Three key witnesses testify in impeachment inquiry
Two Trump campaign sources say EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland's allegation of a quid pro quo implicating Trump and top administration officials "blindsided" aides inside the White House, the re-election campaign as well as some Republican lawmakers."
"It would not be inaccurate to say they were blindsided," said one campaign source in touch with GOP members.
As Sondland's testimony stretched into the afternoon, the source said GOP members decided to quickly pivot to what they felt were "inconsistencies" in Sondland's testimony. "It reflects poorly on him," the source said of portions of Sondland's testimony where he later acknowledged he was presuming that aid was tied to investigations of Democrats.
A separate Trump campaign adviser was furious with Sondland's testimony, calling it "aggravating." The adviser said it came as a complete surprise that the EU Ambassador would implicate senior members of the administration. "It was really bizarre," the adviser said, adding Sondland appeared to be throwing top administration officials under the bus in real time.
A third campaign source said enough questions were raised about Sondland's testimony by GOP members to protect Trump from sustaining serious damage. "No direct hit," the Trump adviser said.
Another campaign source in touch with the White House team handling impeachment today said at the outset of the Sondland hearing, those aides seemed to be distressed – seemed to be “freaking out.” The source acknowledged Sondland’s testimony undermined the White House’s central argument that there was “no quid pro quo,” noting there are some Trump allies who have wanted to shift from that to arguing the appearance of quid pro quo was really just the President executing his legitimate foreign policy goals.
House Intelligence Committee Democrats, including Chairman Adam Schiff, arrived at the basement room of the Capitol a few minutes ago where members are voting now on who will replace the late Elijah Cummings as Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Schiff did not take questions on his way in.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also arrived, not taking questions either.
US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland has left the Longworth House office building. He got into a black SUV in front of the building.
There are some anti-Trump protesters gathered that Sondland walked past on his way out.
Morgan Ortagus, State Department Spokesperson, just said in a statement that Sondland "never told Secretary Pompeo that he believed the President was linking aid to investigations of political opponents."
Ortagus added, "Any suggestions to the contrary is flat out false.”
More context: Sondland, in his opening statement, made clear that some of President Trump's senior-most aides were aware of a link between US aid to Ukraine and the country opening investigations that would benefit Trump politically.
"Everyone was in the loop," he said. "It was no secret."
Sondland said Pompeo was kept apprised on his efforts in Ukraine, and cites emails to the top diplomat showing he raised the issue of linking aid to Ukraine with investigations. Sondland also says "based on my communications with Secretary Pompeo," he felt comfortable raising concerns about the linkage to a top aide to Zelensky.
What Pompeo previously said about the investigations: Asked on ABC in October about claims the White House conditioned US aid on investigations, Pompeo said: "I never saw that in the decision-making process that I was a part of."
"The conversation was always around, what were the strategic implications? Would that money get to the right place?" he said.
The House Intelligence Committee's hearing with US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland just wrapped up. It started around 9 a.m. ET.
That hearing was scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m., but was delayed after House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff added extra round of questioning to Sondland's hearing and after the committee took several breaks.
Ambassador Gordon Sondland just reacted to President Trump's shifting tone about him.
"Easy come, easy go," he said.
More on this: Earlier today, Trump reacted to Sondland's testimony, saying, "This is not a man I know well."
He made a similar comment about Sondland earlier this month after the ambassador reversed his previous testimony to impeachment investigators.
At the time, Trump said, "Let me just tell you: I hardly know the gentleman."
Trump's remarks have significantly shifted from his complimentary previous comments about Sondland.
In a tweet on Oct. 8, Trump called Sondland "a really good man and great American." He said he would love to "send" Sondland to testify, but not before a "totally compromised kangaroo court."
EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland said he assumes President Trump "would benefit" from an investigation into the Bidens.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who asked the question, shot back, "There we have it!" which generated applause inside the room, adding, "Didn't hurt a bit!"
An annoyed Sondland responded to Maloney, "I've been very forthright."
He said he resented Maloney's question.
A heated Maloney responded to Sondland, "We appreciate your candor. Be clear on what it took to get it out of you," referring to the multiple times that Sondland has changed his testimony.
Sondland then agreed with Maloney that the withholding of aid put Ukraine in a "terrible position."
Rapper A$AP Rocky was mentioned several times during US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony, leaving the New York-based rapper trending on Twitter.
In his opening statement, Sondland said that a July 26 phone call he had with President Trump, which allegedly included investigation talk, lasted five minutes and was “primarily about” A$AP Rocky, who Trump had been trying to free from incarceration in Sweden.
The rapper’s name and case was brought up at least five times as lawmakers questioned the ambassador.
According to testimony of David Holmes on Saturday, a diplomat at the US embassy in Ukraine, Sondland recommended that Trump “let [A$AP Rocky] get sentenced, play the racism card, give him a ticker-tape when he comes home.”
The rapper — whose real name is Rakim Mayers — was involved in a street brawl in Stockholm on June 30. He was found guilty, and the Swedish court handed him a conditional sentence during a ruling he was not present for.
While he was in custody, Trump said Sweden “let our African American community down,” by not freeing the rapper.
Democrats’ repeated references to acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney highlight his continued centrality to the impeachment probe — a spotlight that’s shaken his position with President Trump.
Ever since Mulvaney took to the White House briefing room to acknowledge a quid pro quo and told reporters to “get over it,” his words have proven consistently problematic for Republicans who argue exactly the opposite.
Mulvaney attempted to walk the statement back, but his on-camera words have persisted.
That was clear today when Rep. Joaquin Castro played two clips of Mulvaney’s press briefing (or attempted to — there were some technical issues).
Sondland also placed Mulvaney closer to the center of the alleged scheme, saying he was “in the loop” along with other top officials, though acknowledged he’d only held a single formal meeting with the chief of staff and it wasn’t about Ukraine.
Remember: Mulvaney has refused to cooperate with congressional investigators, who want to know more about his role. He’s defied a subpoena and executed some complicated legal wrangling, much to the chagrin of the White House counsel’s office, with whom Mulvaney is feuding.
The attention on Mulvaney has not helped his standing with Trump, who views it as another negative headline amid many.
People familiar with the situation have said over the past weeks that it’s unlikely Trump would dismiss Mulvaney amid the current crisis in the hopes of preventing further chaos.
But Mulvaney will have been in his job for year in January — and there’s little indication Trump is prepared to drop “acting” from his title.