U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland arrives Thursday on Capitol Hill to testify before a congressional panel looking into whether to impeach President Donald Trump. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland appeared in the House Thursday to testify as a key witness in the impeachment investigation involving President Donald Trump, telling lawmakers he disagreed with Trump's orders to work with attorney Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine policy.
In prepared remarks obtained by Politico and NBC News ahead of his closed-door testimony to the foreign affairs, intelligence, and oversight committees, Sondland said he found the president's directive disappointing.
"My understanding was that the president directed Mr. Giuliani's participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the president," Sondland said in the remarks. "We were also disappointed by the president's direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani."
"Please know that I would not have recommended that Mr. Giuliani or any private citizen be involved in these foreign policy matters," he added. "However, given the president's explicit direction, as well as the importance we attached to arranging a White House meeting between presidents Trump and Zelensky, we agreed to do as President Trump directed."
Sondland drew a direct link between a White House visit for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and Trump's demands that his government investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, former Ukraine gas company executive Hunter Biden.
Hunter Biden served on the board of directors for Burisma between 2014 and January of this year. Sondland said in his advance testimony he didn't know of the Biden connection until much later, adding that any effort to solicit foreign assistance against a political rival to affect an election "would be wrong."
Joe Biden is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Trump in next year's election.
Sondland also addressed in his testimony $400 million in U.S. military aid that Trump temporarily withheld from Ukraine, saying it "should not have been delayed for any reason." Investigators are trying to determine if Trump leveraged Congress-approved aid for a personal political maneuver.
"Mr. Giuliani sacrificially mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anti-corruption investigatory topics of importance for the president," Sondland wrote in his remarks.
In text messages to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, Sondland stated it was never Trump's intention to withhold the aid to secure investigations of the Bidens -- something he phoned the president about. In his prepared remarks, he said Trump was noticeably angry during the call.
Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelensky was the basis for a whistle-blower report that expressed concern the president asked for the investigations as a "favor."
"Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong," Sondland's remarks state. "Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings."
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters Thursday that Trump withholding aid had nothing to do with the Bidens. He said Trump had genuine concerns about corruption in Ukraine and a lack of support from European nations.
"President Trump has never been a big fan of foreign aid. Never has been and still hasn't," he said. "This is a corrupt place. Everybody knows it's a corrupt place. I don't want to send money and have them waste it, have them spend it and don't have them use it to line their own pockets."
Mulvaney said Trump sought Ukrainian cooperation with a Justice Department investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 electoral campaign related to an unconfirmed theory that a hacked Democratic National Committee computer server was taken to Ukraine in 2016.
"Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it, that's why we held up the money," Mulvaney said.
"The look-back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation," he added.
Mulvaney later released a statement saying the media "decided to misconstrue" his comments to imply he had confirmed participating in quid pro quo.
"Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukranian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election," he said. "The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption."
Sondland was scheduled to testify voluntarily last week but was blocked from appearing by the State Department. The House subsequently issued a subpoena. The ambassador's attorney has said Sondland was willing to testify.