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Ambassador Sondland To Appear Before House Intelligence Committee


Congress is in recess, but the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is not. Today, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, will testify on Capitol Hill. Sondland is a key witness in the president's dealings with Ukraine. The ambassador was named in the whistleblower complaint and also in text messages that were turned over to House investigators. Joining us on the line this morning - Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, good morning.

JIM HIMES: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So are you going to be at this deposition?

HIMES: I will not be at the deposition today, but I am likely to be at the deposition, which we will take on Friday, of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, of course, the ambassador who was, it appears, may have been dismissed from her position because she didn't adequately support the president's ideas and plans in Ukraine.

GREENE: So how does this work today if members are not actually going to be there? And when do you learn what Gordon Sondland actually said?

HIMES: What will happen is that the investigators - the counsel for the committee will actually conduct the interviews. And the good news about that is that those interviews tend to be more coordinated and more focused.

GREENE: What is one key piece of information you're hoping to get from Gordon Sondland?

HIMES: Well, the key question here is, did the president use United States official assets - that is almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine - did the president hold that hostage to his request that the Ukrainians investigate the Bidens? That is obviously a very, very serious charge. It's extortive. You know, it's a dramatic misuse of government resources. And, of course, the people who were day-to-day working on the question, like Ambassador Sondland, who would know whether there was a link there and how explicit it was.

GREENE: Well, I mean, Sondland, we have a text message released to lawmakers on the House side. He wrote that Trump, quote, "has been crystal clear, no quid pro quo of any kind." I mean, I imagine your Republican colleagues are using that text to say if there was no quid pro quo, what's the big deal here?

HIMES: Well, there's two answers to that. No. 1, as much as the Republicans would like it to be true that the quid pro quo is essential, it's not. A quid pro quo is essential essentially for bribery. It's not essential for what appears to have happened here, which is extortion. But the text message that you mentioned is, of course, very, very interesting - right? - because it comes right on the heels of a text from another ambassador saying something along the lines of hey, I'm uncomfortable here linking this politics to the withholding of aid. And then a five-hour period goes by and then and only then does Sondland, who is not a professional civil servant - Sondland, of course, was a supporter of the president and a donor of the president - comes back and says there is no explicit quid pro quo here. So the circumstances of the text that you're talking about, of course, are in and of themselves a little bit suspicious and worthy of our looking into.

GREENE: And we should say after that text message, it sounds like Sondland told the diplomat that he was writing to take the conversation off of text messaging, which is I'm sure an interesting thing that all of you will be parsing out. Of course, Kurt Volker also testified. I mean, he was the envoy to Ukraine, who's now left that job. Republicans have been calling for a full release of a transcript of his testimony to Congress, as well as a full set of the text messages that were given to the committee. Are Democrats going to let that happen and when?

HIMES: I think it's important that we ultimately do let it happen. Now, you've got to be a little careful about not releasing classified information. So any transcripts, any texts that contain classified information, they will need to go through a process of making sure that no classified information is released.

GREENE: You can assure people that the Democratic leadership is only taking time here to scrub the classified information and that nothing else is going on. They are rushing as quickly as they can to release everything and be fully transparent about what was said here.

HIMES: I can absolutely assure you that there is no effort to suppress evidence that is exculpatory of the president or anything else. That, of course, would be hugely destructive to what is probably the most serious thing that the Congress can do.

GREENE: Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Thanks so much, Congressman.

HIMES: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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