WASHINGTON (AFP) — A US envoy said Wednesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directed him to coordinate Ukraine policy with US President Donald Trump’s lawyer, further implicating the top US diplomat in the impeachment drama.
Gordon Sondland — the US ambassador to the European Union who, unlike previous diplomats who testified in the inquiry, is a political appointee allied with Trump — said he kept Pompeo up-to-date on what he believed was the president’s effort to set conditions to a meeting with Ukraine’s new leader.
Asked if Pompeo had been made aware that Trump wanted a Ukrainian investigation of domestic rival Joe Biden before agreeing to the White House meeting and releasing security aid, Sondland replied: “Yes.”
Representative Adam Schiff probed further, asking if Pompeo denied a connection. “Not that I can recall,” Sondland replied.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus denied the account, saying: “Gordon Sondland never told Secretary Pompeo that he believed the president was linking aid to investigations of political opponents.”
“Any suggestion to the contrary is flat out false,” she said.
Sondland said Pompeo had directed the US pointman on Ukraine, Kurt Volker, to speak with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who was pushing Ukraine to investigate Biden.
He said Pompeo’s stance did not change even after diplomats complained that Giuliani was meeting with an allegedly corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor without their knowledge.
“Even as late as September 24, Secretary Pompeo was directing Kurt Volker to speak with Rudy Giuliani,” Sondland said.
That is the same day that the White House released a July call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “do us a favor,” leading Democrats to move to impeach him.
Sondland, a hotel owner who was appointed after donating to Trump’s campaign, said the State Department and White House refused to share documents as he complied with an order to appear before Congress.
“These documents are not classified and, in fairness, should have been made available,” he said.
“I have no doubt that a more fair, open, and orderly process of allowing me to read the State Department records and other materials would have made this process more transparent,” he added.
Pompeo, coincidentally in Brussels as Sondland appeared in Washington, refused to step back from decisions on releasing documents in light of his growing implication in the events in question.
“I’m not going to recuse myself from this,” Pompeo told reporters after talks with NATO ministers.
“I know precisely what American policy was with respect to Ukraine. I was working on it, and I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said.
Asked by a reporter about Sondland’s testimony, Pompeo said: “I did not see a single thing, I was working; sounds like you might not have been.”
Pompeo has come under growing fire from former diplomats for not defending career employees who have been caught up in the scandal and at times personally attacked by Trump.
Time magazine, quoting unnamed sources, said Pompeo has told prominent Republicans that he plans to resign to run for Senate in his home state of Kansas but that concerns were growing that he could be tainted by the scandal.
Ortagus, his spokeswoman, also denied the Time story, saying Pompeo was “100 percent focused on being President Trump’s secretary of state.”