(CNSNews.com) - In his opening statement before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland inexplicably omitted a key element he would later relate in response to questioning by the committee: his direct conversation with President Donald Trump, in which Trump expressly told Sondland he wanted "nothing" from Ukraine.
"I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo," Sondland later testified Trump told him.
During the course of the hearing, Sondland was asked repeatedly about his Sept. 9 telephone conversation with Trump and what Trump told him in that conversation.
About an hour-and-a-half into the hearing, Sondland told Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) he thought it was "a very bad idea" to withhold military assistance to Ukraine, so Sondland "finally called the president."
I finally called the president, I believe it was on the 9th of September. I can't find the records, and they won't provide them to me. But I believe I just asked him an open-ended question, Mr. Chairman. What do you want from Ukraine? I keep hearing all these different ideas and theories and this and that. What do you want?
And it was a very short, abrupt conversation. He was not in a good mood. And he just said, 'I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing,' something to that effect.
So I typed out a text to Ambassador Taylor, and my reason for telling him this was not to defend what the president was saying, not to opine on whether the president was being truthful or untruthful, but simply to relay, I've gone as far as I can go. This is the final word that I heard from the president of the United States. If you are still concerned, you, Ambassador Taylor, are still concerned, please get ahold of the secretary (Pompeo). Maybe he can help…
Later, Stephen Castor, the Republicans' attorney, asked Sondland to repeat: "What did the president say to you on September 9th that you remember?"
Well, words to the effect--I decided to ask the president the question in an open-ended fashion, because there were so many different scenarios floating around as to what was going on with Ukraine. So rather than ask the president nine different questions -- is it this, is it this, is it that -- I just said, what do you want from Ukraine?
I may have even used a four letter word. And he said, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I just want Zelensky to do the right thing, to do what he ran on, or words to that effect.
And that gave me the impetus to respond to Ambassador Taylor with a text that I sent. As I said to Mr. Goldman, it was not an artfully written text. I should have been more specific, put it in quotes, something like that. But basically I wanted Mr. Taylor, Ambassador Taylor, to pick up the ball and take it from there. I had gone as far as I could go.
Schiff eventually returned to Sondland's account of his conversation with President Trump, asking him about Trump's insistence that President Zelensky "had to clear things up and do it in public."
"I don't have any reason to dispute the 'clear things up and do it in public,'" Sondland said, confirming what he'd told earlier witnesses. "What I'm trying to be very clear about was President Trump never told me directly that the aid was tied to that (public) statement.
Schiff followed up: "But in that same conversation you had with him (Trump) about the aid, about the quid pro quo, he told you that President Zelensky had to, quote, 'clear things up and do it in public,' correct?"
"I did not have a conversation with him about the aid," Sondland said. "I had a conversation with him, as referenced in my text, about quid pro quo."
"Well, the quid pro quo you were discussing was over the aid, correct?" Schiff asked.
"No, President Trump, when I asked him the open-ended question, as I testified previously, what do you want from Ukraine? His answer was, 'I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.' That's all I got from President Trump," Sondland said.
Later in the day, Republican attorney Castor asked Sondland why he omitted details of his call with President Trump from his opening statement:
"And then, in your September 9th communication with the president, during your deposition, that was a striking moment when you walk us through your telephone call with President Trump on September 9th in saying--"
(Sondland interrupted: "And by the way, I still cannot find a record of that call because the State Department and the White House cannot locate it, but I'm pretty sure I had the call on that day.")
"Whether it was the ninth or the eighth, you had this call," Castor said. "It was extremely memorable, right?"
"It was," Sondland agreed.
"And you -- you've been very honest, and we're not trying to give you a hard time in all the times you don't recall, we're just trying to just say that it's a lot of important events that have happened that the committee has asked you about, and you've honestly said I don't recall. But the call with President Trump on September 9th or the 8th, you recall it vividly, right?"
"I recall it vividly," Sondland agreed, "because it was keyed by the sort of frantic emails from Ambassador Taylor. I had, again, prior to that call, had all kinds of theories as to why things weren't moving, why there was no White House meeting, why there was no aid, why there was no this, why there was no that, and I was getting tired of going around in circles, frankly.
"So I made the call and I asked, as I said, the open-ended question, what do you want from Ukraine? And that's when I got the answer."
Castor asked Sondland, "And he (Trump) was -- he was unequivocal. ‘Nothing.’"
"What I said in the text is what I heard," Sondland said.
"I'm curious," Castor told Sondland. "Was that vignette in your opener (opening statement) today?"
"I don't think so," Sondland said.
"How come?" Castor asked. "That's so memorable. It's so striking."
"I don't know. It was in my previous testimony and I assumed if people had questions, they would bring it up," Sondland said.
"Okay," Castor said. "I mean, this is an example, you know, a lot of witnesses during the course of this investigation have dealt with ambiguities in different ways and some have resolved them in the light least favorable to the president over and over again. This is an exculpatory fact shedding some light on the president's state of mind about the situation about the--"
Sondland interrupted: "And I'm happy to discuss it."
"So I'm just wondering why you didn't mention it in your opener," Castor said.
"There were so many things I wanted to include in my opening, and my opening was already I think 45 minutes or something. It would've been an hour and a half. There were a lot of things I'd like to have mentioned," Sondland said.
"But you only had a couple of conversations with the president," Castor noted. "I mean, we're trying to evaluate whether the impeaching the president--"
"It was not--it was not purposeful, trust me," Sondland said.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) also questioned Sondland about the notable omission from his opening statement:
"Mr. Castor raised another important point. Why didn't you put that statement (about the phone call with Trump) in your opening statement?" Jordan asked. "I think you said you couldn't fit it in. Is that right? Said you might be here for 46 minutes instead of 45 minutes."
"Wasn't purposeful," Sondland responded.
Jordan again: "You couldn't fit it in a 23-page opener. The most important statement about the subject matter at hand. The president of the United States in a direct conversation with you about the issue at hand, and the president said -- let me read it one more time. ‘What do you want from Ukraine, Mr. President? 'I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo.' I want this new guy, brand-new guy in politics, his party just took over. ‘I want Zelensky to do the right thing. I want him to do what he ran on which is to deal with corruption.’
"And you can't find time to fit that in the 23-page opening statement?" Jordan asked. "You know what a quid pro quo is?"
"I do," Sondland said.
"This for that, right?" Jordan said. "Looks to me like Ukraine got 'that' three times, and there was no 'this.' We didn't do anything. Excuse me, they didn't have to do anything..."
Committee Republicans have noted that the Ukrainian president got a congratulatory phone call from Trump; Zelensky met with Trump on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly; and the Ukrainians received U.S. military aid in mid-September without ever making a public statement about the investigations that Trump reportedly wanted.
"It's 0 for 3," Jordan commented.