CLAIM: Trump told Sondland that “Zelensky has to announce these investigations.”
FALSE. Adam Schiff relied on third-hand testimony contradicted by Sondland himself.
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) misquoted the testimony of U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland on Thursday evening, as Schiff answered questions in the Senate on the second day of questions-and-answers in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
The distortion started with a question from Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who misquoted Sondland in her prompt (which was, nevertheless, read dutifully by Chief Justice John Roberts).
After noting that Sondland testified that Trump told him “no quid pro quo,” Rosen went on to claim: “He also said, according to Sondland, that the stalemate over aid will continue until [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelensky announces the investigations.”
Her question concluded: “Isn’t that the definition of the exact ‘quid pro quo’ that the president claimed didn’t exist?”
Schiff answered: “The short answer is yes. That’s exactly what a ‘quid pro quo’ is.”
Schiff went on to claim that Trump went on to tell Sondland that “No quid pro quo. At the same time, Zelensky has got to go to the mic to announce these investigations, that’s the implication, and he should want to do it. So, no quid pro quo for the money, but Zelensky’s got to go to the mic.”
But that is not what Sondland said Trump told him.
Here are Sondland’s exact words from his closed-door deposition at Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee:
And rather than asking him, “Are you doing X because of X or because of Y or because of Z?” I asked him one open-ended question: What do you want from Ukraine?
And as I recaIl, he was in a very bad mood. It was a very quick conversation. He said: I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing.
And I said: What does that mean?
And he said: I want him to do what he ran on.
And that was the end of the conversation. I wouldn’t say he hung up me, but it was almost like he hung up on me.
Sondland never changed that part of his testimony in his public hearing, even though he did update his recollection to say that he presumed there had been a “quid pro quo” for a White House meeting.
Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin later tried to correct Schiff, without addressing the misquote directly, merely noting that there was no evidence in the House record of a “quid pro quo.”
Schiff did use the word “implication” in his response to Rosen. But his distortions only became worse from there.
Shortly after Sen. Rosen’s question, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) asked Schiff, and the White House, “Do you have any evidence that anyone was directed by President Trump to tell the Ukrainians that security assistance was being held upon the condition of an investigation into the Bidens?”
Schiff cited three witnesses: Sondland, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton, whom Democrats want the Senate to subpoena.
That answer was misleading regarding all three examples.
Schiff tried to explain that Sondland had related his conversation with Trump to former National Security Council official Tim Morrison, and to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, telling them, “The president on the one hand said, ‘no quid pro quo,’ but then went on to say that Zelensky has to announce these investigations, and he should want to.”
That is dubious, at best. Schiff was relying on second- and third-hand testimony about something only Sondland heard first-hand.
Morrison testified in his deposition that Sondland had “related that the president told him there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelensky had to do it [announce investigations] and he should want to do it.”
Taylor, in his testimony, said that Morrison had related Sondland’s remarks about what Trump told him:
According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a quid pro quo. But President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference, and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself.
But when Schiff asked Sondland in his public testimony about that alleged conversation, citing both Morrison and Taylor, Sondland said, “I don’t recall.”
When the Democrats’ counsel tried to refresh Sondland’s memory by referring to Morrison’s and Taylor’s depositions, Sondland said: “My testimony is I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement of [investigations].”
He later added: “I don’t recall President Trump ever talking to me about any security assistance, ever.”
As to the idea of Zelensky needing to make a public announcement, Sondland could not recall where he heard it: “Whoever I got that information from, I relayed to I believe both Mr. — or, excuse me, Ambassador Taylor and to Mr. Morrison.”
So Schiff not only misquoted Sondland, based on second- and third-hand testimony that ignored that Sondland himself had said, but he also ignored Sondland’s most relevant statement in answer to Romney’s question: “”My testimony is I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement of [investigations].”
Schiff also claimed, in answer to Romney, that Mulvaney had made a direct link between aid and investigations into the Bidens in his press conference in October, “try to walk that back as he may.”
Mulvaney had initially said aid was withheld until Ukraine agreed to investigate the 2016 election — not the Bidens. He later clarified: “Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server.”
Mulvaney had never said there was a link between aid and an investigation of the Bidens.
As for Bolton, the New York Times reported Sunday that he claims in his forthcoming book — which the Times never quoted directly — that Trump “wanted” to hold aid until Ukraine “turned over all materials they had about the Russia investigation that related to Mr. Biden.”
But that is not evidence that the president ever “directed” anyone to do anything, or even that he asked Ukraine to investigate anything — merely to turn over materials.
When it was his turn to answer Romney, White House lawyer Mark Purpura pointed out that Sondland had told the House that no one had ever told him aid was linked to investigations.
But Schiff wasn’t done.
Later, in response to another question from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Schiff misquoted Sondland again.
He claimed that Sondland recalled his conversation as follows: “The president says, ‘No quid pro quo, but Zelensky has got to go to the mic and he should want to do so.’ This is in the context of whether the aid is being withheld in order to secure the investigations.”
That, again, was based on Taylor’s recollection of a conversation with Morrison about a conversation with Sondland about a conversation with Trump — and it is contradicted by what Sondland himself told the House.
Schiff also made up a hypothetical in which President Trump asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to hack the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, in return for halting aid to Ukraine so that they could not fight Russia; and dropping sanctions against Russia for past election interference.
White House lawyer Jay Sekulow remarked that Schiff’s absurd hypothetical recalled the fake version of the Ukraine call transcript that he recited at the start of the Intelligence Committe’s impeachment investigation.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.