Update 2 (12 pm ET): After what has been an agonizing morning of testimony, it has become clear that Sondland has one goal with his testimony: deflect blame away from himself and President Trump, and toward Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
During a brief meeting with reporters on the White House lawn late Wednesday morning, Trump claimed that the only important takeaway from Wednesday’s hearing is that Sondland said Trump wanted “nothing” from Ukraine during a July 26 phone call. Trump claimed that this means it’s “all over”.
Trump also read select quotes from a pile of notes in his hand.
JUST IN: @realDonaldTrump reax to#sondlandtestimony by reading select quotes from a pile of notes….takes no questions from assembled press. #ImpeachmentHearing #GordonSondland pic.twitter.com/MH50CE8QhJ
— Paula Reid (@PaulaReidCBS) November 20, 2019
Trump insists he told Sondland “I want no quid pro quo” with Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/NhyhfI77tk
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) November 20, 2019
Reading from his notes, Trump recounted a conversation with Sondland that has been repeatedly referenced in Sondland’s testimony. Trump insisted that what Sondland had said was accurate: That Trump had said he wanted “nothing” from Zelensky other than for the Ukrainian President to do the “right thing.”
“I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell President Zelensky to do the right thing,” Trump said…This is the final word from the President of the United States. I want nothing.”
Trump added that he doesn’t know Sondland well, and that Sondland had initially supported other candidates during the primary.
“I don’t know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy though,” Trump said.
“He was with other candidates. he actually supported other candidates. Not me – came in late,” he said.
The president then walked away without taking questions.
And that’s the ‘final word’ on that.
Trump appears to believe that his statement just now will be “the final word from the pres of the U.S.” pic.twitter.com/gQ7J0pn8Jq
— Sam Stein (@samstein) November 20, 2019
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Update (9 am ET): As the hearing begins, it appears Sondland has already outlined his approach in a statement leaked to the Guardian.
And that approach is: Blame Rudy.
Sondland alleges that he, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and others were ordered by President Trump to work with Giuliani on all things Ukraine-related.
And that they followed those orders so as not to miss the opportunity to cement closer relations between the US and Ukraine.
Sondland also blamed Giuliani for the quid pro quo with the Ukrainians, as they sought an Oval Office meeting with President Trump.
The entirety of Sondland’s opening remarks have now been leaked to the press. Read a summary here. Read the entirety of his remarks below:
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In what many pundits are calling the most important moment of the impeachment hearings (just like Vindman was…but wasn’t and just like Volker was…but wasn’t), Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, will take the stand and testify on Wednesday.
Unlike the prior witnesses, Sondland notably had to ‘update’ his testimony to House investigators earlier this month when another witness (acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor) said he’d heard Sondland discuss President Trump and Rudy Giuliani’s demand that the military aid money for Ukraine would be withheld if it didn’t restart investigations into Burisma, the energy company with ties to Hunter Biden, and 2016 election interference.
Watch the hearing below. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff will swing the gavel at 9 am:
After Sondland, Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, the under secretary of state for political affairs, will testify in the afternoon.
According to BBG, Sondland, who won his position after emerging as a major Trump donor, is likely to face intense questioning about his call with President Trump on July 26, the day after Trump’s phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. That’s the call where Sondland was allegedly instructed to deliver the ultimatum to Ukraine.
David Holmes, a member of the embassy staff in Kyiv, infamously told House investigators last Friday that he overhead Trump asking Sondland about “the investigations” – a reference to Ukraine agreeing to the administration’s demands. Holmes added that Sondland told him after he hung up with Trump that the president “didn’t give a s— about Ukraine” and that Trump only cares about the “big stuff” that benefits him “like the Biden investigation.”
Sondland was also reportedly present at a July 10 White House meeting where Mick Mulvaney reportedly made clear that an Oval Office meeting with Zelensky wouldn’t happen unless the Biden investigations were re-started. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton left that meeting, saying later he wouldn’t be part of whatever “drug deal” Mulvaney and Sondland were cooking up.
As Reuters points out, Sondland is particularly important because he’s the first witness with a direct line of communication to the president. Sondland spoke to Trump some half a dozen times between mid-July and mid-September, according to the testimony of other witnesses.
Here a couple of critical questions that Reuters believes Sondland will be asked:
WHAT ROLE HAS SONDLAND PLAYED IN U.S. RELATIONS WITH UKRAINE?
Sondland was one of three officials who largely took over U.S.-Ukraine policy in May. Career U.S. diplomats have portrayed Sondland in their testimony as a central figure in what became a shadow Ukraine policy operation, undercutting official channels and pressing Kiev to investigate the Bidens.
Ukraine is not part of the European Union but aspires to membership, making Ukraine issues part of Sondland’s official remit. But his involvement was viewed as a problem by some White House National Security Council (NSC) officials.
Trump named Sondland to the post after Sondland, a hotel entrepreneur, donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
WHAT MIGHT SONDLAND BE ASKED TO TELL THE INQUIRY ABOUT TRUMP AND UKRAINE?
Democrats have heard testimony that Sondland has had frequent contact with Trump and can provide a first-hand account of Trump’s interest in pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation into the Bidens. He will also face questions about the role of the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in that effort.
Lawmakers are also likely to delve into one phone conversation between Sondland and Trump on July 26 in which a witness says Sondland reassured Trump the Ukrainians would agree to investigate the Bidens. The call took place the day after Trump’s phone conversation with Zelenskiy that is at the heart of the inquiry.
David Holmes, a U.S. embassy staffer, testified that Sondland told him after the July 26 call that Trump only cared about “big stuff” in Ukraine, like “the Biden investigation.”
He may also be asked about a July 10 White House meeting where, according to the testimony of one NSC official, Sondland made clear that the Ukrainians would have to agree to investigate the Bidens, as well as Burisma, for Zelenskiy to get an Oval Office meeting with Trump.
And in a report published less than two hours before the start of the hearings, The New York Times reported that Sondland kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo apprised of all important developments in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to re-start the investigations into the Bidens, which will almost certainly become a focus during Wednesday’s hearing.