Closed EU envoy implicates Trump in Ukraine coercion — as it happened

sondland

A live blog from FT.com


Who is Gordon Sondland?

Good morning from Capitol Hill in Washington, where all eyes will be on Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU who is now at the centre of the impeachment into Donald Trump.

Sondland, a former hotelier who donated $1m to Trump’s inauguration campaign, is the sixth witness to testify in a live, televised hearing. But he could be the most pivotal, as Democrats continue to build their case against the president.

Sondland is one of the few US officials with first-hand knowledge of the role that Trump played in Ukraine, and was instrumental in the effort to press Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Sondland’s hearing is due to start from 9am EST.


In focus: the role of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

One of the key questions Sondland will face today is whether he was freelancing, or acting in close co-ordination with senior figures at the State Department and the White House.

This morning, the New York Times reported that Sondland “kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo apprised of key developments”.

We’ll see after 9am whether Sondland’s testimony bears that out.


Donald Trump begins his counter-programming on Twitter

We’re about 20 minutes out from the start of today’s hearings, and Donald Trump is counter-programming in full force on Twitter.

In a flurry of tweets, he’s attacked Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, called the impeachment process an “attempted takedown of the Republican Party by the Do Nothing Democrats”, and reprised his impeachment catch-phrase: “Read the transcripts!”


What to watch for in today’s hearing

Sondland’s grilling is expected to last more than five hours. The questioners are likely to focus on three key events: a July 10 White House meeting, a July 26 phone call, and a September 1 meeting in Warsaw. You can read the FT’s full guide to today’s hearing, from me and the FT’s Washington bureau chief Demetri Sevastopulo, here.


Emoticon Sondland to testify that Trump and top aides knew of Ukraine scheme

Gordon Sondland’s prepared statement is out, and there’s one clear message. He says: “Everyone was in the loop”.

The US ambassador to the European Union is in effect coming out fighting against any attempts to portray him as a rogue or naive player, acting beyond his bounds.

He pulls in the State Department, the National Security Council, and the White House. The leadership of all three “were all informed about the Ukraine efforts from May 23, 2019, until the security aid was released on September 11, 2019”.

And he says he merely acted at the direction of Donald Trump himself.

As a presidential appointee, I followed the directions of the president. We worked with Mr Giuliani because the President directed us to do so. We had no desire to set any conditions on the Ukranians. Indeed, my personal view — which I shared repeatedly with others — was that the White House meeting and security assistance should have proceeded without pre-conditions of any kind.


Key points in Sondland’s prepared testimony

Sondland’s opening statement also gives a blunt answer to the question of whether there was a “quid pro quo”: He says: “The answer is yes”.

He then goes on to give his version of key events central to the impeachment enquiry.

The July 10th meeting at the White House with the national security advisor to Zelensky:

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.

The July 25th phone call between Trump and Zelensky:

Looking back, I find it very odd that neither I, nor Ambassador Taylor, nor Ambassador Volker ever received a detailed read-out of that call with the Biden references. Now, there are people who say they had concerns about that call. No one shared any concerns about the call with me at the time, when it would have been very helpful to know.

The July 26th phone call he had with Trump at a restaurant in Kyiv:

The call lasted five minutes … We did not discuss any classified information. 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, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the president’s concerns. However, I have no recollection of discussing vice-president Biden or his son on that call or after the call ended.

The September 1 Warsaw meeting where Sondland told the Ukrainians that an announcement about investigations would get them the $400m of held-up military aid:

During the actual meeting, President Zelensky raised the issue of security assistance directly with vice-president Pence. The vice-president said he would speak to President Trump about it. Based on my communications with Secretary Pompeo, I felt comfortable sharing my concerns with Mr Yermak. In a very brief pull-aside conversation, that happened within a few seconds, I told Mr Yermak that I believed that the resumption of US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.

Finally, Sondland also provides a series of emails between himself and senior figures including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. The final one is a September 4 email from Pompeo to Sondland:

“All good. You’re doing great work; keeping banging away.”


Sondland email ties in Pompeo

Sondland’s testimony puts more pressure on Pompeo, who was on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.

In an August 22 email, Sondland says to Pompeo:

Should we block time in Warsaw for a short pull-aside for Potus to meet Zelensky?

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) Ze 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 replies three minutes later:

Yes.

Elsewhere in his testimony, Sondland makes clear that those “issues of importance” were investigations into Burisma, which had ties to Joe Biden’s son, and the 2016 election. Trump believed that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in the election.

He also makes clear that the “logjam” was the hold up in military aid.


Adam Schiff calls Sondland a ‘skilled dealmaker’

Adam Schiff, the Democrat who chairs the House intelligence committee and is the de facto leader of the impeachment inquiry, is using his opening statement this morning to set out a timeline of Sondland’s involvement in Ukraine. Schiff called Sondland a “skilled dealmaker” who “found himself increasingly embroiled in an effort to press the new Ukrainian president that deviated sharply from the norm, in terms of both policy and process”.

You can read more about Schiff’s central role in the impeachment inquiry here.


Devin Nunes decries Democrat ‘impeachment circus’

Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee, is using his opening statement to accuse the Democrats of piling up yet more false “accusations and insinuations” against Trump.

He points out that Republicans have stood firm in opposing the impeachment hearings, and references past statements by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, that impeachment had to be bipartisan.

“Are those declarations suddenly no longer true? They know exactly what kind of damage they’re inflicting on this nation, but they’ve passed the point of no return.”

He tells Sondland: “You are here to today to be smeared. But you’ll make it through it.”


Schiff warns Pompeo and Trump on obstruction of justice

At the end of his prepared statement, Schiff added a warning to Pompeo and Trump, saying the committee “can see” why the two “have made such a concerted and across-the-board effort to obstruct this investigation and this impeachment inquiry”.

He added, “They do so at their own peril,” and warned that one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon was for his failure to comply with congressional subpoenas.


Sondland complains about lack of documents

The Trump administration has steadfastly refused to co-operate with the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, ordering, with mixed success, officials not to testify, and also withholding documents.

Sondland, who is delivering his opening statement now, says this has made the process “less than fair”.

I have not had access to all of my phone records, State Department emails, and other State Department documents. And I was told I could not work with my EU staff to pull together the relevant files. Having access to the State Department materials would have been very helpful to me in trying to reconstruct with whom I spoke and met, when, and what was said.

Sondland, still today working for Trump as the US ambassador to the EU, says he meets and talks to people all the time, making it difficult for him to remember exactly who he’s met and what he’s said.

My lawyers and I have made multiple requests to the State Department and the White House for these materials. Yet, these materials were not provided to me. They have also refused to share these materials with this committee. These documents are not classified and, in fairness, should have been made available.


I shared concerns about military aid hold-up with Ukraine, says Sondland

A key Republican defence in the impeachment inquiry has been that the Ukrainians did not know that the military aid was being withheld. How can you have a bribe, when one side doesn’t even know that it’s happening?

Sondland’s testimony just undermined that argument. He said that in July and August, he had learned that the White House has suspended aid to Ukraine.

The absence of a “credible explanation” for the freeze led him to believe it was linked to demands for a public statement by Ukraine of investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election, “as Mr. Giuliani had demanded”.

“I shared concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid with Senator Ron Johnson,” Sondland says.

“And I also shared my concerns with the Ukrainians.”


‘Talk with Rudy’

Sondland’s opening remarks portray himself as someone who was trying to build closer US-Ukraine ties, and whose efforts were blown off course, in part, by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.

He says that Trump had been “skeptical” about meeting with and speaking to Zelensky, who Sondland calls a “reformer”.

He expressed concerns that the Ukrainian government was not serious about reform. He even mentioned that Ukraine tried to take him down in the last election.

The idea that Ukraine had tried to take down Trump in the 2016 election is tied to the release of information about the Ukrainian work of Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign chair, by officials in the country in 2016.

(On Tuesday, Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, testified that Giuliani had been feeding Trump negative information about Ukraine.)

Sondland says Trump told him to “talk with Rudy”, which he took to mean to talk to Giuliani. (Volker testified he took it to mean nothing, that it was just some sort of figure of speech.)

Sondland:

Let me say again: We weren’t happy with the President’s directive to talk with Rudy. We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani. I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukraine matters.”

Sondland also testified that Giuliani was actively seeking a “quid pro quo”. Giuliani has said that all of his efforts to get the Ukrainians to announce investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election were intended to benefit Trump as his legal client.

Our colleagues Joshua Chaffin, Max Seddon and Roman Olearchyk covered the story of Giuliani’s activities back in September.


‘It is true that the president speaks loudly at times’

Last week, we found out that Sondland had a phone call with Trump on July 26, just one day after the call between Trump and Zelenksy that sparked the whistleblower complaint at the heart of the impeachment investigation. Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, said a staffer in the US embassy in Kyiv had told him he overheard the president pressuring the ambassador to secure “investigations” into the Bidens.

Today, Sondland spoke for the first time about the call, which he said lasted five minutes.

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.

A$AP Rocky is a rapper, whose real name is Rakim Myers. He was held in custody in Sweden and later found guilty of assault.

Sondland said he “cannot remember the precise details” of the call, but said it did not “strike [him] as significant at the time”.

Actually, I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr Giuliani about the president’s concerns. However, I have no recollection of discussing vice president Biden or his son on that call or after the call ended.


Sondland takes aim… at everyone

Sondland’s testimony implicates a wide range of senior Trump administration officials. He’s showing, through his recollections and his emails, that “everyone was in the loop”:

Pompeo: Sondland provides an August 11 email where he told an advisor to Pompeo that Zelensky was going to have a “big presser on the openness subject (including specifics)”. He says that was a reference to “the 2016 and the Burisma” investigations.

Bolton: Sondland says that in August Bolton’s office had requested Giuliani’s contact information before the former national security advisor’s trip to Kyiv. “I sent Ambassador Bolton the information directly,” he says.

Mulvaney: Sondland provides a July 19 email where he told Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff at the White House, and other senior officials ahead of Trump’s call with Zelensky that the Ukraine president would say on the call “he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone’”.


Emoticon Sondland confirms ‘quid pro quo’

Much of the debate surrounding Trump’s actions in Ukraine has centred on whether or not there was a “quid pro quo” arrangement, with a White House meeting and US military aid withheld until public investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 US presidential election were launched.

Most witnesses have avoided using the three-word phrase. But not Sondland. He told the committee today:

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”? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.


What did ‘Burisma’ mean?

The Ukrainian energy company is at the centre of the impeachment inquiry. Former vice president Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, was a board member at the company, despite having little relevant prior experience.

Sondland’s testimony is that he knew Trump wanted an announcement of a probe into Burisma by the Ukrainians, and that he knew that Trump was conditioning a White House meeting with Zelensky on that announcement.

But, Sondland says he didn’t know Burisma meant the Bidens.

“The Bidens did not come up,” he told Schiff, saying that the release of the transcript of the July 25 phone call made him realise that Trump wanted the Bidens investigated.

“I know exactly what it means [now], I didn’t know at the time,” Sondland says.

Kurt Volker took a similar stance on Tuesday. The former special envoy to Ukraine told the committee that he viewed a probe into Burisma, if it solely concerned Ukrainian nationals, as appropriate.

Our colleagues Aime Williams, Sun Yu and Roman Olearchyk wrote about Hunter Biden’s business interests in October.


The Trump airgap

A key goal for Democrats is to prove a direct and explicit link between the “quid pro quo” that several witnesses, including Sondland, have testified to, and Donald Trump.

They have the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, but so far they don’t have witnesses with direct knowledge confirming that Trump wanted an investigation into the Bidens. (In part, because the administration won’t let the most senior officials testify.)

Though Sondland has implicated senior Trump administration officials, he hasn’t made the connection to Trump and the Bidens.

He says that the quid pro quo in relation to the White House meeting was “expressed through Rudy Giulani,” declining Schiff’s attempt to pin it on Trump directly.

And he says he doesn’t recall Trump specifically mentioning “Biden” on the July 26 restaurant phone call in Kiev, declining to confirm testimony by an aide to the top US diplomat in Ukraine to that effect.


‘That sounds like something I would say’

Daniel Goldman, the Democratic counsel for the House intelligence committee, has used a lot of his questioning time so far to try and piece together what Sondland does and does not recall. If you remember, Sondland revised his closed-door deposition earlier this month, saying his “recollection” had been “refreshed” by reading about other witnesses’ testimony.

In one memorable exchange, Goldman asked about the July 26 phone call between Trump and Sondland, and whether Sondland had told Trump that Zelensky “loves your ass”.

Sondland replied, “That sounds like something I would say. That’s how President Trump and I communicate” — prompting laughter in the hearing room.


A public announcement was key, says Sondland

Goldman, the Democratic counsel, almost secured a major moment for the Democrats as he tried to wrangle out of Sondland why Trump wanted a public announcement from the Ukrainians that they were investigating Burisma and the 2016 election.

“I never heard, Mr Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed. The only thing I heard from Mr Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form and that form kept changing,” Sondland said.

It just had to be announced publicly, Sondland confirmed, but he didn’t agree when Goldman tried to pry a statement that the purpose of an announcement was the political impact back in the US.

“Well, the way it was expressed to me was that the Ukrainians had a long history of committing to things privately and never following through,” said Sondland.

“President Trump, expressed through Giuliani, wanted the Ukrainians on record publicly,” he added.


Sondland: I heard nothing about military aid

The Republicans have repeatedly argued that, to impeach Trump, Democrats need evidence about Trump, rather than testimony about what officials some distance from the president thought was going on.

Sondland isn’t giving them that.

“President Trump never told me directly that aid was conditioned on meetings,” he told Goldman. He repeated: “I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement of investigations.”

Sondland says he assumed that was the deal, but that it was his own calculus of the situation, not something he explicitly learned from the president.

Goldman pressed him on the point, noting that Sondland had talked directly to Trump.

“You still believed that the security assistance was conditioned on the investigations, after you spoke to President Trump?”

Sondland’s answer was less than compelling: “From a timeframe standpoint, yes.”


Recess: Schiff calls Sondland testimony ‘most significant to date’

During a break in testimony, Adam Schiff spoke to reporters in the corridors outside the committee hearing room, saying Sondland’s testimony was the “most significant to date” and “goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other high crimes and misdemeanors”.

We have heard for the first time that knowledge of this scheme was pervasive. The Secretary of State was aware of it. The chief of staff Mulvaney was aware of it. And, at the very top, Donald Trump, through his personal lawyer and others, was implementing it.

Schiff is not alone. Democrats across Capitol Hill clearly believe this morning’s testimony by Sondland is a turning point in the impeachment investigation. Nancy Pelosi just tweeted a video of his opening statement:

And it’s not just Democrats, either. Justin Amash, a onetime Republican congressman who split with the party over Trump’s behaviour and is now an independent, also took to Twitter to wonder how much more trouble Sondland could cause for the president.

There are even signs the Republicans inside the room are feeling uncomfortable. Devin Nunes, the top Republican at today’s hearing, was caught on video making an exasperated face as the committee recessed.

The White House is clearly annoyed about the reaction within the Beltway echo chamber. They accused Schiff of orchestrating the break to get Democratic messaging out.


Wrap-up: Sondland’s testimony so far

The initial phase of Sondland’s testimony is over. We’ve had his opening statement and questioning from Schiff, the Democratic House intel chairman, and Goldman, counsel for the Democrats. Next up, we’ll have the Republicans interrogating Sondland for 45 minutes.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

Everyone knew: Sondland has testified that there was no secret whatsoever within the highest levels of the Trump administration that the president wouldn’t meet with Zelensky until the Ukrainians announced probes into Burisma and the 2016 election. He confirmed that, yes, there was a “quid pro quo” with regard to the meeting.

The Ukrainians too: Sondland recounts several instances where the Ukrainians were told they needed to announce the investigations if they wanted a meeting at the White House. He went further and said, on the question of the military aid, he had expressed his concerns about the freeze directly to the Ukrainians.

Giuliani was in the driving seat: Sondland has confirmed testimony from prior witnesses that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, was effectively directing US policy on Ukraine as it pertained to setting up a White House meeting with Zelensky. He said he wasn’t happy about Giuliani’s role, but that he had to follow Trump’s orders to “talk with Rudy”

The Bidens didn’t come up: Sondland claims he doesn’t remember Trump ever specifically talking about the Bidens, and that his understanding of the Burisma investigation was that it was simply that: an investigation into Burisma itself, not into the former vice-president and his son, who was a Burisma board member.

Nor did the military aid: Sondland testified that, at the time, he understood the “quid pro quo” to relate to a meeting at the White House. He assumed that the freeze on the military aid was also designed to get the Ukrainians to announce the investigations, he said, but that Trump never told him that directly.


The White House weighs in

The White House is again using its official Twitter account to weigh in on the impeachment proceedings. On Tuesday, the account attacked Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a current staffer on the National Security Council, as he gave testimony.

This time, the target is the Democrats:

Devin Nunes issued a similar line as he opened his questioning of Sondland: “That was not a bathroom break, that was actually a chance for the Democrats to go out and hold a press conference.”


Emoticon Pence pushes back

Mike Pence’s office has rejected the suggestion that the US vice-president spoke with Sondland about investigations. Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, just issued this statement, which contradicts Sondland’s repeated claims that “everyone was in the loop”.

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.

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.


No direct order from Trump, Sondland testifies

Republicans are zeroing in on the question of whether Sondland ever had a direct order or conversation with Trump about a White House meeting or military aid being conditioned on Ukraine announcing investigations.

Steve Castor, counsel for the Republicans, asked Sondland: “Did the president ever tell you personally about any preconditions about anything?”

No, said Sondland.

“The president never told you about any preconditions for a White House meeting?”

“Personally, no,” said Sondland.

But Sondland also noted that he was getting direction from Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, who he assumed was acting on the president’s orders.

“How did you know that? Who told you?” Castor pressed him.

“Well, when the president says talk to my personal attorney, and then Giuliani as his personal attorney makes certain requests or demands, you assume it’s coming from the president,” said Sondland.

Sondland later noted that he would find it easier to answer the questions if he had access to his State Department records, which the administration has blocked, and he repeated his line that he understood the military aid to be conditioned on the announcements because “2 + 2 = 4”.


Rudy Giuliani claims ‘no bribery’

It appears that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is watching the hearing along with the rest of us. He’s latched onto Sondland’s midday testimony that Trump told him explicitly in July that there should be no quid pro quo — that a White House meeting was not contingent on Kyiv opening investigations into Trump political rivals.

Although Sondland has testified to this conversation before, the rest of his morning appearance was far less supportive of Giuliani’s case. He repeatedly testified there was, indeed, a campaign to pressure the Ukrainian government in exchange for a White House meeting.


Emoticon Trump distances himself from Sondland

Sondland, a hotelier from Oregon, gave $1m to Trump’s inauguration committee. But the US president told reporters at the White House today that he doesn’t know Sondland “well”.

Reading from notes — a rare move for the president, who prefers to speak extemporaneously — Trump said of Sondland: “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.”

It was a marked change in tone for Trump, who just last month described Sondland as a “really good man and great American”.

Trump also read from Sondland’s testimony, quoting where the ambassador said the president told him there was no “quid pro quo”.

“That means it’s all over,” Trump told reporters, adding: “This is the final word from the president of the United States. I want nothing.”


The why and how of the military aid freeze

The question of why congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine was frozen has been the toughest nut for the Democrats so far. They’re yet to have public testimony from within the Office of Management and Budget about why exactly the money was held up.

(A staffer gave a closed door deposition at the weekend that the events were unusual, but that he didn’t know for sure why the freeze occurred.)

Sondland tells Castor that he doesn’t have direct insight on the matter because whenever he asked about it, “I was never given a straight answer about why it was put in place to begin with”.


The irregular channel

The top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, has previously testified that there was a regular channel of diplomacy on Ukrainian matters via himself, and an irregular channel that included Sondland, other administration officials, and Giuliani.

Sondland just pushed back against that characterization:

“I’m not sure how someone could characterize something as an irregular channel” when it includes senior administration officials, he told Castor. He suggested that Taylor and others may have been “aggrieved” at not being included in the discussions.

“I don’t know how they can consider us to be the irregular channel and they to be the regular channel when it’s the leadership that makes the decisions,” he said.


‘No-one raised the alarm’, says Sondland

One of the most memorable lines of the impeachment so far is a comment from John Bolton, the former national security advisor, that he wanted no part of the “drug deal” that Sondland and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, were “cooking up”.

Sondland has testified today that he was “shocked” to hear that Bolton had viewed the events in that way. He told the committee that he was unaware that there was alarm about the developments with Ukraine, or about the ‘irregular’ channel he was involved in.

“Everyone’s hair was on fire, but no-one decided to talk to us,” he said.


Sondland: Mulvaney tied aid to investigations

Sondland has testified that he assumed the military aid was held up because the Ukrainians had not announced the investigations. Earlier, he admitted that he didn’t know that for sure.

But he also told Schiff that Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, had basically said the aid was tied to the investigations at an October press conference

Sondland: “He was in a position to say it was or not it wasn’t”.

Schiff: “And he said, ‘yes it was’?”

Sondland: “He said, ‘yes it was’”.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Sondland was recounting a conversation with Mulvaney.


Giuliani says Sondland is speculating

The president’s attorney Rudy Giuliani is continuing to defend himself on Twitter, accusing Sondland of “speculating based on VERY little contact”.

“I never met with him and had very few calls with him, mostly with Volker,” he added, in a reference to former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who testified yesterday.


Just tell Zelensky to do the right thing’

Sondland has given the president’s defenders some ammunition in his account of a phone call with Trump on September 9.

He said he asked the president: “What do you want from Ukraine?”

The reply, Sondland testified, was: “I want no quid pro quo, just tell Zelensky to do the right thing”.

The testimony was picked up by Trump in his comments outside the White House.

Elsewhere, Sondland has testified that Trump cared little for Ukraine itself and was primarily interested in securing investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election.

But he has claimed that he never knew Trump wanted a probe into the Bidens, nor does he recall Trump ever mentioning the Bidens, as others have testified.


Emoticon Pompeo declines to respond to Sondland testimony

Mike Pompeo, who is in Brussels for a summit of Nato foreign ministers, just appeared before reporters at the end of today’s session, the FT’s Brussels correspondent Michael Peel reports.

But the US secretary of state brushed aside a question from a journalist seeking his response to Sondland’s testimony, which claimed Pompeo was directly involved in the White House effort to coerce Kyiv into investigating Trump rivals.

“I didn’t see a single thing as I was working — it sounds you like might not have been,” Pompeo retorted at the press conference. “I was in meetings all day and haven’t had a chance to see any of that testimony.”

Pompeo remained defiant when second reporter asked if it was true there was a “clear quid pro quo over Ukraine, and that everyone was in the loop, including you”. The second reporter also asked whether Pompeo should consider recusing himself from decisions involving documents provided to Congress on Ukraine.

I didn’t see the testimony. I’m not going to recuse myself from this. I know precisely what American policy was with respect to Ukraine — I was working on it. And I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished. We delivered remarkable outcomes for the Ukrainian people. And I hope that we’re able to continue to do so. We got them the defensive systems they needed, we got them the resources. The previous administration refused to do that. And I’m proud, I’m proud, that President Trump led that effort to get our policy on Ukraine right. We not only planned for, we not only laid out a plan for, but we executed and delivered on it. We’ll continue to do that. Our focus at the state department is on making sure that we get our policy right, executed flawlessly and deliver security on behalf of the American people. We’ve done it for my first year and a half. I intend to do it every single day and I’m counting on my team to remain focused on that as well.


Wrap-up: The morning session

The intelligence committee has broken for lunch. When the hearing resumes, we’ll have questions from each of the representatives on the committee in rapid-fire 5-minute rounds.

The second half of the morning was filled with fewer revelations than the start, as the Democrats sought to coax Sondland to tie in Trump directly, and Republicans tried to tear down parts of his testimony that were damaging.

The aid: Sondland testified that he was never “given a straight answer” about the hold-up in the military aid, and that the only obvious explanation at the time was a link to the demands that Ukraine open investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election. But he readily admitted under fire from Republicans that his view was a “presumption”.

Trump’s words: Sondland said he didn’t remember Trump mentioning Biden or explicitly tying the White House meeting to the Ukrainian announcements. He only later realised Trump had wanted a probe into Biden, he told the committee. He also recounted a September 9 phone call with Trump where the president said he only wanted “Zelensky to do the right thing”.

Irregular channel: Sondland pushed back on the idea that he was part of an “irregular” channel to the Ukrainians, as others have testified, saying he was working with senior administration officials. He said nobody at the time complained to him that something untoward going on. “Everyone’s hair was on fire, but no-one decided to talk to us.”


White House continues to deny quid pro quo

The next stage of today’s hearing is about to begin, and Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, is once again pushing back on the suggestion of any “quid pro quo”, saying in a statement:

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”. In fact, no quid pro quo ever occurred. The US aid to Ukraine flowed, no investigation was launched, and President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelensky. Democrats keep chasing ghosts.

Earlier, Sondland said there was a quid pro quo when it came to the withholding of a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky. He also said he concluded that the release of US military aid was conditional on public investigations, saying “2 + 2 = 4”.


Sondland returns

We’re back from lunch, with Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence committee, re-focussing attention on to the most damaging portions of Sondland’s testimony.

He got Sondland to confirm that there were discussions with the Ukrainians over the exact wording of a statement about investigations they would have to make in order to get a White House meeting.

He got a confirmation that Sondland had put “two and two together” and figured out that the military aid had been held up in order to secure the statement.

He got a statement from Sondland that Zelenksy had directly asked Pence about the military aid at a September meeting in Warsaw.

“Zelensky, if I recall, asked the question [in an open ended way] like ‘when do we get our money?’ said Sondland.

And he extracted a confirmation that the Ukrainians understood that the military aid was part of the deal.

“We’ve had a lot of argumentation here, ‘well the Ukrainians didn’t know the aid was withheld’, well the Ukrainians found out and it was made abundantly clear, if they hadn’t put two and two together, if they wanted the aid they ere going to have to make these statements, correct?” said Schiff.

“Correct,” said Sondland.


Turmoil in the ranks

The Republican defence today is getting some criticism, from none other than Trump’s own lawyer, Rudy Giuliani:


Members of Congress begin questioning

We’re now at the stage where members of Congress are questioning Sondland in five-minute intervals. Jim Himes, the Democratic congressman from Connecticut, used most of his time to talk about the July 26 phone call between Sondland and Trump, insisting that given the call took place on a cell phone, US intelligence would likely be able to obtain an eventual transcript.

“Our people are pretty good, and we’re going to see this transcript.”

He was followed by Jim Jordan, the Ohio congressman who Republicans only recently brought on to the intelligence committee for these hearings. In a loud, rapid-fire exchange Jordan insisted that there was no “2+2″ but “0 for 3″ because the US aid to Ukraine was released without the announcement of any investigations.


More Republicans attack Sondland’s credibility

Mike Turner, another Republican congressman from Ohio, used his time for some of the most aggressive questioning of Sondland yet, attacking the ambassador’s credibility and saying: “Not only are your answers somewhat circular, frequently you have contradicted yourself in your own answer.”

Sondland insisted that he was “presuming” that US aid to Ukraine was tied to the public announcement of investigations, but Turner replied: “Hearsay is when I testify what somebody else told me…Made up testimony is when I just presume it.”

Turner is not the first Republican to question Sondland’s memory or trustworthiness as a witness. Many have called him out for not including a September 9 conversation with Trump in his opening statement, in which the president said he wanted “nothing” from Ukraine.


Trump tweets again

Trump has weighed in again as Sondland is testifying, amplifying their September 9 call where Sondland says the president told him he wanted “nothing”.

The call has become a key talking point for Republicans, who see it as their strongest line from Sondland’s testimony.

Earlier, Schiff sought to knock the defence down, pointing out that the call occured just as Congress began to learn about a complaint by the whistleblower who alerted the world to the alleged scheme.

Schiff also noted that Zelensky has still never had a meeting at the White House.

“They made no statement, they got no meeting,” he said.


More applause in the committee room

Once again, members of the public have broken into spontaneous applause in the committee room.

This doesn’t happen often — but last week former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was applauded when she left the room, and yesterday, there were claps for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, as he recalled his family’s story of immigrating from the former Soviet Union to the US when he was a child.

Today, members of the public applauded for a zinger — as Jackie Speier, the congresswoman from California, snapped back at her Republican colleagues who had quoted a Washington Post article giving Adam Schiff “three Pinocchios” for statements about the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry.

“The president of the United States has ‘five Pinocchios’ on a daily basis. So let’s not go there,” Ms Speier said.


Sondland hearing runs on

Gordon Sondland has now been in the chair for coming on six hours, including the brief breaks we’ve had. A follow-up hearing with two other witnesses was scheduled for 2:30, but the questioning of Sondland has shot past that by 15 minutes already and we’ve got a fair way to go with questions from representatives.

Unclear now what time Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs, and David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Department of State, will give their testimony.


Sondland defends the quid pro quo

One of the key bits of testimony Sondland has provided Democrats today is a confirmation that there was indeed a “quid pro quo”, specifically in relation to a White House meeting that the Ukrainians wanted.

He has testified that Rudy Giuliani, who Trump directed him to work with, had conditioned the meeting on an announcement of two investigations: into Burisma and the 2016 election.

In an exchange with Eric Swalwell, the Democrat from California, Sondland tried to frame that quid pro quo as ordinary practice.

“To be candid, every meeting at the White House has conditions placed on it,” said Sondland.

Swalwell pressed him to admit that it would be wrong for a president to condition a White House meeting on an investigation of a political rival.

“A political opponent, yes, but making announcements, or investigations per se, no,” said Sondland.


Democrats raise comments of White House chief of staff

Joaquin Castro, Democrat from Texas, used his time to press Sondland on comments from Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, at an October press conference.

Mulvaney had said that the military aid was withheld to obtain an announcement of investigations, before attempting to claim he was misunderstood, and then declared politics would always be part of foreign policy. “Get over it,” he told reporters.

Did he agree, Castro asked Sondland.

“I think there’s a big difference between political influence and investigating a rival, because politics enters into everything in foreign policy,” said Sondland.

Castro pressed him. Was it ok for a president to investigate political rivals, and to ask a foreign power to do those investigations?

“In the context of what was going on in Ukraine, I believed the president should not investigate a political rival in return for a quid pro quo,” said Sondland.


US energy department joins Pence in disputing Sondland’s account

Republicans have asked for both the denial from Mike Pence’s office and a statement from the US department of energy to be added to the official record of today’s proceedings. We mentioned the Pence office statement earlier, but here is what department of energy press secretary Shaylyn Hynes had to say earlier regarding her boss, Rick Perry:

Ambassador Sondland’s testimony today misrepresented both Secretary Perry’s interaction with Rudy Giuliani and direction the secretary received from President Trump. As previously stated, Secretary Perry spoke to Rudy Giuliani only once at the President’s request. No one else was on that call. At no point before, during or after that phone call did the words ‘Biden’ or ‘Burisma’ ever come up in the presence of Secretary Perry.


Trump fundraising off the back of hearings

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has continued to seek support from donors off the back of the impeachment hearings. Today supporters were texted:

Pres Trump: We CRUSHED our 100K donor goal. Now let’s end this Impeachment Scam.

Similar texts from the lasts few days have lambasted the “impeachment HOAX!” and called the hearings a “total SCAM against Pres Trump”.

Separately, today, the president’s younger son, Eric Trump, used the hearing to encourage people to buy a bottle of the Trump family’s wine, saying on Twitter: “It is a perfect day for a nice bottle of this. These people are — insane…. @trumpwinery”


Sondland’s regret at Ukraine controversy

Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, tried a different tack with Sondland, asking him to talk about the whether he felt “betrayed” by Trump’s actions.

Sondland dodged the question, but talked about his regret about how things turned out after Ukraine elected a reformist president this year, Zelensky, who has taken steps to clean up the country’s crippling corruption.

“I would have preferred that, and I’m sure everyone would have preferred, that the president simply met with the [Ukrainian] president right away,” said Sondland.

“Our assessment of Mr Zelensky was that he and the president would get on famously. He was smart, he was funny, he was charming. He was the kind of person the president would like. And once the two of them got together, we thought he chemistry would take over and good things would happen between [the] US and Ukraine.”

Sondland added that it was therefore “unfortunate” that Trump had put conditions on the meeting.


Democrat Sean Maloney lays into Sondland

We’re nearing the end of today’s Sondland hearing, but lawmakers haven’t lost any intensity in their questioning. Sean Maloney, the Democratic congressman from New York, had a particularly fiery exchange with the ambassador, at one point saying to him: “Sir, I appreciate your candor, but let’s remember what it took to get you here.”

(Sondland did not appear at his initial hearing date before the committee, but returned for a closed-door deposition under subpoena. Today is his third appearance before House investigators.)

Maloney also asked Sondland repeatedly about whether Trump would benefit from an investigation into the Bidens.

Sondland eventually replied: “I assume President Trump would.”

“There we have it!” Maloney replied. “Did hurt a bit, did it?”


Easy come, easy go

Sondland’s hearing is all but over. Towards the end, Sondland loosened up and started cracking jokes. He got a laugh from the room when Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat from Illinois, asked him about Trump saying that Sondland was a “great American” and then later that he “hardly” knew Sondland.

“Easy come, easy go,” Sondland said.


Schiff adjourns Sondland hearing

Nearly seven hours after the hearing began, Adam Schiff has called the session to a close and Gordon Sondland is on his way to the airport. Like Friday’s hearing with Marie Yovanovitch, this one ended with a standing ovation from the members of the public — a rarity in congressional hearings.

We are expecting a second hearing to start in a little over an hour, with Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs, and David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs at the state department, appearing before the committee. For political junkies, it will be a full night — the Democratic National Committee’s next televised debate starts at 9pm EST.


Emoticon Pompeo’s spokesperson denies Sondland’s testimony

Although Mike Pompeo at a Nato press conference declined to respond to Sondland’s claims — and email evidence — that he was directly involved in White House efforts to coerce Kyiv to announce investigations into Trump rivals, his spokesperson is now out with a carefully-worded denial.

Morgan Ortagus has written on Twitter that Sondland “never told Secretary Pompeo” that Trump was linking Ukrainian military aid to the opening of investigations against the Bidens and the 2016 election campaign.

In his opening statement, Sondland said he told the Ukrainian government the two things were linked “based on my communications with Secretary Pompeo”. In addition, an email Sondland released along with his testimony showed Pompeo approving a “short pull-aside” for Sondland to tell the new Ukrainian president that the quid pro quo existed.


And that’s a wrap: the main take-aways

That’s it for the most highly anticipated testimony so far of the House impeachment inquiry. Here are some key takeaways from Sondland’s star turn:

• Sondland made very clear that there was a quid pro quo — tying an Oval Office meeting the Ukrainians desperately wanted with investigations into a company linked to Hunter Biden and 2016 election that Trump was seeking.

• Sondland said “everyone was in the loop” on the plan to pressure Ukraine into launching the investigations Trump sought — from Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to Trump himself, acting frequently through his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

• What does Trump have to say about all of this? He has been repeating his talking points — also helpfully spelled out on a notebook glimpsed by reporters at a press gaggle earlier — all day: “I WANT NOTHING! I WANT NOTHING!”

• Pompeo has come under particular scrutiny, after Sondland said he was personally involved in pressing for the investigations that Trump wanted. The secretary of state, who spoke earlier at a summit of Nato foreign ministers, has flatly denied seeking any politically motivated investigations. Rick Perry, energy secretary, also put out a public statement disputing Sondland’s version of events.

• Both Democrats and Republicans scored some points throughout the long day. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee, said Sondland pulled back the curtain on how the Ukraine pressure campaign was directed at the highest levels of the White House inner circle. Republicans, who seemed taken aback for the first part of the day, found their footing in the final hours, going after Sondland’s credibility.