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
40 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
10:59 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

Why Sondland told Trump Ukraine's leader "loves your ass"

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The Democrats' lawyer, Daniel Goldman, asked Ambassador Gordon Sondland if he recalled telling President Trump that the Ukrainian leader "loves your ass" during a July 26 call at a restaurant in Kiev.

Sondland conceded that he could have said that because it "sounds like something I would say."

"That's how President Trump and I communicate. A lot of four-letter words. In this case, three letters," Sondland said.

Sondland went on to say he also probably said the Ukrainian president would do anything Trump asked of him during that call.

He explained that he was putting it in "Trump-speak."

Sondland said the Ukrainian president was "very willing to work with the United States and was being very amicable and so putting it in Trump-speak, by saying he 'loves your ass, he will do what you want' meant that he would really work with us on a whole host of issues."

Watch more:

11:26 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019

House lawyer points out that Sondland had easy access to Trump to discuss Ukraine

Andrew Harnik/AP
Andrew Harnik/AP

House lawyer Daniel Goldman asked Sondland about two private phone calls he had with President Trump on July 25 and July 26.

"So that's two private telephone calls with President Trump in the span of two days. Is that right?" He asked.

Sondland responded, "I had occasional access when he chose to take my calls. Sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn't."

Goldman pointed out that Trump "certainly took your call twice as it related to Ukraine on these two days."

Sondland responded, "He did."

Watch the exchange:

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

Who knew what, according to Sondland

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

EU ambassador Gordon Sondland is making 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 in his opening statement. “It was no secret.”

Here is what he says these officials knew, and that they’ve said before today about their involvement:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:  Sondland says his efforts to pressure Ukraine into opening the investigations came at the “express direction of the President of the United States.” 

“We followed the President’s orders,” Sondland said.

What Trump has said: Trump has been adamant in his self-defense, insisting over and over there was “no quid pro quo” in Ukraine.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Sondland says he told Pence in early September that he was concerned US aid to Ukraine was being tied to investigations into Trump’s political rivals. 

What Pence has said: Under repeated questioning, Pence has refused to say whether he knew there was a link between US aid and investigations. He’s denied ever linking the issues in his own conversations with Zelensky, and told CBS last month, “I can only tell you what I know, and what I know is that the transcript of the President’s call with President Zelensky shows that there was no quid pro quo.”

SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Sondland says 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 has said: Asked on ABC about claims the White House conditioned US aid on investigations, Pompeo said in October, “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.

ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF MICK MULVANEY: Sondland says an email to Mulvaney on July 19 to set up a phone call between Trump and Zelensky made the alleged exchange clear. Mulvaney responded that he was asking the NSC to arrange the call for the next day.

What Mulvaney has said: In a now-infamous news conference, Mulvaney confirmed there was a quid pro quo but downplayed its significance. He later denied he said that. He’s refused to be interviewed by Congressional investigators.

ENERGY SECRETARY RICK PERRY: Sondland says Perry was directly involved in carrying out the wishes of President Trump by working with Giuliani to secure the investigations.

What Perry has said: Perry has denied any quid pro quo, including in an interview with Fox: “There was no quid pro quo in the sense of what those folks out there would like for it to be…I never heard that said anywhere, anytime in any conversation.” He’s also refused to cooperate with the investigation.

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER JOHN BOLTON: Like other witnesses, Sondland recalls a meeting in Bolton’s office on July 10 where he linked the investigations and a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Sondland also says Bolton’s office requested Giuliani’s contact info before a visit to Kiev.

What Bolton has said: Bolton has remained silent as the impeachment proceeding advances. He has defied a Congressional subpoena, and wants a judge to decide whether he should cooperate with investigators or follow the White House guidance not to comply.

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

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

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: