Former Trump impeachment witness registers to lobby for Ukraine aid

Gordon Sondland, the former diplomat who became a key witness in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment over frozen Ukraine aid, is now working his contacts in Washington to ensure financial support for the country’s war with Russia keeps flowing.

Sondland, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the European Union before getting wrapped up in the impeachment probe, registered last week as a foreign agent of Ukraine and the EU, according to DOJ filings. The former hotelier said in an interview that the registration stemmed from an abundance of caution because of the Justice Department’s crackdown in recent years on foreign lobbying. He said that his advocacy was on a volunteer basis.

“I’ve not been hired by Ukraine. I’m not being paid by Ukraine,” he told POLITICO. “There’s no money involved. I’m simply helping Ukraine advocate for their interests with people I know in Congress and elsewhere.” Sondland said he’s also working with the EU and European Central Bank on getting more Ukraine aid approved.

“I registered under [the Foreign Agents Registration Act] because if you don’t, it comes back to bite you,” Sondland argued. “I want to be in a position to argue forcefully that we need to support Ukraine, and I don’t want to be accused of a FARA violation when I do it.”

Sondland’s registration was first reported by The Washington Free Beacon. And it pits him, once more, against the ex-president he once served. Trump has signaled opposition to U.S. aid to Ukraine and suggested that if aid is sent, it should be as a loan.

Sondland wouldn’t disclose who he’s been talking to as part of the effort to secure more funds. His work comes as attempts to approve a fresh tranche of military assistance for Ukraine have languished for months amid Republican opposition.

“I’m trying to win the hearts and minds of those who aren’t quite there yet,” he said, though he expressed optimism about that happening.

The former ambassador is no stranger to debates surrounding U.S. aid for Ukraine.

During House Democrats’ 2019 impeachment probe, which centered on Trump withholding U.S. military aid from Ukraine, Sondland testified that he viewed Trump’s demands as a quid pro quo to pressure Ukrainian leaders to investigate corruption in the country and possible business dealings involving now-President Joe Biden. That testimony ultimately helped form the basis of the impeachment investigators’ case.

Sondland, who’d been tapped by Trump to coordinate Ukraine policy alongside Energy Secretary Rick Perry, was removed from his post in Brussels in 2020 within days of the Senate voting to acquit Trump on the two articles of impeachment.

Despite his high-profile fissure with the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Sondland told POLITICO he hadn’t experienced any pushback over his role in Trump’s impeachment as part of his present-day conversations.

“I still believe very strongly in Ukraine’s right to its sovereignty and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing,” he said, adding that he didn’t see any inconsistencies between his involvement in the impeachment and his activity now.