Three key witnesses testify in impeachment inquiry

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha, Amanda Wills, Mike Hayes and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 8:04 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019
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9:51 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland: Rick Perry, Kurt Volker and I "were playing the hand we were dealt"

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland said he — as well as Energy Secretary Rick Perry and US diplomat Kurt Volker — didn't want to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters, but they did so because "we were playing the hand we were dealt."

If they didn't work with Giuliani, "We would lose a very important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine," he said.

"First, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose a very important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President's orders."

Watch the moment:

9:51 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland on his background: "Like so many immigrants, my family was eager for freedom and hungry for opportunity"

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

In his opening statement, Gordon Sondland described his family's background as one of immigrants "eager for freedom and hungry for opportunity."

He told lawmakers that his family fled Europe during the Holocaust for Uruguay, then emigrated to Seattle, Washington, where he was born and raised.

"Like so many immigrants, my family was eager for freedom and hungry for opportunity. They raised my sister and me to be humble, hardworking, and patriotic, and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices they made on our behalf," the US ambassador to the European Union testified.

Sondland went on to say that "public service has always been important to me."

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9:42 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

GOP congressman compares Trump to George Washington

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

In his opening statement, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes compared President Trump to the nation's first president, George Washington.

Here's how he put it:

"I would remind my friends on the other side of the aisle that our first president, George Washington, directed his own diplomatic channels to secure a treaty with Great Britain. If my Democratic colleagues were around in 1794, they’d probably want to impeach him, too."

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10:59 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Nunes focused on same GOP talking points, despite new bombshell revelations from Sondland

Pool
Pool

Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes opened his remarks by welcoming EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland to testify, but he added, "Really not glad you're here."

Despite Sondland's new revelation that he pressured Ukraine to open investigations at the "express direction" of President Trump, Nunes stuck to the same GOP talking points criticizing the investigation.

Instead of talking about these dealings with Ukraine — the focus of today's hearing — Nunes' remarks focused on other areas like the Mueller investigation and alleged Russia collusion:

"As I've noted before, the Democrats on this committee spent three years accusing President Trump of being a Russian agent. In March 2018, after a year-long investigation, intelligence committee Republicans issued a 240-page report describing in detail how the Russians meddled in the 2016 elections and making specific recommendations to improve our election security," Nunes said.

He continued: "Denouncing the report as a whitewash and accusing Republicans of subverting the investigation, the Democrats issued their own report. Focusing on their now-debunked conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to hack the elections."

Watch:

9:37 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland was just sworn in

Pool
Pool

The US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was just sworn in. He'll now give his opening statement.

Watch the moment:

9:36 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Nunes criticizes Democrats' impeachment inquiry

Pool
Pool

Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, again blasted the Democrats' impeachment inquiry, calling it a "circus."

"As we learned last night, story time last night, we get story time first thing this morning. Ambassador [Gordon] Sondland, welcome. Glad you're here. Really not glad you're here, but welcome to the fifth day of this circus," he said.

Nunes went on to claim Democratic committee members "spent three years accusing President Trump of being a Russian agent."

These are similar talking points Nunes used yesterday in his opening statement.

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9:30 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Schiff: "We have not received a single document from the State Department"

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff called for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to turn over documents from the State Department.

"Finally, I want to say a word about the President and Secretary Pompeo's obstruction of this investigation. We have not received a single document from the State Department, and as Ambassador Sondland's opening statement today will make clear, those documents bear directly on this investigation and this impeachment inquiry.

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9:29 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Schiff: Sondland told ambassador that Ukraine had to "pay up"

Pool
Pool

In his opening statement, Chairman Adam Schiff said that on September 7, EU ambassador Gordon Sondland spoke to the President and told former NSC official Tim Morrison and Ambassador Bill Taylor about the call shortly thereafter.

"Sondland told Taylor that 'President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.' The 'check' referred to here was the United States’ military assistance to Ukraine. And Ukraine had to 'pay up' with investigations," Schiff said.

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9:16 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland: I pressured Ukraine to investigate Bidens at Trump's "express direction"

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

US Ambassador to the EU will testify that he — alongside Energy Secretary Rick Perry and US diplomat Kurt Volker — worked with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters "at the express direction of the President of the United States."

Here's what he'll say, according to a copy of his opening statement:

"Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters 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. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President's orders"