Gordon Sondland, the Portland businessman-turned-diplomat, reportedly knew much earlier than he has previously said that President Trump was pressuring Ukranian authorities to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor responds to questions from Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor responds to questions from Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

Susan Walsh/AP

On the first morning of the public House impeachment hearings, the top U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, said he had just learned the details of a phone call Sondland had with Trump on July 26.

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Taylor is now suggesting that Sondland received direction straight from Trump on July 26 about the conditions for aid to Ukraine, and that it involved investigations affecting the Biden family.

Taylor said one of his staffers listened in as Sondland talked to Trump while the two diplomats were in a Kyiv restaurant. After the call, the staffer asked Sondland what the president thinks of Ukraine.

Sondland replied, according to Taylor’s account: “[He] cares more about the investigations of Biden, which [presidential lawyer Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for.”

Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, has already revised his account of when he first learned that Trump was seeking information about the Bidens.

When Sondland testified in closed hearings to House investigators on Oct. 17, he said he did not know that Hunter Biden had once been on the board of Burisma — a Ukranian natural gas company that Trump wanted to be investigated — until “more recent press reports.” 

United States Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland attends the High Level Forum on Small Modular Reactors at EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.

United States Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland attends the High Level Forum on Small Modular Reactors at EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.

Virginia Mayo/AP

On Nov. 4, Sondland submitted a written statement to investigators that testimony from other officials helped refresh his memory about conversations he had at the beginning of September regarding White House conditions on aid to Ukraine.

Among other things, Sondland said he had warned a Ukranian official on Sept. 1 that security aid to Ukraine “would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

A bellhop at the Heathman Hotel walks out to greet a customer on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in downtown Portland, Ore. The Heathman is part of Gordon Sondland's Provenance Hotels chain.

A bellhop at the Heathman Hotel walks out to greet a customer on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in downtown Portland, Ore. The Heathman is part of Gordon Sondland’s Provenance Hotels chain.

Bryan M. Vance/OPB

Sondland’s Portland-based attorney, Jim McDermott, could not be immediately reached for comment. Sondland is an owner of a prominent Portland-based hotel chain and has long been a major political donor in both the state and in national political circles. Through several of his companies, he donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.  That donation has been widely believed to have helped smooth the way for his ambassadorial appointment.

After Sondland revised his testimony, Trump distanced himself from the ambassador, saying that “I hardly know the gentleman.”

However, Taylor testified Wednesday that it was apparent to him that Sondland “clearly” had the ability to directly speak to the president, and that he encouraged Sondland to “push back” against any attempt to link Ukraine aid to any investigation that involves U.S. domestic politics.