Congressional Impeachment Hearings, November 20, 2019

Ambassador Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, November 2019.

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee continued its public impeachment hearings on November 20. Gordon Sondland, President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the European Union and a point person on his Ukraine policy, testified in the morning. In the afternoon, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale testified. Experts from the Center for American Progress followed along to share context and other useful information throughout the proceedings. Find more on the hearings and other impeachment-related resources on our page dedicated to Trump’s Constitutional Crisis.

6:57 p.m. Rep. Speier (D-CA) just hit on an important point: Not only did the White House give no contemporaneous explanation for why they withheld the aid, they didn’t really give a contemporaneous explanation for releasing the aid either.

There is, of course, an obvious explanation, one Trump strenuously denies: They released it due to the whistleblower complaint and congressional pressure. In other words, they released it because they got caught.

6:53 p.m. In the middle of today’s impeachment hearings centered on his efforts to solicit election interference from Ukrainian officials, Rudy Giuliani told Glenn Beck that he’s still soliciting election interference from Ukrainian officials.

5:57 p.m. Haven’t heard Nunes drop that conspiracy theory before. He’s referring to a repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory that regulations on the admissibility of secondhand whistleblower complaints were secretly changed to allow for the Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint to go through. Fact check: They weren’t.

5:00 p.m. The only real mystery left from today’s first hearing now has an answer: Yes, Gordon Sondland made his flight (and yes, there was a quid pro quo).

4:09 p.m. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Jim Jordan has made up a counternarrative out of whole cloth.

His contention is that Trump released the aid in early September because he was reassured by specific measures he took to fight corruption. If that were true, you’d expect at least one of the six administration officials who has testified and was involved in Trump’s Ukraine policy at the time—Taylor, Kent, Vindman, Volker, Morrison, and now Sondland—to have said so.

But they didn’t, because it’s not true. Trump released the aid in September because the whistleblower filed their complaint and Congress opened its investigation.

3:06 p.m. We’re at the point where we all just take it as a given that Trump believes that Ukraine wanted Clinton to win, which is—and I cannot stress this enough—a Russian conspiracy theory designed to deflect blame and attention away from their attack on American democracy in 2016.

2:43 p.m. Rep. Stefanik (R-NY) is blatantly misrepresenting what previous witnesses have said about the Bidens and Burisma. She’s leaving out that they’ve repeatedly characterized Trump’s allegations about the Bidens as “conspiracy theories” with no factual basis.

2:31 p.m. Rep. Stewart (R-UT) says that allegations of a quid pro quo didn’t hold up.

Except Gordon Sondland explicitly said that they did—just a few hours ago.

1:53 p.m. Reminder: Trump was going to make Rep. Ratcliffe (R-TX) his director of national intelligence until the nomination went up in flames amid allegations that Ratcliffe had misrepresented his prosecutorial record. If it had gone through, Ratcliffe would have been the top official in charge of reviewing, among other things, the whistleblower complaint that kicked off this whole investigation.

1:31 p.m. In retrospect, it’s hard to overstate the extent to which everybody else trying to throw Sondland under the bus was a terrible idea. He appears to have been dead center in the extortion scheme, and he’s basically been playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon up there: No matter which high-ranking official you want to bring into this scandal, Sondland seems to be the clearest link (and the one with the receipts).

1:15 p.m. Pence’s and Perry’s spokespeople are disputing Sondland’s characterizations of his conversations with them. If they’re so confident in their recollections, why don’t they come testify under oath?

1:04 p.m. The notion that none of the president’s emissaries understood that “Burisma” was code for the Bidens is all but impossible to believe. The New York Times repeatedly drew attention to that connection in articles directly citing Giuliani as the one trying to draw the link.

12:36 p.m. One thing Sondland’s testimony is making clear is just how successful the White House’s obstruction efforts continue to be. We’d be much closer to knowing the full story if John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, and many others were to testify—and if the administration would release the copious notes and documents that Congress has requested.

12:02 p.m. Sondland’s testimony about the “irregular channel” is completely consistent with what Taylor said. In his testimony, Taylor said that, at first, the “irregular channel,” while “unusual,” comported with official U.S. policy toward Ukraine. It wasn’t until later in the summer, when he saw it beginning to diverge from official U.S. policy, that he became concerned.

11:50 a.m. House GOP central claim: Trump said he didn’t do it. Why does everyone keep bringing up all this evidence showing otherwise? Just take his word for it. Do you think he would lie?

11:43 a.m. The A$AP Rocky thing is an obvious sideshow, but, like the earlier testimony that communications with Ukraine went off the rails while Trump was trying to buy Greenland, it’s a good reminder that Trump’s constant churn of incompetence-driven scandals actively impedes good governance, especially when it comes to foreign policy.

11:36 a.m. Based on Castor’s questioning, it looks like the new Trump defense is: Trump delegated much of the dirty work to his messenger, Rudy Giuliani, which somehow shows that Trump wasn’t actually behind any of it (even though Trump repeatedly told people to take their instructions from Giuliani).

11:33 a.m. The fact that GOP House members would have Nunes use his time in this manner makes absolutely clear how damning Sondland’s testimony was. Their only response: raising bizarre conspiracy theories.

11:30 a.m. Sondland: Every time we talked about Ukraine, Trump began reciting conspiracy theories about how they were out to get him, which is why he withheld a White House meeting and military aid.

Nunes: Ah, but have you considered that Trump only withheld a White House meeting and military aid because he believed debunked conspiracy theories that Ukraine was out to get him?

11:28 a.m. Reminder: Nunes’ line of questioning—in which he suggests that Ukraine, not Russia, undermined the 2016 election—is a repeatedly debunked Russian conspiracy theory that came to Trump’s team in 2016 via Konstantin Kilimnik, an indicted suspected Russian intelligence operative with whom Paul Manafort repeatedly shared internal polling data and campaign strategy.

10:57 a.m. In his questioning with Chairman Schiff, Sondland made clear that Trump’s goal was the public announcement of the investigations into Biden and the 2016 election, not necessarily the opening of the investigations. This is important because it signals that the goal was not actually investigating corruption (not that anyone actually believed it was), but to publicly embarrass a political rival for political purposes. This is about interfering in our elections.

10:45 a.m. Sondland confirms with Goldman that he spoke on a cell phone about the extortion scheme with POTUS in a restaurant in Kyiv. Russia most certainly intercepted the call, which means that, once again, Putin had politically damaging information about Trump that the American public did not know about. This is just like the 2016 efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, which Putin knew about and Trump repeatedly lied about to the American people. Some might call this leverage.

10:36 a.m. Sondland just testified that Trump conditioned not one but two official acts—a White House meeting and military aid—on Zelensky announcing his desired investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election.

That’s as clear an articulation of bribery as you can get.

10:27 a.m. Sondland’s testimony makes clear that all roads lead to the Oval Office. Sondland says that he was being used by the White House as the extortion messenger. He was acting at the direction of the president. But Sondland, as ambassador to the EU, had no power or control over the hold placed on security assistance. Only the White House, specifically the president, could put in place the hold.

10:10 a.m. Secretary Pompeo knew everything about the extortion, and he approved it. Sondland testifies and provides the receipts that he was constantly keeping Pompeo informed. Pompeo was also on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. Most importantly, Sondland asked for Pompeo’s approval to extort Ukraine, and Pompeo said “yes.”

9:47 a.m. Sondland literally has a section entitled “Quid Pro Quo” in which he says the quid pro quo “reflected President Trump’s desires and requirements.”

9:28 a.m. Read Sondland’s opening statement here.

9:09 a.m. Looks like Gordon Sondland is done being thrown under the bus. His opening statement has leaked, and it includes:
– Explicitly confirming that there was a quid pro quo
– Detailing his discomfort with working with Rudy Giuliani
– Confirming that he was working “at the express direction of the president”