Pompeo pulled into spotlight by Sondland

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came under heightened scrutiny in the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday when a key witness implicated him in what he said was a quid pro quo scheme directed by President Trump.

“Was there a quid pro quo? … The answer is yes,” said Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee that he and others who were most involved in the pressure campaign on Ukraine acted “at the direction of the president” and said that “everyone was in the loop.” 

Sondland included Pompeo in that group of high-ranking government officials who were “all informed about the Ukraine efforts.” The ambassador cited multiple emails he sent in July and August that included Pompeo or were sent directly to him, referencing the efforts to force Ukraine to announce investigations.

On Aug. 22, Sondland asked Pompeo via email whether he should arrange a meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at a summit in Warsaw on Sept. 1 and “ask Zelensky to look [Trump] in the eye and tell him that … [Zelensky] 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,” Sondland concluded.

Pompeo replied simply: “Yes.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. (Photos: AP, Andrew Harnik/AP)

And it was clear to everyone involved in “the Ukraine efforts” by early August that Trump wanted Ukraine to conduct “investigations” before he would grant an audience in the White House to Zelensky, Sondland said. 

Sondland said he only thought Trump wanted investigations into supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and into the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, which employed Hunter Biden. 

But Trump himself told Zelensky on July 25 that he wanted an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Pompeo was listening to that call, according to news reports.

Sondland also said that he told a top Ukrainian government official on Sept. 1 that U.S. military assistance was conditioned on investigations Trump wanted, “based on my communications with Secretary Pompeo.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that the impeachment inquiry will focus, in part, on whether Trump committed bribery, which is listed in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution as an impeachable offense. Democrats are building a case that Trump withheld “official acts” — such as a White House meeting and military assistance — in exchange for something that would personally benefit himself, a publicly announced Ukrainian investigation into Biden.

Pompeo’s role had until Wednesday been something of a secondary issue. The former Republican congressman and ex-CIA director has kept a low profile, avoiding public comment on the issue for the most part. But he has been rumored to be considering resigning to run for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

The testimony shone a light on Pompeo that made it much harder for him to evade scrutiny, and may hurt his political prospects.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at a Foreign ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 20, 2019. (Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images)

Pompeo was in Brussels at a conference for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and told reporters on Wednesday that he “was in meetings all day and haven’t had a chance to see any of that testimony." Pompeo did take a jab at the reporter who asked him about Sondland’s testimony: “I didn’t see a single thing today. I was working. Sounds like you might not have been,” he said.

Sondland also pulled Vice President Mike Pence and Energy Secretary Rick Perry closer to the Ukraine matter. He testified that he told Pence on Sept. 1 that he “had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations.” And he said Perry took the lead on reaching out to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani at the direction of the president. Sondland said Giuliani was Trump’s point person for Ukraine issues.

Sondland’s testimony provoked a flood of denials and rebukes.

Trump himself repeated what he said to Sondland on Sept. 9, the day Congress sent letters to the White House inquiring about its pressure on Ukraine and a possible abuse of power: “I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo,” Trump said.

A Pence spokesman said, “The Vice President never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations."

The Department of Energy said Sondland “misrepresented” Perry’s “interactions” with Giuliani.

And Republicans on the Intelligence Committee grew so exasperated with Sondland’s position — that nobody told him of a quid pro quo directly but that he deduced it from the facts available to him — that Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, shouted at him that he was giving “made-up testimony.”

Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) questions Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC.  (Photo: Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images)

Later in the day, the No. 3 State Department official, David Hale, was scheduled to testify. Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs and a career State Department official, told Congress that the person who could have halted a statement supporting Marie Yovanovitch, the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, earlier this year — when she was under assault by a smear campaign conducted by Giuliani and amplified by the president’s son Donald Jr. — was probably Pompeo.

“Given my position in the State Department, it could only have been someone more senior to me. The secretary most likely would have been the person,” Hale said on Nov. 6 in a deposition. 

Yovanovitch testified last Friday about her efforts to combat corruption in Ukraine, and at her confusion over why Trump was listening to criticisms of her, even telling Zelensky in the July 25 call, after she’d already been recalled, that she was “going to go through some things.”

Hale testified that Pompeo told him he did not see any evidence to support criticisms of Yovanovitch, and even called Fox News host Sean Hannity to ask him for evidence of the anti-Yovanovitch campaign that Hannity was amplifying on his primetime show. 

Hale wanted the State Department to issue a statement giving a robust defense of the ambassador, but none was ultimately issued. 

David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, arrives for a closed-door deposition as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump led by the House Intelligence, House Foreign Affairs and House Oversight and Reform Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2019.      (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Democrats say Yovanovitch’s removal opened the door for Giuliani to operate more freely in Ukraine in the spring and into the summer, conveying the president’s wish that Ukraine publicly announce investigations into the 2016 election, Burisma and the Bidens. 

Pompeo has refused to testify and provide key documents, much in the same way that the White House has refused to cooperate with similar requests from Congress. Democrats may cite that response as obstruction of Congress, which could become one article of impeachment.

Sondland also faulted the State Department for its refusal to give him access to key documents and phone and email records.

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