it is crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Sondland himself said that “the president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind,” the published testimony said.
In his testimony, Taylor told the lawmakers that it was Sondland who told Ukrainian representatives that "the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.”
The White House dismissed Taylor’s testimony as “triple hearsay,” saying that it mischaracterized Trump’s communications with Zelensky.
A transcript of the phone call that became the basis of Dems’ impeachment inquiry against Trump revealed that the president asked Zelensky for a “favor” to investigate the Bidens, among other things. However, nowhere in the script did Trump condition the presidential meeting or the military aid on that investigation.
Trump withheld $391 million in military funding for Ukraine in May this year. The money was eventually released in September. Dems allege this move constitutes a political extortion of Zelensky, the so-called quid pro quo demand, which under the law is viewed as an abuse of power.
During his tenure as US vice president, Joe Biden claimed to have withheld $1 billion in military aid for Ukraine, demanding then-President Poroshenko fire the prosecutor general who conducted an investigation into Burisma holdings. Unlike Trump, Biden publicly claimed to have performed the action.
“If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,” Biden said on camera in 2016. “Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.”