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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12:51 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Pence's office released a statement about this testimony. Here's what you need to know.

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

In his statement, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff Marc Short said, “Multiple witnesses have testified under oath that Vice President Pence never raised Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden, Crowdstrike, Burisma, or investigations in any conversation with Ukrainians or President Zelensky before, during, or after the September 1 meeting in Poland.”

But remember: Sondland did not allege that today. He only said he brought it up with Pence before he went into his meeting with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky. 

“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, denying what Sondland had alleged. 

And he does not deny that Pence was aware that this was out there: Remember that during his CBS interview last month Pence refused to answer whether he was aware of “such a deal,” meaning the conditions for the aid. 

After repeated efforts, CBS's Margaret Brennan said, “I haven't gotten a clear answer from you on that though, sir. I do have to leave the interview there. But are you saying that you did not ever hear of such a deal? Is that what I understand you're describing?”

Pence replied, “I’m telling you that all of my interactions with the President, all of my conversations with President Zelensky, were entirely focused on issues of importance to the American people, ending corruption, enlisting more European support--

Brennan: “OK.”

Pence: “— and supporting Ukraine in a way that would restore its territorial integrity and stand by Ukraine for its sovereignty.”

12:46 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

White House: "No quid pro quo ever occurred"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Echoing President Trump’s departure comments, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham reiterated in a statement that Trump “clearly stated that he ‘wanted nothing’ from Ukraine and repeated ‘no quid pro quo over and over again.’”

Here's Grisham's statement:

“Ambassador Sondland’s testimony made clear that in one of the few brief phone calls he had with President Trump, the President clearly stated that he ‘wanted nothing’ from Ukraine and repeated ‘no quid pro quo over and over again.’ In fact, no quid pro quo ever occurred. The U.S. aid to Ukraine flowed, no investigation was launched, and President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelensky. Democrats keep chasing ghosts.”

More context: Earlier today, US Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified there was a quid pro quo for Ukraine to announce investigations into President Trump's political opponents that came from the President's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani at the "express direction of the President."

12:57 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Rudy Giuliani says he "never met" Sondland

Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani is distancing himself from EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who is currently testifying.

In a now-deleted tweet, Giuliani said he "never met" Sondland.

Here's a screenshot of the tweet:

What this is about: Sondland testified today there was a quid pro quo for Ukraine to announce investigations into President Trump's political opponents that came from Rudy Giuliani at the "express direction of the President."

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

12:33 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Fact check: Trump said he didn't know Sondland well. But the President once called him a "great American."

From CNN's Daniel Dale

Patrick Semansky/AP
Patrick Semansky/AP

Moments ago, President Trump reacted to Ambassador Gordon Sondland and his testimony, saying, "This is not a man I know well."

He's 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."

Fact First: Trump's remarks are significantly different than his complimentary previous comments about Sondland.

On Oct. 4, Trump tried to distance himself from other officials who had provided damaging information to impeachment investigators, saying, "I don't even know most of these ambassadors. I didn't even know their names."

But Trump made an exception for Sondland, whom he called "highly respected."

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."

More on their relationship: Sondland, a hotelier and major Republican donor in Oregon (who has also given to some Democrats), criticized Trump during the 2016 campaign after Trump attacked the parents of late Army Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim American who was killed in Iraq in 2004. When Trump was elected, however, Sondland donated $1 million to the inauguration through four limited liability companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The donation appeared to have put Sondland back in the good graces of Trump's team, but it still took Trump months to come around to the idea of nominating Sondland, CNN has previously reported. Trump nominated Sondland as EU ambassador in May 2018.

12:31 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sen. McConnell says he's not watching Sondland

From CNN's Ted Barrett 

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN: “Yeah, I haven’t been watching the House proceedings.”

Here's what a few other senators said:

  • Sen. Thom Tillis: “I haven’t seen it or the context. I can���t comment until I see the testimony.”
  • Sen. Susan Collins said she has been in the FDA commissioner confirmation hearing all morning so hadn’t seen the testimony. “Not that I would comment anyway,” she said reminding reporters she’s not commenting on developments since she may be a juror. 
  • Sen. Ron Johnson: “I haven’t seen enough to express an opinion.”
  • Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse both declined to comment, since they would be potential jurors in the Senate.
12:29 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Here's what a few GOP senators are saying about Sondland's testimony

Alex BrandonAP
Alex BrandonAP

Sen. Lindsey Graham said he's watching "bits and pieces, headlines across the stream."

Asked about Sondland's testimony about conditions imposed on the Ukrainians, Graham said, "I thought he said that the President never mentioned a conditionality."

On Sondland overall, Graham added: "Let's see what he says. I'm very suspicious of why people all of a sudden [say] two and two is four when two and two wasn't four before. Let's just hear him out."

Republican Sen. David Perdue said he's watching "a little bit."

"I'm very troubled. First of all, they're denying the rights to an American president that we fight for every day for everybody in the country," he said.

"These fundamental human rights are being denied to him right now. My view is it's nothing but a sham and a show trial. Nothing that I've seen rises to the level of impeachable. And we'll be able to educate the American people about that when it gets over here."

Sen. Ron Johnson, another Republican, added, "I haven't seen much." Then walked away when asked about details from Sondland's testimony.

12:13 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

This is the handwritten statement Trump read from moments ago

Mark Wilson/Getty
Mark Wilson/Getty

President Trump, speaking to reporters today before leaving for Texas, read off a statement that appeared to be written in black Sharpie.

In large letters, the statement read:

"I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zellinsky to do the right thing. This is the final word from the Pres. of the U.S."

12:10 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Democrats and Republicans will each get 30 more minutes to question Sondland

YARA NARDI Yara Nardi/
YARA NARDI Yara Nardi/

Ranking member Devin Nunes just wrapped up his 45-minute round of questions. Afterward, House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff announced that both the Democrats and the Republicans will each get another 30-minute round to question Gordon Sondland.

Under the protocols for the House impeachment inquiry, Schiff can add additional rounds of questioning, so long as both sides get equal time.

Only Schiff and Nunes — or their lawyers — will get to ask questions. After these 30-minute rounds, each member will get five minutes to ask questions.

12:08 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

President Trump responds to Sondland testimony: "This is not a man I know well"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

President Trump spoke to reporters ahead of his departure to Austin, Texas, moments ago. He did not answer questions from reporters, instead previewing his trip and reading a statement on Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony from a notepad.

Trump distanced himself from Sondland, holding up a thick stack of papers saying, “I just noticed one thing and I would say that means it’s all over.”

Trump repeatedly said he told Sondland over the phone that on Ukraine, he wanted “nothing.”

“This is not a man I know well,” Trump emphasized. “Seems like a nice guy, though.”

Trump also noted that Sondland’s support for his presidential campaign “came in late.”