The White House claimed Tuesday that newly released transcripts show there is “even less evidence” underscoring House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s interactions with Ukraine than previously known.
“Both transcripts released today show there is even less evidence for this illegitimate impeachment sham than previously thought,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “No amount of salacious media-biased headlines, which are clearly designed to influence the narrative, change the fact that the President has done nothing wrong.”
Grisham issued the statement shortly after it was revealed that the Trump-appointed U.S. ambassador to the European Union revised his original testimony to say that he presumed military aid to Ukraine was contingent on Kiev making a public statement sought by the Trump administration. He also said that he communicated this to a Ukrainian official last month.
“Ambassador Sondland squarely states that he ‘did not know, [and still does not know] when, why or by whom the aid was suspended.’ He also said he ‘presumed’ there was a link to the aid — but cannot identify any solid source for that assumption,” Grisham said.
She also asserted that a second transcript of testimony from former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker demonstrates “there could not have been a quid pro quo because the Ukrainians did not know about the military aid hold at the time.”
The transcripts from Volker and Sondland’s closed-door testimony on Oct. 3 and Oct. 17, respectively, were released Tuesday afternoon as part of a new public phase of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
The inquiry is centered on a July 25 call during which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine. Trump also asked Kiev to assist in an investigation into 2016 election interference.
Democrats are investigating, among other things, whether the Trump administration held up security aid to Ukraine in order to press for investigations sought by Trump.
Trump has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong in the phone call.
Testimony from Sondland and others have undercut the narrative pushed by the White House that there was no quid pro quo involved in the Trump administration’s interactions with Ukraine. Sondland did not, however, directly connect the effort to Trump. Volker also said he never spoke with Trump about an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm with ties to Hunter Biden.
According to the newly released transcript, Sondland corrected his initial testimony in a declaration on Nov. 4 after reviewing opening statements by two other officials who testified, U.S. diplomat William Taylor and outgoing National Security Council (NSC) official Tim Morrison.
Sondland said their statements had “refreshed” his recollection about conversations he had in September 2019 and that he “presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement.”
Sondland also said he recalled telling a top Zelensky aide, Andriy Yermak, during a meeting on Sept. 1 that the resumption of aid “would likely not occur” until Ukraine made a public statement about combatting corruption.
Sondland had not acknowledged a quid pro quo related to the security assistance in his initial testimony.
Sondland and others have testified that U.S. officials sought a public statement from Ukraine about investigating 2016 election interference and Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company whose board employed Hunter Biden, on directions from Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Ukraine never made a public statement about launching investigations, and the military aid was eventually released in September.
Volker told House investigators that he was never given a reason for the aid being held up and that no U.S. officials ever communicated to Ukrainian officials that it was being held up for a specific reason, to his knowledge.
Volker downplayed the hold on the assistance but described it as unusual; he also said that he was later troubled and surprised when he saw Trump raise the Bidens on his call with Zelensky.
“It creates a problem again where all of the things that we’re trying to do to advance the bilateral relationship, strengthen our support for Ukraine, strengthen the positioning against Russia is now getting sucked into a domestic political debate in the U.S., domestic political narrative that overshadows that,” Volker said, according to his transcript released on Tuesday.
“And I think that is extremely unfortunate for our policy with Ukraine,” Volker continued.