Impeachment Hearings Takeaways: ‘Everyone Was In The Loop’

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U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Gordon Sondland, President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, bolstered Democrats’ impeachment narrative Wednesday as he repeatedly talked of a “quid pro quo” involving Ukraine.

He said “everyone was in the loop” about President Donald Trump’s push for Ukraine to announce investigations into a Ukraine gas company and the 2016 U.S. election.

Sondland was one of the most anticipated witnesses as Democrats are holding an rigorous week of hearings into whether Trump’s dealings with Ukraine are grounds for impeachment.

Sondland told lawmakers that he worked with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine at Trump’s direction and that he eventually came to believe that military aid for the country was dependent on Ukraine launching the investigations.

Separately, in a second evening hearing, a Defense official provided new details about when Ukrainians learned that the aid was being held up — a key question in determining whether the aid and investigations were linked.

Takeaways from Day 4 of the impeachment inquiry before the House intelligence committee:

THIS FOR THAT

Sondland repeatedly referred to a quid pro quo — one thing in return for another — in describing the administration’s dealings with Ukraine.

It was a remarkable spectacle: Trump’s own ambassador using the exact term that the president himself has disavowed. Sondland is hardly a Never-Trumper: He donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee before being named ambassador.

“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,” Sondland said.

The quid pro quo in this case, he said, involved arranging a White House visit for Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in return for Zelenskiy’s announcing investigations of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Biden’s son Hunter was a Burisma board member.

That proposed arrangement was pushed by Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who conveyed Trump’s wishes to multiple administration officials. Sondland said he did not know until September that what was actually desired was an investigation into the Bidens.

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A PRESUMPTION

Notably, though, Sondland says no one ever told him that hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine was similarly contingent on satisfying Trump’s request for investigations.

He said he simply presumed that was the case, based in part on the absence of any credible explanation for the withholding of the aid.

The White House took note of that testimony and turned it in the president’s favor in a statement issued during Sondland’s testimony.

“Sondland is basing his new testimony on presumptions he had made regarding President Trump’s wishes,” the statement said. Under questioning from the committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., “Sondland confirmed he presumed what the President wanted. Sondland said that he `speculated` about and `presumed` what the President wanted.”

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WHAT UKRAINE KNEW AND WHEN

The question of a possible connection between the aid and Trump’s demand for investigations was central to the testimony of Defense Department official Laura Cooper during the evening session.

She told lawmakers that Ukrainian Embassy officials were asking about the military aid on July 25, earlier than previously known.

That could undercut a Republican argument that there couldn’t have been a quid pro quo involving military aid because the Ukrainians didn’t know that the aid was being held up

Cooper said she has seen emails provided by her staff since she was deposed last month that showed the embassy was asking questions. She said she has also recently been informed that a Ukrainian Embassy contact had asked a member of her staff that same day “what was going on” with the aid.

July 25 is when Trump’s spoke on the phone with Zelenskiy and pushed for the Biden investigation. That call is at the heart of the impeachment probe.

Cooper told lawmakers she “cannot say for certain” that Ukraine knew the money was being withheld, but she said “it’s the recollection of my staff that they likely knew.”

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‘AT THE EXPRESS DIRECTION’ OF TRUMP

Sondland says he was uncomfortable working with Giuliani, but he did so at the “express direction of the president of the United States.”

“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,” Sondland said.

Democrats will certainly point to the diplomat’s remarks to undercut any distance that Trump might try to put between him and demands that were placed on Zelenskiy.

Sondland said Giuliani emphasized to him in a subsequent conversation that Trump wanted a public statement from Zelenskiy committing Ukraine to look into corruption issues, including looking into potential interference in the 2016 election and Burisma.

“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelenskiy,” Sondland said. “Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President.”

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‘EVERYONE WAS IN THE LOOP’

Sondland made clear that this was no rogue effort. He said he was open about Trump’s demand that Ukraine commit to the investigations.

Sondland’s account made clear his refusal to be a fall guy for the administration’s dealings with Ukraine and underscored that officials across the government were aware of the unconventional dialogue.

He updated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the White House’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, telling them that Ukraine’s leader would conduct a “fully transparent investigation” and “turn over every stone.”

Sondland further told Pompeo that he and another diplomat, Kurt Volker, had negotiated a statement that Zelenskiy could deliver that “will hopefully make the boss happy enough to authorize an invitation” to the White House.

“Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret,” Sondland said.

Sondland mentioned Vice President Mike Pence as well, telling him he was concerned that aid to Ukraine had become tied to the investigations.

Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, said that Pence never spoke with Sondland “about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations.”

In Brussels, Pompeo dismissed Sondland’s testimony, but didn’t comment on specifics.

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THE IMPACT

Sondland’s testimony almost certainly advanced the case for impeaching Trump. It moved the effort to get Ukraine to announce an investigation of the Bidens closer to the president.

The testimony also may help House Democrats build a separate impeachment charge against Trump for getting in the way of their investigation, said former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose investigation led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment 20 years ago.

“That just got drawn up today thanks to Ambassador Sondland,” Starr said on Fox News. Sondland said that the administration refused to give him access to records that might have helped him prepare his testimony.

In a normal criminal case, Trump’s side would try to damage Sondland’s credibility, exploit inconsistencies in his testimony and note that Sondland said the president never personally directed him to dangle a White House meeting in return for announcing the investigation. The effort could create a reasonable doubt that would prevent a jury from returning a conviction.

But impeachment takes place in a political arena, not a court of law. Impeachment scholars stress the standard of proof for impeachment is lower than it is in the courtroom. Though that would seem to work against Trump, the political nature of impeachment ultimately benefits him. Republicans have been united in defense of Trump and, even if he is impeached, it’s difficult to see Republican-run Senate removing him from office.

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TRUMP CLAIMS EXONERATION

Sondland directly tied Trump to the effort to push Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. But Trump is seizing upon a portion of that testimony to make his defense.

While Sondland was testifying, Trump briefly addressed reporters as he left the White House on his way to Texas. Trump normally speaks off-the-cuff, but on Wednesday he read from handwritten notes that appeared to be scrawled in the black Sharpie that the president favors.

Trump launched into a defense, selectively recounting Sondland’s testimony that Trump told him there was no quid pro quo and that he wanted nothing from Ukraine.

“That means it’s all over. This is the final word from the president of the United States. I want nothing,” Trump said, before resorting to his usual description of someone from whom he wanted to distance himself. “I don’t know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy though.”

Trump also disputed what he said was Sondland’s characterization that Trump was in a bad mood during their conversation.

“I’m always in a good mood. I don’t know what that is.”

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CONFIRMING THE OVERHEARD CALL

Sondland confirmed a July 26 call with Trump that was revealed by another diplomat last week.

A U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, David Holmes, told impeachment investigators last week about the phone call between Trump and Sondland.

Holmes overheard the cellphone call, conducted a day after Trump pushed Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats, while Holmes was dining with Sondland at a Kiyv restaurant. Holmes said Sondland told Trump that Zelenskiy would conduct the investigations he was seeking and would do anything he wanted. He opened the call by telling Trump that Zelenskiy “loves your ass.”

Sondland also said that he had “no reason to doubt that this conversation included the subject of investigations,” but said the conversation didn’t strike him as significant. For Democrats, though, it provides further direct evidence of Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

Sondland said the White House confirmed the call by sharing certain call dates with his attorneys.

Asked about the “loves your ass” comment, Sondland sheepishly acknowledged that he and Trump sometimes used colorful language during their conversations.

“That sounds like something I’d say,” Sondland said. “That’s how President Trump and I communicate, a lot of four-letter words. In this case, three-letter.”

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22 COMMENTS

  1. I must be getting my impeachment hearing videos from a different dimension with alternative reality because not only o didn’t hear him what’s is in the article but i heard Baldie several timers m there was no quid pro quo, no linkage.no bribes and no. Arm twisting.

    • We only hear / read what the media want us to. They frame everything into what they want us to believe. There can be the same testimony given and everyone will spin it in their favor, just reporting on what they would selectively like to give over.

  2. Read his opening statement. Written testimony on paper.

    He makes these points in addition to others:

    1. He and Volker had to work with Giuliani despite their opposition to this. This was the express direction of the President.

    2. At the time they were not aware of Giuliani’s dealings and had they been aware they would have refused to work with Giuliani.

    3. He says he was not aware of wrong-doing on his part and therefore engaged in various communications trying to get the aid released.

    4. He says that Giuliani’s requests were a “quid pro quo” where Ukraine would make some public statement about investigating Burisma and the 2016 election/DNC Server.

    5. When the aid was suspended, he tried finding out why but did not get any response. As a result he came to believe that Ukraine had to do what Giuliani demanded for the aid to be resumed. These concerns of a quid pro quo he shared with Senator Ron Johnson.

    6. He says he operated in good faith.

    You can read his opening statement where he lays out what happened (it is available online). The hearing is just the various sides picking at the various points he mentions.

    Did he ever say that the President said or indicated that there was a quid pro quo? NO, he never said that. Read his statement. He said, that Giuliani, who the President demanded he works with is the one who demanded this quid pro quo and since the White House refused to explain why the aid was held up, he presumed that it was due to Trump wanting this quid pro quo. The GOP and its lawyers are not going to ask questions that implicate the president and in this case, the questions you heard, were designed to deflect from what he claims to show how innocent Trump was here.

    Regarding the aid being released, that happened after a major stink was being raised about this whole situation.

    Draw you own conclusions. Either Trump directed this request for a quid pro quo, or Trump is so incompetent that his behavior is leading to people acting improperly. Either way raises serious concerns.

    • Mr honest but liying spammer . Stop boring me with these boring facts . Your comment is like the heargings itself . The fake news promised this would be fun and thrilling and movie like . They exclaimed it would be another Nixon or Clinton. When I tune in it is soooooo booooooring . Yaaaaaawn.

      Now your facts may or may not be honest but your story is a lie just like your screen name . The story is this . You folks push Trump to play dirty . The constant attacks from the fake news on him and his kids ( use to be the custom to not attack family just the president himself ) is so overwhelming. We need to fight back in any way possible . The entire elections is so rigged with the fake news and thier assumptions that set the tone. Of course we will play dirty .
      And too bad because you won’t remove him .
      Now should we mind ? This is a small dirty crime . No one ever heard of Ukraine unless it’s uman rosh hashana

      • Archy, you never cease to amaze me. I know that you are a badly misinformed individual, who likes to engage in name calling, and mud slinging. However, how dare you state that “no one ever heard of Ukraine”. Didn’t you study Jewish history, when you allegedly went to a Yeshivah. In the Ukraine, near Kiev, in late September, 1941, in a ravine, in a place called Babi Yar, the Nazis murdered close to 34,000 Jews. Their collaborators, Ukrainians thugs, called Ustashi, were sadistic and also engaged in genocide against the Jews.

        • Funny, I am talking figuratively. How many goyim heard of Kiev? When was it ever relevant in modern day times?

          Your tone is so similar to Yonansonw. You claim you are on here since 2010, why did you decide now to all of a sudden combat me? or were you really combating me before under another name?

          I’ll keep on pointing out circumstantial evidence that make it more clear and more damming than Ukrianegate or KYUVgate.
          +

      • Is your comment an attempt to clarify to anyone that cares that you are either an idiot or a fool?

        You first attempt to insult me by calling me a liar because I present boring facts. Yes, facts can be boring and part of being a functioning intelligent adult is dealing with the boring part of life as well. I guess, and this is just my observation, based on the numerous comments you post, your personal life is boring so you just spend your time trying to be relevant here.

        As to the rest of your comment… Seems like you are of the opinion that the President committed the crime he is accused of, but you don’t like the Democrats so you don’t care. You say he has to play dirty, etc… You blame the media and so on. Let me just point out one pretty nonsensical thing about blaming the media, you are familiar with Fox News, well they are also media and some of their shows have quite sizable audiences. Kind of makes me wonder what is meant when folks like you say Mainstream Media. What I hear is, Mainstream media = media I don’t like.

        Beyond this, your position is that abuse of power is perfectly justifiable when you have a stiff opposition (that plays dirty… whatever that means). So let’s consider Obama, he was president for 8 years, during that time the GOP engaged in numerous dead-end investigations in an attempt to find anything they could on Obama, Clinton, and anyone associated with them. I would think that Democrats feel that the GOP played dirty all those years. With Trump as President, he constantly insults, demeans, spreads lies and conspiracies about Democrats, I would think Democrats feel that is playing dirty. So if I follow the natural conclusion your train of thought, it seems the Democrats can reason they need to play dirty as well.

        I guess, regardless of what happens with this impeachment or the next election, at some point in time we will have a Democratic president, accordingly I would fully expect that he acts corruptly and utilizes the federal agencies under his control to investigate and besmirch the GOP. I assume you will be fine with that.

        I am not going to lecture here on the danger of abuse of power, but if you are unsure about it, maybe learn some history.

      • Archy, your hero has committed numerous impeachable crimes and has told over 14,000 lies since his inauguration. The witnesses have made clear that Trump colluded with the assistance of crazy Rudy to enable Russia to destabilize our democracy.

        • Aint that too bad. Impeach him but he won’t be removed. Those crimes are all silly crimes.

          His lies are to counter your fake news lies. he doesn’t lie about policy. he lies about perosnal attacks. I say its a shame that its only 14,000 and not 100,000. I want him to lie every minute to you.

          Oy Trump colluded? Back to that fake crime? With russains? Or Ukriane? I am confused.

          Crazy Rudy? You mean Rudy the hero and mayor of America.

  3. More fake news. How many times did he say no quid pro quo. How many times did he say the president said that he doesn’t want anything?? The fake news just keeps pounding away on inaccurate facts about an opening statement that when scrutinized turned out to be some crazy assumptions because of something guilliany said. And had no basis in reality. If you asked me the guy that should be impeached here is Adam Schiff who is a fake phony and a fraud to quote the great legendary bob grant of blessed memory

    • The contention is that he demanded quid pro quo while saying no quid pro quo. Even Cohen said Trump never actually orders you to commit wrongdoing, just tells you what he wants and how he wants it which leaves you with little choice. In the end, as usual, there will be no smoking gun just a lot of damning verbal and documentary evidence that connect many but not all dots.

      • Thats the beauty of the man. He can do this shtick and you can’t do a thing! i love it. Serves you all right. because its all a lie. America was never this is all great just country. prosecutors go after whoever advances their career. All politcans lie one way or the other. Its not so rosy

  4. Sondland made so many conflicting statements that there takeaways are whatever the taker wants them to be. After stating clearly “No quid pro quo”, Schiff took a “bathroom break”, and instead of using it for its stated purpose, he ran to make statements to the media that Sondland gave them direct evidence. Not only was he deceiving in the “break”, but he openly lied to push his narrative to the lying media. yes, there were several statements by Sondland that were negative for Trump, but these were his presumptions, which he repeated as such numerous times.

    All in all, Sondland made himself a useless contributor to this investigation, with his statements in either direction cancelled out by the others. His flip flopping, poor memory, and lack of reliability has probably doomed his career.

  5. So a goy walks into a bank to rob it. He yells, ‘I’m not robbing this bank!’ So he’s innocent, right? Not once has anyone even tried to defend what tumult trumpf did. If he did nothing why won’t Carzy Uncle Guiliani, Pomposity, Pensey Pinkie or Bolton testify? So simple! But they’d get a PERJURY RAP. IMPEACH NOW

  6. Sodland has a foul dirty mouth. i wouldn’t trust the man when he uses so many expletives.

    And enough already with this KYIV nonsense. its Kiev and finished.

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