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US envoy says Giuliani was given role on Ukraine policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. ambassador to the European Union said Thursday that President Donald Trump directed him and other envoys to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on Ukraine policy and that he disagreed with the directive.

Gordon Sondland’s closed-door testimony to House impeachment investigators was aimed at distancing himself from Trump and Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Sondland said he was disappointed Trump instructed him to work with Giuliani, a directive that sidestepped the role of the State Department and the National Security Council. He also said he believed it was wrong to invite a foreign government to conduct investigations to influence American elections.

The ambassador was the latest in a series of witnesses to be privately interviewed by three House committees conducting the impeachment investigation. He was one of several current and former Trump administration officials who have provided new information — and detailed diplomats’ concerns — about Trump and Giuliani and their attempts to influence Ukraine.

The investigators will continue apace next week, when they have tentatively scheduled at least eight additional interviews with a mix of State Department diplomats and White House aides. Democrats believe those witnesses can shed more light on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. One of the scheduled witnesses is the current top official at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, who exchanged text messages with Sondland this past summer as diplomats attempted to navigate Trump’s demands.

Sondland’s attempts to stand apart from Trump and Giuliani are notable since, unlike other career civil servants who have testified in the impeachment inquiry, he is a hand-picked political appointee of the president who contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. His appearance was especially anticipated since the text messages and other witness testimony place him at the center of a foreign policy dialogue with Ukraine that officials feared circumvented normal channels and that is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry of Trump.

In prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press, Sondland aimed to untether himself from any effort by the Republican president or Giuliani to have a political rival investigated, joining other current and former administration officials who have communicated to Congress misgivings about the administration’s backchannel dealings with Ukraine.