“I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed,” Mr. Sondland told Daniel Goldman, the top Democratic counsel who questioned him. “The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form and that form kept changing.”
The distinction is important because Democrats are arguing that Mr. Trump was not trying to fight corruption, but instead trying to enlist a foreign power to discredit his rivals in a way that would benefit him in the 2020 election. In pressing Mr. Sondland on the matter, Mr. Goldman noted that, “there would be political benefits to a public announcement.”
Mr. Sondland responded, “The way it was expressed to me was that the Ukrainians had a long history of committing to things privately and then never following through, so President Trump, presumably, again communicated through Mr. Giuliani, wanted the Ukrainians on record publicly that they were going to do these investigations.”
“But you never heard anyone say that they really wanted them to do the investigations, just that they wanted to announce” them, Mr. Goldman said.
“I didn’t hear either way,” Mr. Sondland said. “I didn’t hear either way.”
Sondland offered a firsthand account, but few details of what the president said.
While Republican lawmakers have derided other officials who have testified in the impeachment hearings because they had only secondhand information and had not spoken with the president, Mr. Sondland had direct contact with Mr. Trump and cannot be easily dismissed as a hearsay witness.
But in his opening statement, Mr. Sondland gave away few details of any conversations with Mr. Trump other than the president telling him and other advisers to “talk with Rudy,” who was leading the pressure campaign.
Mr. Sondland acknowledged that he told a senior Ukrainian official that to get Mr. Trump to release the frozen American security aid, the Kyiv government would likely have to publicly commit to investigating a debunked conspiracy theory involving Democrats in the 2016 election as well as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son’s ties to Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.