America’s EU ambassador has told the impeachment inquiry that a "quid pro quo" was used to try and secure politically helpful investigations from Ukraine and that "everyone was in the loop" on the push.
In damning new testimony, Gordon Sondland said that both a White House meeting and almost $400 million (£310m) in military aid were held back from Ukraine in an attempt to secure probes Donald Trump wanted.
Mr Sondland, a former Trump donor who is at the centre of the scandal, revealed new emails to show that the most senior US administration officials were aware of his activities.
Pushing back on claims he was freelancing when seeking an investigation into a firm that employed former vice-president Joe Biden’s son, Mr Sondland said: "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."
Mr Sondland admitted that Mr Trump had urged him to get the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to "do the right right" during one phone call, while also denying there was a "quid pro quo".
Mr Sondland name-dropped Mike Pence, the vice president, as well, telling him he was concerned that aid to Ukraine had become tied to the issue of investigations.
Mr Pence replied that he would speak to Mr Trump about it, Mr Sondland claimed.
However Mr Sondland also said the US president not explicitly ever tell him military aid was conditioned on the investigations being announced – something Republicans will likely latch onto.
The comments were delivered in front of the House Intelligence Committee which is leading the impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump, with scores of voters across the country watching the live TV coverage.
Mr Trump has repeatedly denied a "quid pro quo" – in other words, that the aid America gives Ukraine to help its fight against Russia was paused in an attempt to secure the investigations he sought.
Mr Sondland said in his opening statement: "I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’
"As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."
Mr Sondland initially said that the "quid pro quo" he was referring to was the holding back of a White House meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Zelenskiy, which the latter, recently elected, was seeking.
But under questioning Mr Sondland admitted he eventually believed that the $391m of military aid which was paused – the most controversial part of the scandal – was also part of the deal.
Asked by the Democrats’ lawyer whether he thought military aid "was also part of this quid pro quo," he replied: "Yup". Mr Sondland described it as realising "two plus two equals four".
Reacting to the testimony outside the White House on Wednesday, Mr Trump read from notes – a rare step – as he attempted to distance himself from Mr Sondland.
"I don’t know him very well", Mr Trump told reporters, quoting the conversation he had with Mr Sondland which emerged in testimony where he said "I want nothing".
Mr Sondland produced emails sent to some of the most senior figures in the Trump administration discussing the progression of talks with the Ukrainian president and his team.
One came six days before the now infamous July 25 call between Mr Trump and Mr Zelenskiy, where the US president urged investigations into Joe Biden, the former US vice president, and his son Hunter Biden, who once worked for a Ukrainian gas company.
Mr Trump also sought a probe into allegations Ukraine meddled in the 2016 elections.
Mr Sondland’s July 19 email was sent to Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, and Mick Mulvaney, now Mr Trump’s chief of staff, among other senior US officials.
In it, Mr Sondland says that the Ukrainian president will tell Mr Trump in the upcoming call that "he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone’".
Mr Sondland also shared other three emails sent to Mr Pompeo, either directly or via an aide.
To one in early September, Mr Pompeo responded: “All good. You’re doing great work; keep banging away.”
While some of the messages are convoluted and it is not known whether they were fully read, they provide new links between the scheme to secure probes and Mr Trump’s inner circle.
There were other sections of Mr Sondland’s opening statement that cast new light on the roles Mr Trump and Mr Pence, the president and vice president, allegedly played in the scandal.
"We followed the president’s orders, " Mr Sondland said when explaining why he and other senior US officials began working with Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s personal attorney.
Mr Giuliani, who is not formally part of the US administration, led what has been called an "irregular" channel of Ukraine policy. He openly pushed for an investigation into the Bidens.
Mr Sondland also describes a discussion with Mr Pence in Warsaw, Poland ahead of the vice president’s meeting with the Ukranian president and his advisers on September 1.
"I mentioned to vice president Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations," Mr Sondland said.
At that time news had broken that the military assistance was being held back but the funds had not yet been released. That would only happen later in the month as the row escalated.
A spokesman for Mr Pence later denied he ever discussed an investigation into the Bidens or Burisma – the Ukranian firm that employed Hunter Biden – with Mr Sondland, or that the pair had discussed aid being "conditioned" on the investigations.
Mr Pence, Mr Pompeo, Mr Mulvaney and others have refused to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.