Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning for the fourth day of impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump. Wednesday afternoon, he was followed by Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs, and David Hale, the under secretary of state for political affairs.
Sondland had previously been blocked by the Trump administration from testifying in the hearing but ultimately came forward to discuss his dealings — alongside other State Department officials — with Ukrainian officials at the behest of Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Here are seven highlights from the hearings, which stretched into the evening. (A livestream of the hearing can also be viewed above.)
1. E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland confirms there was a “quid pro quo”
Sondland asserted during his opening statement that the Ukrainian president’s White House meeting with Trump was conditioned on the Ukrainians announcing investigations into Burisma and debunked accusations about 2016 election meddling.
“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?'” Sondland said in his opening statement. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
The ambassador said that he, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker — the latter of whom testified on Tuesday — were first directed by Trump to work with Giuliani on Ukrainian matters in May.
“We weren’t happy with the president’s directive to talk with Rudy. We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani. I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukrainian matters,” he said. “We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement of the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” he added. “Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a ‘quid pro quo’ for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
The corruption accusations connected with Burisma, the Bidens, and circulated by Trump’s campaign have been debunked. Claims that Joe Biden, in his vice president position, made efforts to remove a top prosecutor in Ukraine who was investigating Burisma, a natural gas company that Hunter Biden was on the board of, are false: The prosecutor was fired because he was corrupt and wasn’t investigating Burisma, and there is no evidence that Biden called for his removal in order to benefit his son.
2. “Everyone was in the loop” — including Vice President Mike Pence, Sondland says
Sondland said that he expressed his concerns to Vice President Mike Pence, shortly before the vice president’s meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw, that military aid to Ukraine was getting tied with Trump’s desires for an investigation into Burisma and 2016 election meddling.
“The vice president nodded, like he heard what I said, and that was pretty much it,” Sondland said.
He also said that the National Security Council and the State Department were kept “apprised” of their dealings with Ukraine.
“Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret,” Sondland said. “Not once do I recall encountering objection.”
Later on Wednesday, Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, disputed Sondland’s account.
“The vice president never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations,” Short said in a statement. “This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened.”
3. Chairman Adam Schiff makes a case for obstruction
“We have not received a single document from the State Department. And as those documents bear directly on this investigation and this impeachment inquiry,” Schiff said. I think we know now, based on a sample of the documents attached to Ambassador Sondland’s statement, that the knowledge of this scheme was far and wide and included, among others, Secretary of State Pompeo, as well as the vice president.
“We can see why Secretary Pompeo and President Trump have made such a concerted and across the board effort to obstruct this investigation and this impeachment inquiry,” Schiff said during his opening statement. “They do so at their own peril.”
Schiff then harkened back to Richard Nixon’s impeachment, where one of the articles of impeachment against the president was his refusal to obey to congressional subpoenas.
Sondland also echoed Schiff’s concerns about the State Department withholding documents that would allow him to reconstruct the past events of the year.
“This process has been challenging and, in many respects, less than fair. I have not had access to all of my phone records, State Department emails and other State Department documents,” he said. “My lawyers and I have made multiple requests to the State Department and the White House for these materials. Yet, these materials were not provided to me. They have also refused to share these materials with this Committee.”
Sondland also pointed to efforts from the Trump administration in October to block him from testifying in the impeachment inquiry.
“I agreed to testify because I respect the gravity of the moment and I believe I have an obligation to recount fully my role in the events,” he said. “I did so despite the directives from the White House and the State Department.”
4. “Trump loves your ass”
During Democrat counsel questioning, Sondland said he likely told Trump that Ukrainian President Zelensky “loves your ass” during a July 26 call.
“Sounds like something I would say,” Sondland said. “That’s how President Trump and I communicate. A lot of four-letter words. In this case, three letter.”
The phrase was mentioned in previous testimony by David Holmes, a State Department official who overheard Sondland and Trump’s phone call.
5. Trump’s notes, Giuliani’s deleted tweet
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday morning, Trump brought out a notepad of his Sharpied notes and a printout of past tweets.
“I don’t know him very well, I have not spoke with him much. This is not a man I know very well,” Trump said of Sondland. “He seems like a nice guy, though.”
When asked to comment on Trump’s statement later during the hearing, Sondland said, “Easy come, easy go.”
Giuliani also tweeted during the hearing that he and Sondland had “VERY little contact” but later deleted his own tweet.
Giuliani has since deleted this ⬆️ tweet.
— Kadia Goba (@kadiagoba) November 20, 2019
6. “The president of the United States has five Pinocchios on a daily basis, so let’s not go there”
During member questioning, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) referred back to a Washington Post article about “Schiff’s claim that the whistleblower has a ‘statutory right’ to anonymity.” The article had been brought into the record minutes earlier by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to argue that there was an “unlevel playing field” when it came to Democrats’ attempts to protect the whistleblower.
When questioning turned to Speier, she excerpted passages from the same article and quoted a national security analyst: “We’ve stepped into bizarro-land when senior policymakers are trying to yank a CIA employee into the public spotlight in retaliation for making a whistleblowing complaint, especially when there are credible threats to that employee’s personal safety.”
“And I don’t know why our colleagues on the other side of the aisle-” Speier began, before she was interrupted by Conway. The Texas representative interjected to say that the article she was referring to got “three Pinocchios,” referring to the Washington Post’s fact-checking rating system.
“The president of the United States has five Pinocchios on a daily basis, so let’s not go there,” Speier shot back to applause in the room.
Since Trump has taken office, he has made 13,435 false or misleading claims, according to the Post.
Jackie Speier: “The President of the United States has five Pinocchios on a daily basis, so let’s not go there.”
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) November 20, 2019
7. Cooper’s testimony shifts the timeline
Cooper testified Ukraine may have been aware that U.S. aid was being withheld as early as July 25, which moves the timeline Trump’s defense rests on.
Here’s how Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell explained it on Twitter: “Laura Cooper just told @HouseIntel the Ukrainians first asked about @realDonaldTrump‘s hold on their security assistance on July 25 (same day as shakedown call). This testimony destroys the President’s central defense, that the Ukrainians did not know about the hold.”
Cooper said the July 25 emails showing “the Ukrainian embassy and House Foreign Affairs Committee are asking about security assistance” were brought to her attention by her staff after her deposition. She noted she was under the impression the aid was restricted because of administrational concerns over “corruption” in Ukraine.