Three key witnesses testify in impeachment inquiry

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10:48 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Infamous Trump-Sondland call about investigations was on an open line, and the President knew it

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland said his July 26 call with President Trump was on an open, unsecured line. CNN previously reported that several former officials said there is a high probability that intelligence agencies from numerous foreign countries, including Russia, were listening in on the conversation.

That phone call was revealed by top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor in his testimony before the House Intelligence committee last week. Taylor said one of his aides overheard the call between Trump and Sondland in which Trump asked about “investigations" at a restaurant.

Democrats' lawyer Daniel Goldman asked Sondland about the call. Here's their exchange:

Goldman: "And you called President Trump from your cell phone from the restaurant. Is that right?"
Sondland: "That's right."
Goldman: "And this was not a secure line, was it?"
Sondland: "No, it was an open line."
Goldman: "Did you worry that a foreign government may be listening to your phone call with the President of the United States?"
Sondland: "Well, I have unclassified conversations all the time from land lines that are unsecured and cell phones. If the topic is not classified — and it's up to the President to decide what's classified and what's not classified — and we were having, he was aware that it was an open line as well."

Watch more:

10:44 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland: Rapper A$AP Rocky was initially the "primary focus" of the July 26 call with Trump

Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images
Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

House Democrats' counsel Daniel Goldman pointed out that Sondland's testimony is that he now remembers that infamous July 26 phone with President Trump he had while sitting in a restaurant in Kiev.

This is the call where they discussed investigations that President Trump wanted Ukraine to announce.

Sondland, who said he isn't a notetaker, said, "What triggered my memory was someone's reference to A$AP Rocky, which I believe was the primary focus of the phone call." 

Watch more:

10:42 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

These are the House lawyers who are questioning Sondland

Castor, left, and Goldman, right.
Castor, left, and Goldman, right. AP & AFP/Getty Images

House lawyers Daniel Goldman and Steve Castor will be asking questions on behalf of lawmakers at today's hearing.

Goldman will be working on behalf of the Democrats while Castor will be leading the questions for Republican lawmakers.

Goldman, the panel's senior adviser for the Democrats, and Castor, the House Oversight committee's general counsel for the Republicans, have been key figures in the inquiry, guiding witnesses through their timelines, urging them to describe in detail what they learned when and following up with short, pointed questions.

10:37 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

What we know about Pompeo's whereabouts right now

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C) arrives for a NATO Foreign Affairs ministers' summit in Brussels on Nov. 20.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C) arrives for a NATO Foreign Affairs ministers' summit in Brussels on Nov. 20. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

US Ambassador Gordon Sondland just testified that he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fully apprised of what was going on with Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Pompeo is in Brussels.

Pompeo is in the Belgian city — where Sondland is usually based — for the NATO foreign ministerial. He has ignored shouted questions from the traveling press about Sondland’s testimony, but he typically does not answer these types of questions.

Pompeo told the traveling press on Tuesday that he had not been watching the public hearings, saying he’s “not transfixed with it.”

10:41 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland confirms he said Trump only cares about the "big stuff"

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

EU ambassador Gordon Sondland was asked by Chairman Adam Schiff about testimony from diplomat staffer David Holmes that Sondland told him that Trump only cares about "big stuff."

Schiff asked Sondland if he disputes Holmes' testimony that Trump "only cares about big stuff that relates to him personally."

Sondland said he didn't dispute Holmes' recollection of this conversation.

More context: Last week, Holmes testified in a closed-door deposition that he overheard a July 26 call between Trump and Sondland where they discussed investigations in Ukraine. Sondland confirmed this call with Trump during his testimony today. According to Holmes, after Sondland got off the phone with Trump he told Holmes that the President doesn't care about Ukraine and only cares about "big stuff" that relates to Trump personally.

Watch the moment:

10:42 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland: The investigation request went from "vanilla" to specific

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland said at first, there was a "very generic" request for an investigation into Ukraine corruption — but it got more specific over time.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff asked Sondland about the "continuum of insidiousness" he previously testified about.

"In your deposition, you testified that you found yourself on a continuum that became more insidious over time. Can you describe what you mean by this continuum of insidiousness?" Schiff asked.

Here's how he responded: 

"Well, Mr. Chairman, when we left the oval office I believe on May 23rd, the request was very generic for an investigation of corruption in a very vanilla sense and dealing with some of the oligarch problems in Ukraine, which were long-standing problems. And then as time went on, more specific items got added to the menu — including the Burisma and 2016 election meddling, specifically, the DNC server, specifically — and over this, over this continuum, it became more and more difficult to secure the White House meeting, because more conditions were being placed on the White House meeting."

Watch more:

10:23 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

President Trump is watching Sondland testify

Doug Mills/Pool via AP
Doug Mills/Pool via AP

President Trump is watching Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony, according to a White House official.

The President is traveling today and won’t see all of it, so the official says Trump will be briefed on the testimony by staff later today.

10:18 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland: "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret"

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers that he had discussed the investigation in a July 19 email sent to several top US officials. This came days before President Trump's call with the Ukrainian leader.

Here's who was on the email, according to Sondland:

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
  • Energy Secretary Rick Perry
  • Perry's acting chief of staff
  • Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney
  • Mulvaney's senior adviser and one other person

"Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the presidential call," Sondland said.

"As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to 'run a fully transparent investigation' and 'turn over every stone' were necessary in his call with President Trump," he said.

Here what he said was in the email:

“I talked to Zelensky just now… He is prepared to receive Potus’ call. Will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone’. He would greatly appreciate a call prior to Sunday so that he can put out some media about a ‘friendly and productive call’ (no details) prior to Ukraine election on Sunday.”

He said Mulvaney responded: “I asked NSC to set it up for tomorrow.”


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

Vice President Pence left the DC area just minutes after Sondland started testifying

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

Vice President Mike Pence is getting far away from Washington. It's his latest effort to distance himself from the impeachment inquiry as US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies that he raised concerns with him about freezing security aid to Ukraine.

Pence took off on Air Force Two from Joint Base Andrews minutes after Sondland’s testimony began. 

What he's doing today: He is due to land in Green Bay, Wisconsin, around 11 a.m. ET. He will tour the USS Cooperstown and deliver remarks at Fincantieri Marinette Marine. Pence then travels to his native Indianapolis, where he’ll deliver remarks at the Strada Education Network's National Symposium, returning to Washington later in the evening.

The challenge for Pence throughout the impeachment inquiry, as it's always been in the administration, is balancing the need to appear loyal to Trump with staying clear of the President's countless controversies. 

The plan to protect him, according to sources close to the vice president, has been to get him on the road. Pence has traveled frequently in the weeks since the House launched its investigation, from touting the administration's US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement to meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.