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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4:46 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland just checked in for his flight back to Brussels

US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland just checked in at Dulles International Airport for his flight back to Brussels. 

Earlier today, during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Sondland's lawyer asked for shorter breaks to ensure that the ambassador would make his flight this evening.

5:52 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Laura Cooper has arrived on Capitol Hill 

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Ellie Kaufman

Julio Cortez/AP
Julio Cortez/AP

Laura Cooper has arrived on Capitol Hill to testify publicly in the Trump impeachment inquiry. She arrived in a black SUV and walked in the Longworth House Office building without talking to media.

What you need to know about Cooper: She's the top Pentagon official who oversaw Russia and Eastern Europe. In closed testimony she said diplomat Kurt Volker told her he had talked to an aide to Ukrainian President Zelensky about making a statement, "disavowing election interference." 

She said Volker told her "the path that he was pursuing to lift the hold" was to "get them to make this statement."

5:25 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Trump legal team source: Perception is Sondland's testimony was a "draw"

From CNN's Pam Brown

A source close the president's legal team says the view is that EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony today was a "draw" but that the cake is baked and that his testimony isn't moving the needle for the general public.

The source says there was concern in the White House during Sondland's opening statement that his testimony would be very damaging given Sondland's claim what he did regarding Ukraine was at the "express direction" of the President, but those concerns eased during the cross examination when Sondland said Trump told him on the phone he wanted "nothing" from Ukraine and that there was no quid pro quo.

The White House is questioning — as GOP lawyer Steve Castor did to Sondland — why that fact wasn't in Sondland's opening statement.

Sondland said during the testimony there was a lot he wanted to include in his opening statement but that there wasn't enough time because his opening was already 45 minutes long. 

Sondland made clear the quid pro quo directions were coming from the President's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani who the President told Sondland and other administration officials to work with regarding Ukraine.

A key question for POTUS is whether he supported what Giuliani was doing in regards to Ukraine and his directions to Sondland and others. Previously, Giuliani has said he was acting on behalf of his client the President in regards to Ukraine. 

4:38 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Democrats lay out the next steps after Sondland testimony

From CNN's Haley Byrd

Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AP
Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AP

Asked if the three committees at the heart of the investigative phase of Democrat’s impeachment inquiry should gather testimony from people like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — even if it means delaying the impeachment process — House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel said that the committee chairs will have to “put our heads together and figure out what would be most appropriate, because obviously, the things that he exposed today or testified to today is, is nothing short of shocking, and I think we need to follow up on it.”

Intelligence committee member Joaquin Castro argued testimony from Pompeo, Mulvaney, and other administration officials isn’t necessary before drafting articles of impeachment. He said he wished they had “come in to testify and cooperate the way other government witnesses have come forward” and that “it would certainly be helpful.”

But, he said, “I also believe we’ve seen enough evidence now to move forward with articles of impeachment.”

What happened during EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony: 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."

4:20 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Trump campaign was "blindsided" by Sondland testimony, sources say

From CNN's Jim Acosta and Sarah Westwood

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. 

4:12 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Adam Schiff and other committee members left to vote for new House Oversight Committee Chair 

From CNN's Haley Byrd 

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.

4:20 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland has left the Capitol

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Ellie Kaufman

Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

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.

4:03 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

State Department: Sondland never told Pompeo he believed Trump "was linking aid to investigations of political opponents"

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

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.

3:47 p.m. ET, November 20, 2019

The hearing with Sondland is over. Here's what happens next.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The House Intelligence Committee's hearing with US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland just wrapped up. It started around 9 a.m. ET.

The committee has a second hearing scheduled — with Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, the under secretary of State for political affairs — for today.

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.