Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, told Sen. Ron Johnson of Trump withholding aid funds to Ukraine, allegedly in exchange for an investigation into Joe Biden. Then he told his colleague not to worry about it.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said on Friday that he had spoken to Donald Trump over the phone back in August about concerns Trump may have tied military aid to the country to its willingness to investigate Trump's political rival, Joe Biden.
Though Johnson, speaking to the Wall Street Journal, said Trump denied the allegation, the Wisconsin senator revealed another interesting fact: The individual from whom he learned of the rumored quid pro quo was none other than Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
In his interview with the Journal, Johnson quoted Trump as saying, "Expletive deleted—No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?"
In fact that person was Sondland, who not long after denied any sort of quid pro quo in a series of text messages to another top diplomat.
That trove of text messages was released on Thursday and revealed that Bill Taylor, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, had expressed concern to Sondland about Trump's attempts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating one of his 2020 election rivals, former Vice President Biden, allegedly in exchange for foreign aid funds.
In a Sept. 9 text conversation between Taylor and Sondland — not long after Sondland spoke with Johnson — Taylor complained that the administration had held up funds for Ukraine.
"As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," he said.
Sondland, a hotel company owner who gave $1 million to 2017 Trump's inauguration committee, responded by downplaying the concerns and suggesting they move the conversation to a less permanent format.
"Bill," he replied, "I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's [sic] of any kind."
Sondland then suggested that they "stop the back and forth by text" and that he instead pose any further questions to others, "to discuss them directly" over the phone.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the apparent discrepancy.
The revelation of the alleged quid pro quo apparently did little to stop Johnson from supporting Trump in the earliest days of the Ukraine scandal.
Last month, after the White House released a partial transcript of Trump's call with Zelensky — in which Trump reminded his counterpart of the United States' generosity before asking for a "favor," investigations into Joe Biden's son and matters related to the 2016 campaign — Johnson dismissed it as "nothing."
"I think the House [of Representatives, which launched an impeachment inquiry into the matter] is so far over their skis on this thing," he told reporters, adding, "In it’s totality, we all kind of looked at it and said, 'There’s nothing here.'"
Trump has claimed he does not care about Biden politically and is only concerned with investigating allegations of corruption by the former vice president, allegations for which there is no evidence. He has repeatedly insisted that Biden forced Ukraine to remove its then-prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, in 2016, because Shokin was investigating a company on whose board Biden's son was a member.
The investigation into that company, however, was dormant at the time Biden petitioned for Shokin's removal, saying he was not doing an adequate job investigating corruption.
It is worth noting that Johnson himself signed a bipartisan letter around that time, in 2016, criticizing Shokin for the very same thing.
Johnson initially claimed Thursday that he could not recall signing it, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He later acknowledged the letter in a local radio interview, telling the host, "The whole world felt that Shokin wasn't doing a [good] enough job. So we were saying, 'hey you've ... got to rid yourself of corruption.'"
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.