U.S. Rep. Val Demings grills ambassador on cellphone call with Trump in Ukraine restaurant

By: - November 20, 2019 7:05 pm

U.S. Rep. Val Demings questions U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland during Trump impeachment hearings. Photo by Issac Morgan.

With public impeachment hearings continuing on Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Val Demings came out swinging Wednesday, attempting to refresh the memory of key witness Gordon Sondland, based on his previous closed-door deposition.

Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers that he had a casual phone conversation with Trump at a restaurant in the capital of Ukraine.

“Tell me again about the conversation you had at the restaurant that was overheard by Mr. Holmes,” said Demings, referring to State Department official David Holmes.

Sondland replied: “Again, I don’t remember the specifics, I’m being guided by what Mr. Holmes testified to. I said I didn’t dispute the basic subject of the conversation, as I said, we were talking primarily about ASAP Rocky [a famous rapper], that was a completely unrelated matter, and I think the president may have brought up how to go with (Ukraine’s President Volodymyr) Zelensky or if he’s going to do the investigations which we’d been talking about for weeks.”

[That was a reference to potential investigations into former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and the blocking of military aid to Ukraine.]

Demings, an Orlando Democrat and former Orlando police chief, is the only Floridian on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee posing questions to witnesses.

She continued to press Sondland on Trump’s relationship with Ukraine’s President Zelensky.

She asked: “Did you ever hear President Zelensky relay any concerns…about how he felt, about how the U.S. viewed him, whether he was being taken seriously or any concerns about being used as a tool for political reasons?”

“Well…we obviously tried to relay to Zelensky the glass half full version of how the United States felt about Ukraine and not the glass half empty version, which is ‘we are here for you, support you, and we are trying very hard to get you the meeting with President Trump,’ ” Sondland answered.

As the ambassador gave his testimony to House lawmakers, Sondland constantly deferred questions because he “didn’t take notes.” Text message exchanges between Sondland and other U.S. officials were also released during the hearing.

“And you remember that directly, although there are several other conversations that you cannot recall because you don’t have your notes, or your documents, or your emails or other information, but you remember that call specifically, exactly what the president said to you in response to your question about ‘what do you want,’ “ Demings said.

“I remember the first girl I kissed,” Sondland said with laughter. “I remember that conversation because as I said it was a pretty intense, short conversation.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.