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Stefanik presses Sondland on role of Hunter Biden

Rep. Elise Stefanik (Official congressional photo)

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, questioned Gordon Sondland, President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, about his understanding of why there was a hold placed on aid to Ukraine during Wednesday’s impeachment inquiry.

Sondland had testified that he believed that a number of Trump administration officials were “in the loop” about a quid pro quo involving aid to the country tied to Ukraine’s president announcing investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

Stefanik asked Sondland: “You testified that you never received any direct confirmation or specific information as to why there was a hold on aid.”

“That’s correct,” Sondland replied.

Stefanik also asked Sondland if he testified that Trump never told him directly that the aid was conditioned on the investigations. She also referenced a Sept. 9 phone call Sondland had with Trump in which the president reportedly said, “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want (Ukraine) President (Volodymyr) Zelenskiy to do the right thing. Do what he ran on.”

“The fact is the aid was given to Ukraine without any announcement of new investigations,” she asserted to Sondland.

“That’s correct,” he replied.

Stefanik added that Sondland testified that it was his understanding that the investigations Trump sought were about Ukraine election interference and Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden served as a board member.

“Are you aware that during the Obama administration the U.S. partnered with the UK and Ukraine on an investigation into the owner of Burisma as part of Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts?” she asked.

“I became aware of it today during the hearing,” Sondland said.

Stefanik then asked a question about whether Sondland was aware that former Ukraine Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch, who Trump fired in May, was briefed about the Burisma issue.

“In fact, the Obama administration State Department was concerned about the potential appearance of conflict of interest with Hunter Biden serving on the board of Burisma because they raised this as they were preparing Ambassador Yovanovitch for her Senate confirmation,” Stefanik said.

Sondland said he was aware the issue was raised with Yovanovitch.

Stefanik then asked Sondland whether he believed that Hunter Biden serving on the board of Burisma had the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Sondland said he did not want to say whether it was a conflict of interest and Stefanik clarified she wanted to know if he thought it was the “potential appearance” of a conflict.

“Clearly, it’s an appearance of a conflict,” he said.

Stefanik concluded her questioning by saying: “This is something that every witness has answered yes to or agreed that it could have a potential appearance and yet we are not allowed to call Hunter Biden to answer questions in front of this committee,” she said.

During a break in the hearings later in the afternoon, Stefanik said in a press conference with other GOP lawmakers that she believes that Sondland’s testimony does not change much in the inquiry. Ukraine received the aid and there was no investigation of Biden either after the July 25 phone call or Trump’s meeting with Zelenskiy at the United Nations on Sept. 25.

“The facts remain the same through this process, despite (House Intelligence Committee Chairman) Adam Schiff continuing his political wishful thinking,” she said.