Three key witnesses testify in impeachment inquiry
President Trump called Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony to Congress “fantastic,” but still continued to put distance between himself and his ambassador to the EU.
The comments came as the President toured an Apple manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas, shortly after Sondland’s testimony concluded this afternoon.
“I think it was fantastic,” Trump said, “I think they have to end it now.”
He then again started reading from handwritten notes of Sondland’s testimony.
“Why didn’t he put this statement into his opening remarks?,” Trump asked. “It’s the most important statement there (is).”
“We have no due process, we can’t have anything, and yet, not only did we win today, it’s over, and some of the fair press of which there isn’t too much, said this thing is over,” he said.
The President went on to call Sondland, who donated to Trump's inaugural committee, a “guy that got put there.”
“I don’t know him very well, he’s a guy that got put there,” Trump said. “He came over to me after I defeated other people, I defeated them all.”
Trump attacked the inquiry as a “hoax,” a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment to our country.”
After explosive morning testimony directly linking President Trump to an alleged "quid pro quo" in Ukraine, two government officials will tell lawmakers what they knew about the "quo" — US security assistance — as well as the circumstances surrounding its holdup.
Today's second public hearing will pair longtime Pentagon official Laura Cooper with David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, for what's expected to be a technical exploration of how the aid was held up and how US policy in Ukraine was hijacked by the President's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
What Cooper has said so far: In her closed deposition last month — which was delayed for several hours as some House Republicans attempted to storm the secure hearing room — Cooper told the impeachment committees she had learned over the summer that US assistance to Ukraine was being held up for reasons that weren't entirely clear.
In her role as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Cooper helped orchestrate US strategy for bolstering Ukraine's military, a bulwark against Russia. She played a coordinating role in managing the financial and military assistance Congress approved -- and participated in meetings when the aid was held.
What Hale has said so far: Hale will offer more details about the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the onetime US ambassador to Ukraine. The number-three official at the State Department, he testified privately earlier this month that he had advocated for Yovanovitch as Giuliani was orchestrating a smear campaign against her. But ultimately he did not push for a public statement of support.
There will be no extended question round for House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff or ranking member Devin Nunes – or their lawyers — for this evening's impeachment inquiry hearing.
After Schiff, Nunes and the witnesses make their opening statements, it will go straight to member questions, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry. Each of the 22 members will have five minutes to ask questions.
This hearing was scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET, but was delayed. It's not clear exactly when it will start.
Who's testifying: Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, the under secretary of State for political affairs. There could be a renewed focus on military aid as Cooper testifies.
US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland told reporters that he is “absolutely not” going to resign and is “going back to work" following today's testimony.
Sondland made the comments as he arrived at Dulles airport for his return flight to Brussels. The ambassador said he “told the truth” today and was going to “just relax” on his flight.
What this is all about: Sondland testified today 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."
What's more, Sondland provided House impeachment investigators with emails and texts showing it wasn't just him and Giuliani pushing for the investigations outside government channels — Trump's inner circle knew what was going on, too. He even said he raised concerns with Vice President Mike Pence that the freezing of $400 million in security aid to Ukraine was linked to the investigations.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.