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
55 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
11:54 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

GOP senator: "I don't necessarily agree" with Trump's actions

From CNN's Ted Barrett

Sen. Cornyn speaks to the press in 2018.
Sen. Cornyn speaks to the press in 2018. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

GOP Sen. John Cornyn dismissed testimony by Ambassador Gordon Sondland about a quid pro quo, saying, “The President can meet with anybody he wants to” and the “military aid was released.”

“I just think this is an impeachment process in search of a rationale, and I don’t think they’ve gotten one yet,” he told CNN.

Asked if there is nothing here that concerns him about the President’s actions, he replied:

“I don’t necessarily agree with it. But you can disagree with the action and ... believe (that) this is not a reason to tear the country in two a year before the election.”
11:48 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

These GOP senators say they haven't watched the hearing

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

Several Republican senators say they haven't been watching today's hearing and bombshell testimony from Ambassador Gordon Sondland on Capitol Hill.

Here's what they said:

  • Arizona Sen. Martha McSally: "I haven't been watching it."
  • Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton: "Nope. Took my kid to school."
  • Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander: "I've been chairing my own hearing."

11:54 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland said Giuliani made "demands" that came from the President

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

Gordon Sondland said he never talked to President Trump about "preconditions" for the Ukraine aid to be released, but his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani made "demands" that came from Trump.

"When the President says, 'talk to my personal attorney' and then Mr. Guiliani, as his personal attorney, makes certain requests or demands, we assume it's coming from the President," Sondland said.

Watch more:

11:44 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Pence's office says he "never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens"

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks in Warsaw on September 2, 2019.
US Vice President Mike Pence speaks in Warsaw on September 2, 2019. Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff Marc Short said Pence never spoke to Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens.

“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 in a statement.

Here's the rest of the statement:

Ambassador Gordon Sondland was never alone with Vice President Pence on the September 1 trip to Poland. This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened.
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.

Some context: Sondland testified today that he raised concerns with Pence that the freezing of $400 million in security aid to Ukraine was linked to the investigations.

11:49 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

What Democrats and Republicans can seize on in Sondland's testimony

Analysis from CNN's Lauren Fox, Phil Mattingly, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

There are a lot of gaps in what US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland actually can remember: He is clear he is not a note-taker.

He doesn’t dispute many of the testimonies so far, including David Holmes, who overheard his July 26 phone call with Trump. But he doesn’t remember as clearly as other witnesses we have seen. Republicans might seize on this memory lapse in their questions. 

Meanwhile, Democrats are seizing on why withholding documents is so problematic.

Sondland testified that he didn’t take notes, and he has struggled to get documents that would help jog his memory from the State Department. This helps Democrats push the narrative that the withholding of documents is an impediment for their investigation. 

11:36 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Nunes continues spreading conspiracies of Ukraine meddling

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

Yara Nardi/AFP/Getty Images
Yara Nardi/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Devin Nunes once again accused Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 election to help Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and that the Democrats colluded with the Ukrainian government.

These are false conspiracy theories.

Nunes has made these controversial statements at all of the public impeachment hearings so far, but they are not true. His claims contradict testimony from multiple US national security officials, who recently told lawmakers in public hearings and private depositions that the Ukrainian government did not interfere in the 2016 election.

In addition: The FBI, CIA, DOJ, DNI, NSA, and two Congressional committees concluded that it was Russia who interfered in the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation confirmed these conclusions, and his 448-page report pinned the blame on the Russian government and never accused Ukraine of any interference. Many of Trump’s handpicked appointees to lead US intelligence agencies also say it was Russia who meddled in 2016.

11:58 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Sondland is not a perfect witness for either side

Analysis from CNN's Lauren Fox, Phil Mattingly, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb

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

Democrats suffered a major blow during Daniel Goldman’s questioning when Gordon Sondland repeatedly said President Trump never told him directly that security assistance was tied to the announcement of investigations.

But, Sondland also said the vice president, the secretary of state and other top White House officials were all in the loop on what was going on with regards to Ukraine. He referred to that July 19 email in his opening statement. And, he said he spoke up in a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence saying he believed the military aid to be tied to the announcement of investigations. Pence did not push back. Sondland said he “nodded like he heard what I said.”

Sondland is such a stark contrast to the career diplomats we have seen before. In the room, he seems calm and comfortable in the hot seat. He isn’t cowering to questions. And when he is irritated or annoyed by a question, he doesn’t hide it. He has a very different posture than the other witnesses so far.

11:23 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

The FBI wants to interview Ukraine whistleblower

From CNN's Zachary Cohen and Pamela Brown

The FBI asked last month to interview the anonymous whistleblower who filed the complaint about the President’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president that ultimately led to the current House impeachment inquiry.  

The FBI’s Washington Field Office reached out in mid-October to lawyers for the whistleblower and asked to interview the whistleblower regarding the complaint filed with the IC IG, according to a source familiar with the request.

The source says the lawyers and FBI have been in contact regarding the request.

The FBI’s request was made weeks after the Justice Department said it had decided not to pursue a campaign finance investigation based on the call.

Yahoo first reported that the FBI is seeking the whistleblower interview.

11:21 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

The hearing has resumed

The Republicans now get 45 minutes to ask questions.