November 14, 2019 / 11:09 AM / 25 days ago

U.S. envoy Sondland did not link Biden probe to aid: Ukraine minister

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland attends the EU-U.S. High-Level Forum on small modular reactors at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 21, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said on Thursday that U.S. ambassador Gordon Sondland did not explicitly link military aid to Kiev with opening an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Interfax Ukraine reported.

Trump and his allies are accused by Democrat opponents of freezing nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine to pressure President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open investigations into Biden, Trump’s main rival for the 2020 presidential race.

Trump calls the inquiry a witch hunt.

“Ambassador Sondland did not tell us, and certainly did not tell me, about a connection between the assistance and the investigations. You should ask him,” Prystaiko said about Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Prystaiko’s comments came a day after William Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, testified in the first televised hearing of the impeachment inquiry.

In a disclosure that drew the most attention, Taylor pointed to Trump’s keen interest in getting the eastern European ally to investigate Biden and reiterated his understanding that $391 million in U.S. security aid was withheld from Kiev unless it cooperated.

Taylor said a member of his staff had overheard a July 26 phone call between Trump and Sondland in which the Republican president asked about investigations into the Bidens, and Sondland told him that the Ukrainians were ready to proceed.

That call occurred a day after Trump had asked Zelenskiy during a phone call to conduct the investigations.

“I have never seen a direct relationship between investigations and security assistance,” Prystaiko was quoted as saying by Interfax. “Yes, the investigations were mentioned, you know, in the conversation of the presidents. But there was no clear connection between these events.”

Reporting by Matthias Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones

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