LIVEBLOG: Sondland Testifies Publicly After Being Labeled Key To The Ukraine Gambit

Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper (R) and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale are sworn in before their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry on Capi... Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper (R) and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale are sworn in before their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on November 20, 2019. (Photo by ERIK S. LESSER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ERIK S. LESSER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
November 20, 2019 8:52 a.m.

Another marathon day of impeachment proceeding begins Wednesday with the public testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Sondland, who donated $1 million to President Trump’s inaugural, was a key figure in the Ukraine pressure campaign, and, according to several witnesses, had a direct line to Trump as the plot unfolded.

He had already had to amend his private deposition once to incorporate episodes other witnesses testified about, and several discrepancies remain between what other witnesses have said and his previous testimony.

Later Wednesday afternoon, the House Intelligence Committee will hear from State Department official David Hale, whose public testimony Republicans requested, and Laura Cooper, who works at the Department of Defense.

We will be liveblogging here:

8:00 p.m.: Schiff wrapped up the hearing testimony and the witnesses left the room. They’re now going through the process of taking up (and presumably rejecting) various GOP subpoenas.

7:53 p.m.: Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) asked Cooper and Hale whether they heard that aid was being withhold for the two reasons that Republicans are using to explain the hold now. Both testified that they never heard those two reasons being the reason the hold was placed on the aid. The first supposed reason was that allied countries need to share the burden. Cooper said she didn’t recall that coming up in the three she attended where the hold was discussed, but there an inquiry in about allies’ contribution before the hold was placed. “I have no recollection of allied burden-sharing being brought up,” Hale said. Krishnamoorthi then asked about the idea that the hold was so the administration could vet Zelensky. Neither witness could recall that reason being put forward.

7:36 p.m.: While Democrats haven’t spent a lot of time questioning Hale about how the State Department handled the Yovanovitch smear campaign, Peter Welch (D-VT) got him to go through the timeline of her request of a statement of support and Pompeo’s decision not to issue it. Hale also testified that around the same time, Pompeo spoke to Giuliani on the phone two days in a row.

7:29 p.m.: Under questioning from Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA), Hale extensively praised Yovanovitch.
Heck: “What happened to her was wrong?”
Hale: “That’s right.”

7:22 p.m.: Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) pressed Cooper on the July 25 messages her staff received indicating inquiries from the Ukrainian embassy about the aid. Cooper conceded the wording in those messages did “not necessarily” refer to a hold and that she “cannot say for certain” that the inquiries were about the hold. She did push back gently when he suggested that it was typical for countries to check in on aid packages they were expecting.
“In my experience with the Ukrainians, they typically would call about specific things and not just generally checking in on their assistance package,” she said.

7:00 p.m.: Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) used the new information from Cooper about what her staff heard from Ukrainians with regards to the aid to pound the drum on the Trump administration’s refusal to turn over subpoenaed documents.

6:55 p.m.: Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), perhaps seeing the headlines Cooper’s opening revelations prompted, tried to get her to clarify what the Ukrainians knew when about the aid hold. But he bungled what she had actually testified — that the messages went to her staff, not to her – and the line of inquiry doesn’t get very far.

6:51 p.m.: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked Cooper about military assistance and finding out in July that there was a concern about corruption. “You’re scratching your head, right?”
Cooper: “Yes, ma’am. We did not understand.”

4:49 p.m.: We’re still waiting for this recess to wrap up — the House is currently voting — but an official working on the impeachment inquiry said that there will not be an extended round of questioning during the second hearing. After opening statements, the proceedings will move immediately to five-minute member-question rounds, according to the official.

3:49 p.m.: Schiff gaveled out Sondland’s hearing after a lengthy closing statement. There was no official announcement on when the next hearing would start.

3:31 p.m.: As the last member questioned Sondland, the ambassador landed a few laugh lines.
The first was when Krishnamoorthi raised Tim Morrison’s description of the “Gordon problem.”
“Thats what my wife calls me. Maybe they’re talking. Should I be worried?” Sondland said.
The second was when Krishnamoorthi brought up Trump’s claim that he hardly knew Sondland
“Easy come, easy go,” Sondland said.

3:25 p.m.: Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) pointed out that the day of the Sept. 9 Trump-Sondland call was the same day the House launched its investigation into a possible Ukraine quid pro quo. He asked Sondland if Sondland could rule out that the congressional investigation is why Trump was talking that way.
“I can’t rule that out.”

3:22 p.m.: Sondland said he has “no clue” what prompted Trump to use the phrase “quid pro quo” on the Sept. 9 phone call. He said he did not discuss the text from Taylor and that he just asked the open-ended question, what do you want?

3:15 p.m.: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) asked Sondland who would have benefited from an investigation of the President’s political opponents. After resisting the question, Sondland said, “If the President asked for the investigation, it would be him.” With some more prodding, Maloney asked who would benefit from an investigation into the Bidens.
“I assume, President Trump,” Sondland said.

3:11 p.m.: Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) got Sondland to confirm that a quid pro quo — investigations in exchange for a White House meeting — was expressed to him.
“That is what we were told by Mr. Giuliani,” Sondland said

3:03 p.m.: Sondland testified that when he said he felt obligated to testify, he meant “both my legal obligation and my moral obligation.”

2:51 p.m.: Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) asked Sondland about his interactions with Mulvaney.
“I only had one formal meeting with Mr. Mulvaney,” Sondland said, claiming that most of their communications happened through email and that they may have had a few more casual conversations in passing. Castro used the line of questions to play video clips from Mulvaney’s Oct. 17 presser.

2:42 p.m.: Rep. Eric Sewell (D-CA) asked Sondland if Trump ever told him to stop talking to Giuliani. “No,” Sondland said.

2:28 p.m.: Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) asked to put into the record the Department of Energy’s statement earlier Wednesday that disputed Sondland’s testimony and said Perry spoke to Giuliani only once at the President’s “request.” Schiff allowed him to put it into the record, but noted that the Department of Energy is refusing to make its officials available to testify.

2:21 p.m.: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) responded to Conaway by reading from the Post article, which quotes experts saying it’s best practice to keep the whistleblower’s identity anonymous. Conaway jumped in to direct her to the end of the article, where it gave Schiff three Pinocchios.
“The President of the United States has five Pinocchios on a daily basis,” Speier shot back.

2:17 p.m.: Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) entered into the record a Washington Post fact check article giving Schiff three “Pinocchios” for claiming Tuesday that the whistleblower had a statutory right to anonymity. Conaway claimed there was an “unlevel playing field” without the testimony from the whistleblower.

2:13 p.m.: Under a particularly aggressive line of questioning from Turner, Sondland said he did not have evidence tying Trump to the military aid quid pro quo, besides his “presumption.”

2:11 p.m.: Rep. Mike Turner asked Sondland how his testimony gelled with Volker’s, with Turner claiming that Volker did not believe that the investigations were necessary for a White House Ukraine meeting.
“I strongly disagree with that portion of his testimony,” Sondland said, claiming it was “absolutely” at requirement.

1:57 p.m.: Jordan bashed Sondland for claiming there was a quid pro quo, given that the aid was released and no investigations were announced. “It’s not 2+2, it’s 0 for 3,” Jordan said.

1:50 p.m.: Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) asked Sondland how he knew Giuliani was acting on behalf of Trump. “This all came through Mr. Volker and others,” Sondland said.

1:47 p.m.: Ratcliffe, leading off the questioning by Republican members, jumped on Sondland’s claim that he didn’t at first remember the July 26 call with Trump because the call was unremarkable. Under questioning by Ratcliffe, Sondland said that if the call was part of a bribery or extortion scheme, he would have remembered it.

1:40 p.m.: Before he started his questioning, Schiff brought up Nunes’ complaints about the transcript that hadn’t been released. Schiff said that Republicans were given the opportunity to ask to use certain segments of the transcript for questioning Wednesday, but Republicans didn’t make the request. The transcript, which was from the interview of OMB official Mark Sandy, will be released after Sandy finishes his review, Schiff said.

1:38 p.m.: Sondland re-entered the hearing room as the recess came to an end.

1:11 p.m.: Schiff called a 30 minute recess, though Sondland, through his lawyer, requested that it be a bit shorter out of concerns about making a flight he had booked back to Brussels.

1:02 p.m.: When Castor was asking Sondland about an email he sent Pompeo on Aug. 11, Sondland said that Pompeo would have known by then that the investigation demands would have included Burisma and 2016 specifically. Pressed more about the claim, Sondland said that by then Volker had briefed Pompeo’s counsel, Ulrich Brechbuhl. “The Secretary was in the loop that we had negotiated the statement,” Sondland said, referring to the draft statement Giuliani had discussed with the Ukrainians. Sondland said that he was “fairly comfortable” asserting that Pompeo knew that the draft statement referenced Burisma and 2016.

12:57 p.m.: Nunes claimed that somehow an interview of the whistleblower would help refresh Sondland’s memory. “Then you wouldn’t have to be up here speculating as much and guessing because you would have a source that would have been interviewed,” Nunes claimed.

12:52 p.m.: Castor started questioning Sondland, and was hung up on Sondland’s decision not to put the Sept. 9 call with Trump — in which Trump allegedly told Sondland no quid pro quo — in Sondland’s opening statement Wednesday. Castor said that the episode is clearly “exculpatory” and suggested that Sondland is trying to spin things in the least favorable way for the President. Sondland told Castor that there were several things he would have included in his opening statement but didn’t because of length.

12:42 p.m.: Democrats finished their 30 minute round, and Nunes started the GOP round by griping that Democrats have not released certain deposition transcripts.

12:28 p.m.: Goldman brought up an Aug. 22 email from Sondland to Pompeo, where Sondland mentioned “Ukraine’s new justice folks,” the “issues of importance to Potus” and breaking the “logjam.” Goldman noted Pompeo had listened on the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call and asked if Pompeo would have thus known the “issues of importance” to Trump. Sondland at first said that he couldn’t “characterize” Pompeo’s statement of mind. But then he conceded that, based on the call record, the Burisma/Biden probe and the 2016 investigation were issues of importance to Trump.

12:25 p.m.: As we chug through this second round of staff counsel questioning, most of the Republicans committee members have left the room. At one point, only Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) remained on the dais. Nunes has since returned, and had an extended discussion with Jordan before returning to his seat.

12:15 p.m.: Goldman, piggybacking off of a question from Castor asking Sondland what other witnesses should be called, went through several administration officials who were on an email with Sondland discussing the investigation request. Many of the officials were either subpoenaed or received voluntary requests for testimony, but have not complied, Goldman said. He specifically mentioned Perry, Mulvaney, Mulvaney’s aide Robert Blair, and Perry chief of staff Brian McCormack.
Asked by Goldman if the he would consider them to be key witnesses to the inquiry, Sondland said, “I think they would.”

12:09 p.m.: Schiff announced that there’d be another extended round for questioning, 30 minutes for each side’s top member or staff counsel.

12:06 p.m.: Sondland conceded to Castor that he may have been “presuming” when it came to the aid, but on the “other things,” he has texts to back him up.

12:02 p.m.: Sondland pushed back on the idea — put forward by Taylor and others — that he was operating in an “irregular channel.” Sondland noted he was talking to the President, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor and White House Chief of Staff. He questioned how that could be an irregular channel since they were the decision makers, and also complained that he didn’t get a heads up that things went badly on the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call.
“Everybody’s hair was on fire but nobody decided to talk to us,” Sondland said.

11:54 a.m.: Castor asked Sondland about the July 10 meeting at the White House with Ukrainian officials, and the debriefing after. Sondland allegedly brought up the investigations at both the full meeting and the debriefing in the Ward Room.
“Theres no mention of Biden in the Ward Room?” Castor said.
“Not that I remember,” Sondland said. Asked if investigations were brought up, he said, “just the generic investigations.”

11:50 a.m.: Sondland: “Every time I asked about the hold [on military assistance], I was never given a straight answer about why it was put in place to begin with.”

11:40 a.m.: Castor asked Sondland about the text he sent Taylor denying the quid pro quo after speaking to Trump in September. Castor asked Sondland if he believed the President.
“I am not going to characterize” whether I believed the President, Sondland said. Rather, he was just conveying to Taylor what Trump said on the phone, according to his testimony.

11:34 a.m.: Castor has taken over GOP questioning. He brought up lines from Sondland’s private deposition to suggest that Trump’s May 23 request that he “talk to Rudy” was not in fact an order that the diplomats take directions from Rudy.
“The conclusion of the three of us was that if we did not talk to Rudy nothing would move forward on Ukraine,” Sondland said, apparently referring to himself, Ambassador Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

11:29 a.m.: Nunes brought up Burisma, the company that is at the center of the baseless GOP allegations against Vice President Joe Biden. Again, Sondland said that he was not aware of the specific claims involved in the conspiracy theory.

11:22 a.m.: Nunes started his questions with a focus on the bogus theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. He asked Sondland several questions about statements made to the press by individual Ukrainians in 2016, and Sondland said he was not aware of them at the time. Sondland was not named ambassador to the EU until 2018.

11:19 a.m.: Sondland returned to the hearing room, and we’re about to start GOP questioning.

11:02 a.m.: After the 45 minutes of Democratic staff counsel questioning finished, Schiff called a five minute recess. The next question portion after the break will be led by ranking member Devin Nunes or the GOP staff counsel, Steve Castor.

10:59 a.m.: Sondland again said he doesn’t recall being told by Trump that aid was linked to the investigations. But he said that by Sept. 8 it was “absolutely clear to everyone that there was a link.” He confirmed that none of the conversations he had with Trump around that time dissuaded him from that view.

10:58 a.m. Sondland also implicated Vice President Pence, who was at the Sept. 1 meeting with top Ukrainian officials. Sondland said he told Pence, “It looks like everything is being held up until these statements get made, and that’s my personal belief.”
Goldman: Pence “didn’t say ’Gordon, what are you talking about?’”
Sondland: “No.”
Goldman: “He didn’t say ‘what investigations?’”
Sondland: “He did not.”

10:56 a.m.: Sondland said that Trump never told him that the aid was conditioned on announcing the investigations. Sondland said it was a presumption, “my own personal guess.”

10:51 a.m.: Goldman asked Sondland about a Sept. 1 meeting where Sondland communicated to a Ukrainian official that the investigations would need to be announced for the hold on aid to be lifted. Sondland said he had been given no other credible reason for why the aid had been frozen.
Goldman: “It’s the only logical conclusion to you that given all of these factors that the aid was also a part of this quid pro quo?”
Sondland: “Yup”

10:48 a.m.: Goldman asked Sondland if Giuliani and Trump cared whether the investigations actually happened or just that they were announced.
“I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed. The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form. And that form kept changing,” Sondland said. Sondland claimed that the reason given to him for the public announcement was Ukraine’s reputation for privately committing to the investigations but never pursuing them.

10:43 a.m.: Goldman: “You understood that Mr. Giuliani spoke for the President, correct?”
Sondland: “That’s correct.”

10:38 a.m.: Goldman asked Sondland about Holmes’ claim that Sondland told Trump on the call that Zelensky “loves your ass.”
“It sounds like something I would say,” Sondland said Wednesday.

10:37 a.m.: Democratic House Intel counsel Daniel Goldman asked Sondland about the security risk of speaking to Trump on an open line on July 26 while in a restaurant in Ukraine. Sondland put the blame on the President: “He was aware that it was an open line as well.”

10:33 a.m.: Schiff pointed out that the military assistance is “an official act.”“This is not President Trump’s personal bank account, he’s writing a check for $400 million of U.S. taxpayer money, is it not?” Schiff asked Sondland: The President would not write that U.S. check until these two investigations were announced?
Sondland: “That was my belief.”

10:29 a.m.: Sondland struggled with questions from Schiff about the accounts of previous witnesses — specifically accounts from Tim Morrison and Bill Taylor about conversations Sondland had with the two officials in which he described his conversations with Trump about the investigations. Sondland kept trying to answer Schiff’s question by pointing to a text he sent Taylor denying a quid pro quo after speaking to Trump in September. “If I relayed anything other than what’s in that text, I don’t recall,” Sondland said.

10:21 a.m.: Sondland confirmed Holmes’ account that, after Sondland spoke to Trump on the phone on July 26, he told Holmes that Trump only cared about “the big stuff” with regards to Ukraine.

10:20 a.m.: Schiff: “You would ultimately learn that Burisma meant the Bidens, correct?”
Sondland: “Today I know exactly what that means.

10:16 a.m.: Sondland described “continuum” of demands for getting Ukraine a White House meeting. They started with “vanilla” requests for general investigations, but then “more specific items got added to the menu.”

10:14 am.: “Our efforts were reported and approved,” Sondland said, adding that he never recalled encountering objections from colleagues in the administration.

10:12 a.m.: Sondland: “I do not regret doing what I could” to try to solve the problem.

10:06 a.m.: Sondland ad-libbed a bit by explaining the role of Lisa Kenna, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s executive secretary. When he was trying to reach Pompeo, Sondland would often email Kenna, who would at times print out the emails for Pompeo to read, according to Sondland’s testimony.

10:01 a.m.: Sondland largely backed the testimony of David Holmes, a State Department official who overheard a July 26 call between Trump and Sondland. But Sondland testified that he had no recollection of discussing the Bidens after the call, as Holmes recounted.

9:51 a.m.: Sondland: “We weren’t happy with the president’s directive to talk to Rudy. We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani.”

9:49 a.m.: Per an official working on the impeachment probe, Sondland is testifying under subpoena.

9:41 a.m.: Sondland will not allow himself to be underbussed: “The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false. ”

9:37 a.m.: Sondland said that in addition to not having access to various State Department docs, he also has been told to not work with his EU office staff to pull together the relevant materials.

9:33 a.m.: Sondland has begun reading his opening statement. Paper copies were passed out to the press and the House members watching in the audience, but at least one member printed out and brought his own copy.

9:28 a.m.: Nunes: “Ambassador Sondland, you are here today to be smeared.”

9:24 a.m.: Nunes’ opening statement so far has hit all the same notes he has hit on previous hearing days. We’ll see if and how he adjusts to the bombshells dropped by Sondland in his opening statement.

9:21 a.m.: Schiff deviated from his prepared remarks to re-enforce a point made in Sondland’s opening statement: that the State Department continues to withhold documents requested in the probe. “Those documents bear directly” on this inquiry, Schiff said. Pointing to Sondland’s statement, Schiff said that, “the knowledge of this scheme was far and wide.”

9:17 a.m.: You can read Sondland’s full prepared statement here.

9:12 a.m.: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s opening statement focused on Sondland’s interactions with Rudy Giuliani, the personal lawyer for President Trump, and other key conversations in the pressure campaign. Schiff called Sondland a “skilled dealmaker,” but someone who got “increasingly embroiled in an effort to press the new Ukrainian President that deviated sharply from the norm, in terms of both policy and process.”

8:59 a.m.: Sondland opening statement leaked a few minutes before the hearing was scheduled to start. In it, Sondland claimed that the State Department and the White House was aware of his Ukraine activity. “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

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