President Trump on Wednesday denied knowledge of a phone call that he allegedly had with U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland in July about investigations he sought from Ukraine.
“I know nothing about that. First time I’ve heard it,” Trump told reporters in the East Room during a press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which was described by a U.S. diplomat in public testimony earlier Wednesday.
“I’ve never heard this. In any event, it’s more secondhand information, but I’ve never heard it,” Trump continued.
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified Wednesday that he was told by a staffer recently that Trump called Sondland on July 26 to inquire about investigations sought by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
The phone call as described by Taylor came one day after Trump askedUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pursue investigations into 2016 election interference and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s business dealings in Ukraine.
“Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor said during his opening remarks on Wednesday.
Taylor later added that he reported the matter to the State Department’s legal adviser as well as the House Intelligence Committee and that it was his “understanding” that the committee would follow up on it.
Taylor, who sat for a private deposition last month, was one of two State Department officials who testified Wednesday in the first public hearing of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Sondland, who also testified in private last month before Taylor, is slated to testify publicly in one week.
Trump has sought to distance himself from Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and donor to his inauguration, though on Wednesday he highlighted one exchange during which he told Sondland there was “no quid pro quo” in his interactions with Ukraine.
“The only thing that I’ve seen that Sondland said was that – he did speak with me for a brief moment – and I said no quid pro quo under any circumstances,” Trump said during the press conference with the Turkish president.
Democrats are investigating whether Trump leveraged a White House meeting and military assistance to Ukraine in order to pressure the country to pursue investigations that would benefit him politically
Sondland corrected his earlier testimony last week to say that, after reviewing testimony from other witnesses, he recalled a meeting with a Zelensky aide in early September during which he said aid to Ukraine would likely not flow unless Kyiv made a public statement about pursuing investigations.
The aid was eventually released and Ukraine did not make a public statement about the investigations.
Trump labeled the House impeachment inquiry a “sham” that “shouldn’t be allowed” when asked for his reaction to the hearing, which had just concluded, earlier during the press conference.
“You’re talking about the witch hunt,” Trump said, adding that he didn’t watch the proceedings.
“I hear it’s a joke,” Trump continued, saying he was told the witnesses testifying Wednesday relied on “thirdhand information.”
Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong on his call with Zelensky, urging people to read the transcript and saying he applied no pressure to Ukraine. Trump has also said he raised Biden on the call because he was focused on “corruption” and that it had nothing to do with his political campaign.