(JTA) — Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who was called to testify before a House committee in the Trump impeachment investigation, invoked his family’s Holocaust past in his opening remarks.
“My parents fled Europe during the Holocaust. Escaping the atrocities of that time, my parents left Germany for Uruguay, and then in 1953 emigrated to Seattle, Washington, where I was born and raised,” Sondland said at the beginning of his testimony.
“Like so many immigrants, my family was eager for freedom and hungry for opportunity. They raised my sister and me to be humble, hardworking, and patriotic, and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices they made on our behalf,” he said.
In testimony Wednesday morning, Sondland also confirmed one of the central issues at the heart of the inquiry, whether Trump used aid to Ukraine as leverage to push the country to open an investigation of Vice President Joe Biden. Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee that he and other American officials pressured Ukraine “at the express direction of the president” and confirmed a linkage between a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president and the opening of the investigations Trump was seeking.
A Portland hotelier and longtime Republican donor, Sondland disavowed Trump during the 2016 campaign after the candidate disparaged the Muslim parents of a slain soldier. But after Trump was elected, Sondland funneled $1 million into Trump’s inauguration and earned a role as ambassador to the European Union.
Sondland appeared in the unnamed whistleblower’s complaint, described as having “provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky.”
In testimony last week, William Taylor, the former ambassador to Ukraine, testified that Sondland told one of his aides that Trump cared more about getting damaging information on Joe Biden and his son Hunter than about helping Ukraine.