Ambassador Gordon Sondland, a witness at the center of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "in the loop" about "activities" connected to the effort to get Ukraine to announce investigations sought by President Donald Trump, Sondland testified Wednesday to a House committee leading the impeachment probe.
The testimony by the US envoy to the European Union offers the clearest description to date of Pompeo's awareness of the pressure campaign being carried out in Ukraine -- an effort Sondland said he had undertaken with the blessing of Trump and Pompeo.
According to his opening statement, Sondland told Pompeo and other senior officials at the State Department and other government agencies about his pursuits in Ukraine and his dealings with the President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. He said they were specifically apprised of efforts to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce investigations into Burisma -- a Ukrainian natural gas company that hired Hunter Biden -- and the 2016 election.
"Everyone was in the loop," Sondland said. "It was no secret."
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Sondland had "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.
Earlier in the day, Pompeo had declined to answer questions about Sondland's testimony at a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, noting that he had not watched it.
"I didn't see a single thing today. I was working," Pompeo said. "I was in meetings all day and haven't had a chance to see any of that testimony."
The top US diplomat has played coy about his knowledge of Giuliani's pursuits in Ukraine and efforts to open the President's desired investigations. He did not immediately acknowledge he had been on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.
Sondland said he had told Pompeo in mid-August about a public statement he and another US diplomat drafted with the help of members of the Ukrainian government that they had hoped would get Trump to agree to meet with Zelensky at the White House
Sondland also said he had discussed with Pompeo a potential face-to-face meeting between Zelensky and Trump in Poland, during which the Ukrainian President would say he "should be able to move forward publicly and with confidence on those issues of importance to" Trump. Sondland expressed hope that this would "break the logjam" between the two nations and Pompeo gave his approval to the plan, according to the ambassador's testimony.
According to an early September email between Sondland and Pompeo included in the ambassador's opening statement, the top US diplomat praised Sondland's work and told him to "keep banging away."
"State Department leadership expressed total support for our efforts to engage the new Ukrainian administration," Sondland testified.