House Committees Publish Testimony From Kurt Volker And Gordon Sondland
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where our reporters are poring over yet more newly released documents from the House impeachment inquiry. House committees published testimony from two more key witnesses. Today, it's the turn of ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, and former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker. And to tell us what new information is contained in all these documents, we're joined by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: Let's talk first about Gordon Sondland's testimony. And I want to start there because he took a very rare step revising the testimony he'd initially given. How has his story changed?
GRISALES: He's telling a very different story. He said his memory was jogged by other witnesses that military assistance was indeed conditioned on Ukrainian investigations. He also recalled in this updated testimony that he spoke to a top aide to the Ukrainian president and said, quote, "that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks." He said he always believed that suspending aid to Ukraine was ill-advised, and he also said he was working with this trio on Ukrainian policy, which included himself, Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry. They were dubbed the three amigos. And they didn't like the idea of working with Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, on these diplomatic matters.
KELLY: To pause for a moment on what you've just told us, Claudia, according to Sondland, he now says security aid was tied to Ukraine investigating. I mean, this is one witness, one account, but that sounds like a quid pro quo.
GRISALES: Yes. He's actually laying out the exact definition for that. He has definitely added a new narrative to this probe as - also, he was considered as a strong ally to Trump in this administration, so it really reverses Trump's defense that there was no quid pro quo.
KELLY: All right. Let's turn to what we heard from the other witness we mentioned, Kurt Volker, the former special envoy of President Trump. What did he say? He was talking about Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, and how Giuliani influenced the president's view on Ukraine.
GRISALES: Right. He shared details of a May 23 Oval Office meeting with Sondland, Senator Ron Johnson, Perry, the energy secretary, to brief Trump on this inauguration of the new president in Ukraine. And he recounts the president saying very negative things about Ukraine. And referring to the government, he said they, quote, "tried to take me down." And he said the Ukrainian president had terrible people around him and they should, quote, "talk to Rudy." The president was also repeating a debunked theory that the Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 elections.
Volker also said he talked to the Ukrainians and that they were not in touch with the Justice Department about this official investigation. And Volker talked to the Ukrainian aide that was being held up, and they should avoid anything that plays into U.S. domestic politics, so just don't do it. He also said it was clear the aid was not going to happen, that it, quote, "died" because the Ukrainians weren't willing to produce a statement that mentioned the company where Hunter Biden worked, Burisma Holdings, or the 2016 elections.
KELLY: All right. How is the White House responding to these new pieces of testimony coming out?
GRISALES: Yes. They released a statement today saying that the transcripts show there was, quote, "even less evidence for this illegitimate impeachment sham than previously thought." They also said Sondland states that he doesn't know the when, why or by whom this military aid was suspended for Ukraine. And he said there was a presumed link to the aid to these requests for corruption probes and an investigation into the Bidens. The statement also said that Volker said that there couldn't have been a quid pro quo because the Ukrainians didn't know about the hold on military aid.
KELLY: Briefly, Claudia, who's left? Who does Congress still want to hear from in this phase of the impeachment inquiry?
GRISALES: So today, the House committees leading this probe requested that White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney testify behind closed doors Friday. However, quickly, the White House said that he will not be testifying like other White House officials. However, it seems that this closed-door process is ramping down as they move into this new, public phase of releasing transcripts and, next, public hearings.
KELLY: All right. NPR's Claudia Grisales reporting there.
Thank you very much.
GRISALES: Thanks for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.