- Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment inquiry, is testifying Wednesday on Capitol Hill before the House Intelligence Committee
- He faced questions on his evolving account of President Trump's administrations dealing with the Ukraine on his newly-revealed phone call with Trump in a Kiev restaurant
- In his opening statement, Sondland implicated top officials including Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence
- 'They knew what we were doing and why,' Sondland said as he plainly asserted there was a quid pro quo. 'Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret'
- President Trump spoke to the media during Sondland's testimony where he insisted his 'final word' to the ambassador was an order to demand nothing at all from Ukrainian President Zelensky
- Sondland testified that he was 'acting in good faith' and 'followed the directions of the President'
- Sondland is more directly entangled than any witness yet in the attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and is one of nine witnesses testifying this week in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump
Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment inquiry, implicated Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Vice President Mike Pence in his testimony Wednesday where he said bluntly that a 'quid pro quo' was at work in regards to U.S. policy to the Ukraine.
Sondland implicated everyone but himself in a pressure campaign on the Ukraine to open an investigation into the president's political rivals. At first, the quid pro quo was a White House meeting for the new Ukrainian president. Then military aid was withheld – and Sondland said that he came to the conclusion it was in the quid pro quo too.
'At all times, I was acting in good faith. As a presidential appointee, I followed the directions of the President,' he said.
His bombshell testimony revealed that top level Trump administration officials knew what was happening at the time.
'They knew what we were doing and why,' Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee. 'Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.'
And he said flat-out there was a 'quid pro quo' at work.
'I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a 'quid pro quo?' Sondland said. 'With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.'
And he said U.S. officials working on Ukraine policy did so at Trump's direction – a direct implication that the president wanted a foreign government to investigate his top political rival in the 2020 presidential election.
'We followed the president's orders,' he said.
Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment inquiry, testified Wednesday Capitol Hill before the House Intelligence Committee
President Trump spoke to the media during Sondland's testimony where he insisted his 'final word' to Sondland was an order to demand nothing at all from Ukrainian President Zelensky
Trump held notes as he spoke to the media, ''What do you want? What do you want? I hear all these theories. What do you want?'' the president said Sondland had asked him. He said he responded to Sondland, saying: 'I want nothing. That is what I want from Ukraine'
Sondland, a wealthy hotelier Trump tapped as his ambassador to the EU, is more directly entangled than any witness yet in the attempt to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue Wednesday, a defiant but frantic President Trump insisted his 'final word' to Sondland was an order to demand nothing at all from Zelensky.
''What do you want? What do you want? I hear all these theories. What do you want?'' the president said Sondland had asked him.
'And now here's my response that he just gave. Ready? You have the cameras rolling? ''I want nothing. That is what I want from Ukraine'.'
'That is what I said. ''I want nothing.'' I said it twice.'
Trump was 45 minutes late for his departure to tour an Apple factory in Texas. He read his reconstruction of the scene from his own notes on a White House pad, written in Sharpie block-letters.
The president left via the White House residence, not the Oval Office. An official told DailyMail.com that he had been watching 'most of the hearing' starting at 9 o'clock.
He told reporters the same story three times, describing in an ever-more-manic tone what he claims were his marching orders to Sondland.
'I say to the ambassador—response—'I want nothing, I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo',' Trump repeated, pounding the press corps with his message and nothing else. ''Tell Zelensky, President Zelensky, to do the right thing.''
'So,' he said again before walking away as shouted questions fell around him, 'Here's my answer: 'I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing'.'
The president didn't address the rest of Sondland's testimony, speaking for barely three minutes.
Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani tweeted during the hearing: 'During the July 24 conversation @realDonaldTrump agrees to a meeting with Pres. Zelensky without requiring an investigation, any discussion of military aid or any condition whatsoever.
'This record shows definitively no quid pro quo, which is the same as no bribery. END OF CASE!'
Giuliani later said in a now-deleted tweet that he 'came into this' at the request of Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker and said Sondland is speculating on 'VERY little contact', adding that he and Sondland never met.
Sondland, during his testimony, repeatedly blamed Trump for forcing him, special envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to work with Rudy Giuliani, despite all of them thinking it was a bad idea.
'Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,' he said.
'We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President's orders,' he added.
But he said they did not believe it was 'improper' for Giuliani to be involved in foreign policy despite holding no formal role in the Trump administration. Giuliani is Trump's personal attorney.
He described instructions they received from the former New York City mayor.
'Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and others that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election. Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to the Ukrainians. Mr. Giuliani also expressed those requests directly to us. We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump's desires and requirements,' he said.
He described an effort on Giuliani's part to link U.S. aid and an Oval Office meeting with Trump for Ukraine President Zelensky to an investigation into the Bidens and the 2016 election.
Giuliani pushed for a probe of Joe Biden's actions as vice president in regards to encouraging the Ukraine to dismiss its top prosecutor – which Giuliani claims was done to benefit Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that had Hunter Biden on its board until earlier this year.
The Bidens have denied any wrong doing – Joe Biden pointed out he was following U.S. and international policy - and no charges have been put against them.
Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani tweeted during the hearing that the 'record shows definitively no quid pro quo,' emphasizing: 'END OF CASE'
Giuliani said in a now-deleted tweet that he 'came into this' at the request of Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker and said Sondland is speculating on 'VERY little contact', adding that he and Sondland never met.
'We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,' Sondland said in his testimony
'The knowledge of this scheme was far and wide and include among others secretary of state Pompeo as well as the vice president,' Rep Adam Schiff (center) said at the top of the hearing
Additionally Giuliani pushed an unproven theory it was the Ukraine that hacked the Democratic National Committee's server in the 2016 election and made it look like Russia.
'Mr. Giuliani's requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President,' Sondland said.
He admitted that at a July 10 White House meeting with Ukrainian officials he mentioned the 'the prerequisites of investigations before any White House call or meeting.'
But he disputed accounts Bolton ended the meeting.
'Their recollections of those events simply don't square with my own or with those of Ambassador Volker or Secretary Perry,' he said.
'I recall mentioning the pre-requisite of investigations before any White House call or meeting. But I do not recall any yelling or screaming as others have said. Instead, after the meeting, Ambassador Bolton walked outside with the group, and we all took pictures together on the White House lawn,' he said.
Sondland testified that while he wasn't explicitly sure the nearly $400million in U.S. aid to the Ukraine was being held up in exchange for the investigations, he operated as if that were the case.
'I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer. In the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, as Mr. Giuliani had demanded,' he said.
'In the absence of any credible explanation for the hold, I came to the conclusion that the aid, like the White House visit, was jeopardized,' Sondland said. 'My belief was that if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention' to launch the investigations Trump wanted, 'then the hold on military aid would be lifted.'
He rejected testimony that he, Giuliani and Perry – nicknamed the 'three amigos' - were engaged in a 'shadow' foreign policy.
'We made every effort to ensure that the relevant decision makers at the National Security Council and State Department knew the important details of our efforts. The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false,' he said.
Sondland said he was not the July 25 phone call with Trump and Zelensky but heard it went 'well.' He said he only learned the details when the White House released the transcript in September.
But he did share details of a call he had with President Trump on July 26 in a restaurant in Kiev.
He said he did not remember the details but did not dispute witness accounts.
'Other witnesses have recently shared their recollection of overhearing this call. For the most part, I have no reason to doubt their accounts. It is true that the President speaks loudly at times.
'It is also true that we discussed A$AP Rocky. It is true that the President likes to use colorful language. While I cannot remember the precise details --again, the White House has not allowed me to see any readouts of that call - the July 26 call did not strike me as significant at the time.
'Actually, I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations,' he said, 'particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the President's 14 concerns. However, I have no recollection of discussing Vice President Biden or his son on that call or after the call ended.'
High-profile witness: Gordon Sondland is photographed before he begins his evidence to the House Intelligence Committee
Packed media presence: The bombshell Gordon Sondland evidence captured the attention of the press
Relaxed: Gordon Sondland was laughing and joking with his attorney Robert Luskin before the start of the hearing
Republican absence: At one point during Democratic questioning of Gordon Sondland most of the Republican side left the committee room
The many faces of Gordon Sondland: The EU ambassador - unlike other witnesses - left his poker face at home
Democratic mainstay: Daniel Goldman, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor, is now the Democratic side's director of investigations and questioned Gordon Sondland at length
Legal team: Gordon Sondland, who is a multi-millionaire, brought lawyers Daniel Holman, Kwame Manley, and James McDermott
Sondland faces questions on a report he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appraised of Ukraine pressure campaign. He implicated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and former National Security Adviser John Bolton (right)
Sondland testified that Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney knew about linking a Biden probe to Ukraine aid, saying 'everyone was in the loop'
Sondland made multiple statements that indicated he had no doubt Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who refused to testify, was in on the effort to link a White House meeting to investigations, and also included security assistance in an answer.
An August 22 letter began: 'Mike, Should we block time in Warsaw for a short pull-aside for Potus to meet Zelensky?'
Sondland wrote: 'I would ask Zelensky to look him in the eye and tell him that once Ukraine's new justice folks are in place (mid-Sept.) [Zelensky] should be able to move forward publicly and with confidence on those issues of importance to Potus and to the US. Hopefully that will break the logjam.'
Pompeo responded: 'Yes.'
The Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman asked Sondland: ' And when you're talking about here breaking the log jam, you're talking about the log jam over the security assistance, correct?'
'I was talking about the logjam because nothing was moving,' he responded.
'But that included the security assistance,' the lawyer followed.
'Correct,' he said.
'And based on the context of that e-mail, this was not the first time you had discussed these investigations with secretary Pompeo, was it?' Goldman followed up.
'No,' said Sondland.'
'He was aware of the connections that you were making between the investigations and the White House meeting and the security assistance?' the lawyer asked.
'Yes,' Sondland said.
'Did [Pompeo]ever take issue with you and say, no, that connection is not there? Or you're wrong?' Sondland was asked.
'Not that I recall,' he responded.
Republicans struggled to come up with a strategy inside the hearing room as Sondland made a series of revelations about his own determination that millions in congressionally appropriated security aid was being held up for an investigation he later connected to the Bidens. Sondland also cheerfully revealed he didn't take notes, but would benefit from documents he complained the State Department was withholding him – a complaint panel Democrats share.
Top Republican Devin Nunes left during a chunk of House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff's block of time to an anteroom during the hearing. Nunes directed many comments during his speaking time at Democrats and the Russia probe.
GOP counsel Steve Castor repeated ground he and Sondland had already covered during blocks of questioning time. Then, he decided not to use five minutes he had left shortly before lunch – after Nunes in Tuesday's hearing groused about how Schiff was controlling the time and fought for extra minutes.
'I'm really trying to finish up before I can yield some time back,' Castor said with five minutes on the clock.
Full picture: Gordon Sondland is sworn in ahead of a bombshell opening statement saying there was a 'quid pro quo'
Ready for action: Gordon Sondland gets ready to testify before the House Intelligence Committee
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee look at text messages being displayed on a screen while U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies
A quote from Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Zelensky is displayed on a monitor during Wednesday's hearing
Sondland's testimony repeatedly implicated other top officials in efforts to push Ukraine to get investigations.
Sondland described a meeting he was part of with Mike Pence when the vice president came to Warsaw in place of Trump, who stayed in the U.S. to deal with Hurricane Dorian. Pence met with Zelensky while in Poland.
'I was in a briefing with several people and I just spoke up and I said, it appears that everything is stalled until this statement gets made, something, words to that effect,' he said.
'The vice president nodded like you know he heard what I said and that was pretty much it as I recall,' he added.
Schiff pressed Sondland for more details, which the ambassador said he didn't remember and pointed out he did not get a readout of the Pence meeting.
'You knew, certainly they were concerned about the hold on the security assistance,' Schiff asked Sondland about the Ukrainians.
'They were concerned, obviously,' Sondland replied.
'And you wanted to help prepare the vice president for the meeting by letting him know what you thought was responsible for the hold on the security assistance?,' Schiff asked.
'That's fair,' Sondland agreed.
'Do you recall anything else the president, vice president said other than nodding his head when you made him aware of this fact?,' Schiff said.
'No, I don't have a readout of that meeting so I can't remember anything else,' Sondland said.
Vice President Mike Pence's office disputed Sondland's testimony that he spoke to Vice President Mike Pence during a group meeting that included the vice president during Pence's trip to Warsaw, where he met President Zelensky.
'He heard what I said. I don't recall any substantive response,' Sondland said of Pence, after Sondland says he himself said 'everything is stalled' on Ukraine.
In his prepared opening statement, Sondland implicated Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, saying: 'At all times, I was acting in good faith. As a presidential appointee, I followed the directions of the President'
Pence's office released a statement by chief of staff Mark Short after that portion of Sondland's testimony.
'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.
'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,' Short said. Sondland had said the conversation was part of a group discussion.
'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,' Short added.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham provided additional pushback following the president's public comments Wednesday.
'Ambassador Sondland's testimony made clear that in one of the few brief phone calls he had with President Trump, the President clearly stated that he 'wanted nothing' from Ukraine and repeated 'no quid pro quo over and over again' she said. 'In fact, no quid pro quo ever occurred. The U.S. aid to Ukraine flowed, no investigation was launched, and President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelensky. Democrats keep chasing ghosts,' Grisham said.
There were a few moments of levity Wednesday, including when Sondland described his overheard phone conversation.
Sondland, who says he never takes notes, recalled the conversation took place after he took U.S. diplomats and Ukrainians out to lunch in Kiev.
He didn't dispute others' testimony that they could hear the president, and confirmed other topics that came up, including rapper A$AP Rocky, which he said may have been the purpose of the call.
'I probably had my phone close to my ear,' he said, holding up his hand a few inches away.
He came close to confirming a diplomat's testimony that Sondland told President Trump that President Zelensky 'Loves your ass.'
'Yeah, that sounds like something I would say,' Sondland quipped, to chuckles in the hearing room. 'That's how President Trump and I communicate. A lot of four-letter words. In this case, three letters,' he said.
Sondland testified that he did not believe it was 'improper' for Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to be involved in foreign policy despite holding no formal role in the Trump administration
Sondland said he was not the July 25 phone call with Trump and Zelensky but heard it went 'well' and only learned the details when the White House released the transcript in September
Sondland is one of nine witnesses testifying this week in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump
Republican Congressman Jim Jordan (right) made a point during questioning about how Zelensky never announced an investigation into the Bidens
Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, one of President Trump's staunchest allies on Capitol Hill, used his question time to make a dramatic point about how Zelensky never announced an investigation into the Bidens.
'Ambassador, when did it happen?,' Jordan bellowed at Sondland.
'When did what happen?,' Sondland asked.
'The announcement,' Jordan thundered, his voice booming into the microphone. 'When did President Zelensky announce the investigation would happen?'
Jordan added: 'When the chairman asked you about the security assistance, you said needed to be a public announcement from Zelensky. Simple question, when did that happen?'
'Never did,' Sondland said.
'When did the meeting happen, again?,' Jordan asked.
'Never did,' Sondland repeated.
'You don't know who was in the meeting?,' Jordan said.
'Which meeting are you referring to?,' Sondland asked.
'The meeting that never happened,' Jordan boomed as Sondland chuckled.
Jordan, in a theatrical way, was emphasizing a Republican argument against the impeachment inquiry – that Zelensky never announced an investigation into the Bidens or the 2016 election yet Ukraine still received the U.S. aid money.
Democrats counter the aid money was released after it was revealed a whistleblower filed a complaint about comments President Trump made on his July 25 phone call with Zelensky – a complaint that triggered the impeachment inquiry.
Wednesday's hearing began with another blistering opening statement from House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff about the contours of the effort to get Ukraine to conduct investigations.
'The knowledge of this scheme was far and wide and include among others secretary of state Pompeo as well as the vice president,' Schiff said at the top of the hearing.
He blasted the State Department for withholding notes and call readouts, although Sondland cited new information in his opening statement.
Schiff said he can see why Pompeo and Trump 'have made a concerted and across the board effort and this impeachment inquiry.' But he said they 'do so at their own peril,' and cited the Nixon impeachment.
Ranking Republican Rep. Devin Nunes began by attacking Democrats for waging 'scorched earth political warfare.'
'Ambassador Sondland, you are here today to be smeared,' he told the witness.
He accused Democrats of 'selling this absurdity as an impeachable offense.'
'They know exactly what kind of damage they're inflicting on this nation, but they've passed the point of no return,' he said, bringing up earlier cautious statements by Speaker Nancy Pelosi on impeachment.
'They stoked a frenzy among their most fanatical supporters that they can no longer control,' he said.
Sondland cited a July 10 WhatsApp exchange to back up his concerns about what Giuliani was dong. Notably, the former New York City mayor uses much stronger language that President Trump does in his own call with Zelensky, where the president asks for a 'favor' – investigations.
Giuliani, operating in what prior witnesses called a separate unofficial channel, puts it as a demand.
The message went from Giuliani to Ambassador Bill Taylor about his communication with Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko.
'In WhatsApp messages with Ambassador Volker and I, Ambassador Taylor wrote to us as follows: 'Just had a meeting with Andriy and Vadym,' referring to Ukraine Foreign Minister Vadym Pristaiko,' Sondland said.
'Taylor said the Ukrainians were, quote: 'Very concerned about what Lutsenko told them — that, according to RG' – meaning Rudy Giuliani – 'the ZEPOTUS meeting will not happen.' Volker responded, 'Good grief. Please tell Vadym to let the official USG representatives speak for the U.S. [L]utsenko has his own self-interest here,' Sondland said.
During a short break, Schiff spoke to the media to say Sondland's testimony showed President Trump committed an impeachable offense. 'I think today's testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,' he said
Rep. Devin Nunes (left) blasted Schiff's comments when the hearing resumed after a five minute break, accusing the chairman of calling the break to hold a press conference
'We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President's orders,' Sondland testified
Sondland expressed his alarm that Giuliani was in contact with Ukrainians 'without our knowledge.
'Mr. Giuliani was communicating with the reportedly corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor Lutsenko and discussing whether a Zelensky-Trump meeting was going to happen, again without our knowledge' – he said, bringing up the key policy issue diplomats had been working on.
Then, he provided further information about Mike Pompeo.
He said with this 'alarming news,' Taylor briefed a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ulrich Brechbuehl.
'Even as late as September 24, Secretary Pompeo was directing Kurt Volker to speak with Rudy Giuliani. In a WhatsApp 12 message, Kurt Volker told me in part: 'Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S.' S means the Secretary of State,' he said.
Democratic committee lawyer Daniel Goldman tried to get Goldman to recall any specific instructions from Trump linking security aid to Burisma probes.
'President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from Guiliani was that Burisma and the 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting,' Sondland said.
'The aid was my own personal, you know, guess based again on your analogy two plus two equals four,' he said.
'I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement of investigations,' he said. 'I never heard those words.'
Earlier, Goldman had asked him how he concluded that the $400 million in aid being held up was linked to the probe.
'Is this kind of a 2 + 2= 4 conclusion that you reached?' Goldman asked him.
'Pretty much,' Sondland agreed.
As the hearing wore on Wednesday, a few Democratic panel members started to tear into the witness.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York told him: 'The president asked you about investigations, he was talking about the Bidens. When he asked you about the Bidens, the investigation who was he seeking to benefit?' Maloney questioned Sondland.
'Who would benefit from an investigation of the president's political opponent?' he repeated.
Sondland tried to avoid a direct answer, prompting tense pusch-back from Maloney.
'Who would benefit from an investigation of the Bidens?' he repeated.
'I assume President Trump would benefit,' Sondland finally responded.
'There we have it. See? Didn't hurt a bit,' Maloney said.
More than six hours after Sondland's appearance began, there were moments of levity. After being pushed on why he recalled some events but not others, Sondland replied: 'I remember the first girl I kissed.'
Conftonted with national security aide Tim Morrison referring to the 'Gordon Problem,' he responded: 'That's what my wife calls me. Maybe they're talking. Should I be worried?,' earning laughs from the crowd.
'Easy come, easy go,' he said after hearing Trump said he hardly knows him.
Sondland said under questioning he has spoken to Trump around 20 times.
When the hearing finally ended Schiff called it a 'seminal moment.'
He called Sondland's testimony 'deeply significant and troubling.'
'The question is, what are we prepared to do about it? Is there going to be any accountability… Are we prepared to say in the words of Mick Mulvaney, get over it, or get used to it. We are not prepared to say that.