President Donald Trump on Wednesday responded to a key witness in the House impeachment inquiry who claimed that Rudy Giuliani had been directed by the president to pursue a “quid pro quo.”
U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland told the panel leading the proceedings that Giuliani was expressing Trump’s desires when he “demanded” Ukraine announce investigations involving Trump’s personal political rivals.
But Trump seized on Sondland’s recollection of a phone call the two men had in September, when Sondland asked the president directly about his plans for Ukraine.
President Donald Trump talks to the media on his way to the Marine One helicopter, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, as he leaves the White House in Washington, en route to Texas.
Jacquelyn Martin | AP
“What do you want from Ukraine? I keep hearing all these different ideas and theories. What do you want, what do you want?” Sondland asked in that call, according to Trump, who was speaking to reporters outside the White House. Sondland had made similar remarks about the call in his testimony earlier Wednesday.
Trump, reading off a pad of paper with notes jotted in black marker, said he told Sondland on the call: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell [Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy] to do the right thing.”
Trump suggested Sondland’s testimony exonerates him. “I would say that means it’s all over,” Trump told the reporters.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that “Ambassador Sondland’s testimony made clear that in one of the few brief phone calls he had with President Trump, the President clearly stated that he ‘wanted nothing’ from Ukraine and repeated ‘no quid pro quo over and over again.'”
“In fact, no quid pro quo ever occurred,” Grisham added. “The U.S. aid to Ukraine flowed, no investigation was launched, and President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelensky. Democrats keep chasing ghosts.”
But Trump has previously said — on television — that he wants Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
“If they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said when asked what he wanted Zelenskiy to do about the former veep — now a 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate — and his son.
“They should investigate the Bidens,” Trump said. “Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”
Sondland was the most-anticipated witness to appear for a public hearing in the impeachment inquiry. Sondland had direct contact with the president, and had previously discussed the investigations with him, according to testimony from previous witnesses.
But Trump said of Sondland that “I don’t know him very well. I have not spoken to him much.” The president added that Sondland “seems like a nice guy, though.”
Trump also chided the reporters listening to him. “Ready? Have the cameras rolling?” he asked before reading his notes to the throng of journalists. “If you weren’t fake news, you’d cover it properly,” Trump said at another point.
Trump gave his comments before departing for Austin, Texas, to visit an Apple manufacturing plant with the tech giant’s CEO, Tim Cook. He answered no questions.