Sondland said he was acting on Trump’s orders, aide told investigators

Source: Politico | November 16, 2019 | Kyle Cheney

Tim Morrison, a top White House national security aide, told impeachment investigators that Gordon Sondland — a U.S. ambassador at the center of the Ukraine scandal imperiling Donald Trump’s presidency — claimed to be acting on Trump’s orders, and was regularly in touch with him.

Though other impeachment witnesses have suggested Sondland has overstating his relationship with the president, Morrison said he was repeatedly able to confirm that the envoy did speak directly with the Trump.

“Every time you went to check to see whether he had, in fact, talked to the president, you found that he had talked to the president?” one lawmaker wondered, according to a transcript of Morrison’s testimony released Saturday.

“Yes,” Morrison replied.

Sondland’s direct access to Trump is a crucial aspect of the House’s impeachment inquiry. Officially the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, he played an unofficial role in channeling and conveying the president’s demands of Ukrainian leaders.

Sondland has acknowledged informing Ukrainian officials on Sept. 1 that a $400 million package of military aid — frozen abruptly by Trump — would be easier to pry loose if their newly elected president announced an investigation into Burisma, an energy company connected to former vice president Joe Biden’s son.

Democrats launched their impeachment investigation amid mounting evidence that Trump pressured Ukraine to launch the probe into the Bidens and other political adversaries, and might have withheld military aid and a White House visit to bend Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to his will.

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Morrison also testified that Sondland had briefed President Trump before the fateful July 25 call, in what amounted to a circumvention of the usual National Security Council procedures.

“Ambassador Sondland emailed me and several other White House staff to inform us that he had spoken to the president that morning to brief him on the call,” he said.

Morrison’s account adds weight to the version of events that the current top U.S. envoy to Ukrain, William Taylor, told lawmakers both in a closed door deposition and during public testimony on Wednesday. It also underscores the magnitude of Sondland’s scheduled public testimony this coming week.

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