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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pence says he has no recollection of Ukraine aid concerns

Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks to the Strada Education Network's National Symposium Welcome Reception in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
By Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday he has no recollection of a conversation described by Gordon Sondland about a link between military aid for Ukraine and investigations sought by President Donald Trump – a slight departure from an aide’s earlier statement.

Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified Wednesday that he spoke with Pence before a Sept. 1 meeting with Ukrainian officials and told him he “had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations.”

But Pence told a Wisconsin television station the conversation doesn’t ring a bell.

“I don’t recall any discussions with Ambassador Sondland before my meeting with President Zelenskiy that had to do with investigations,” Pence said, referring to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The comment was a slight departure from a carefully worded statement released by a top aide to Pence earlier in the day that said the conversation “never happened.”

Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, denied that Pence spoke to Sondland “about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations,” referencing the gas company where Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.

Short added that Sondland was “never alone” with Pence during the Sept. 1 trip to Poland.

“This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened,” Short said.

Democrats pressed Sondland on the denial after the Pence statement was released, with Sondland saying he never indicated there was a one-on-one meeting with Pence. Earlier, Sondland testified that Pence didn’t express surprise when he informed the vice president about his concerns that are now at the center of the impeachment probe.

Sondland said he did not “recall any substantive response” from Pence.

The House impeachment inquiry centers on allegations that Trump sought investigations of Biden and his son – and the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election – in return for the military aid as well as a White House visit. Trump has denied doing anything wrong.

Pence aides have previously maintained that the vice president was unaware of efforts to push Zelenskiy to release a statement announcing the launch of investigations. And Pence has said no such push came up during his September meeting with Zelenskiy in Warsaw, even as the leaders discussed the U.S. military aid that was under review.

Pence press secretary Katie Waldman said Pence was also unaware of the “brief pull-aside conversation” that Sondland reported having with a top aide to Zelenskiy following the Pence-Zelenskiy meeting.

Sondland has said he told Andriy Yermak that the “resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”