Ambassador Gordon Sondland delivered complex and convoluted impeachment testimony on Wednesday about his involvement in President Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal. He gave detailed evidence recounting the president and the rest of the administration’s involvement in his effort to get Ukraine to launch investigations of Trump’s political opponents — including by leveraging a potential White House meeting and a hold on military aid.
But he also, to the Republicans’ delight, left some ambiguity about how much Trump had been involved in the effort to leverage the aid, saying that he had “presumed” Ukraine’s announcement of the investigations would release the hold. And he noted that, in one phone call the president — as the scheme was slowly being uncovered — Trump angrily denied there was a quid pro quo.
Republican counsel Stephen Castor, serving for the minority party on the House Intelligence Committee, tried to exploit this apparent distance between Sondland’s push and the president as a defense against impeachment. But at two points in his questioning, he made a key cross-examination error: he asked questions he didn’t know the answer to.
The answers he got were not good for Trump’s case.
First, he tried to suggest that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer who worked with Sondland and others in the State Department on the Ukraine pressure campaign, may not have actually been representing the president’s interests. If this were true, it might have placed greater distance between Trump and the apparent bribery scheme.
“You testified that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president, correct?” Castor asked.
“That’s our understanding,” Sondland replied.
“But how did you know that?” pressed Castor. “Who told you?”
“Well,” began Sondland, “when the president says, ‘Talk to my personal attorney,’ and then Mr. Giuliani — as his personal attorney — makes certain requests or demands, we assume it’s coming from the president.”
CASTOR: You testified that Giuliani was expressing the desires of POTUS, correct?
CASTOR: But how did you know that?
SONDLAND: Well, when POTUS says, 'talk to my personal attorney,' we assume it's coming from the president pic.twitter.com/oMRNzwdyp2
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 20, 2019
Then, when Sondland was discussing his conversation with Trump, he recounted the president saying: “‘I want nothing! I want no quid pro quo! I just want Zelensky to do the right thing, to do what he ran on,’ or words to that effect.”
“And you believed, the president, correct?” Castor asked.
Then Sondland, who wasn’t hesitant to speculate or draw conclusions when it suited him, replied: “You know what? I’m not going to characterize whether I believed or didn’t believe. I was just trying to characterize what he said on the phone.”
Sort of an amazing moment here, where Sondland declines to say that he actually believed Trump when Trump said "I want nothing!"
And who could blame him! pic.twitter.com/PomrJUrr4l
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) November 20, 2019
The most plausible inference from that claim is that Sondland wasn’t buying Trump’s spin.
Maddow reports on ‘a tide of major newspaper editorials’ drowning Trump’s impeachment defenses
On Thursday, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted the sheer volume of editorial boards from newspapers across America calling for President Donald Trump's impeachment and removal from office.
"The editorials that Steve Cohen introduced into the record there that Doug Collins from Georgia said he wanted to read and Steve Cohen said 'I'd love for you to read them,' they're part of a tide of major newspaper editorials that have come out all of a sudden in the last few days in favor of impeachment," said Maddow. "USA TODAY's editorial board saying, quote, 'Until recently we believed impeachment proceedings would be unhealthy for an already polarized nation, rather than simply leaving Trump's fate up to voters next November. But Trump's egregious transgressions and stonewalling in his thuggish effort to trade American arms for foreign dirt on Joe Biden resembled Richard Nixon. It's precisely the type of misconduct the framers had in mind when they wrote impeachment into the Constitution."
‘People died in Ukraine’: Democrat lectures Doug Collins for Trump’s abuse of power costing lives
During Thursday's impeachment hearing, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) laid bare the human cost of President Donald Trump's decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine to force them to hunt for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden's family — something that ranking member Doug Collins (R-GA) spent the previous day denying.
"In my colleague's efforts to defend this president, you want him to be someone he's not. You want him to be someone he is telling you he is not," said Swalwell. "You're trying to defend the call in so many different ways, and he's saying, guys, it was a perfect call. He's not who you want him to be. And let me tell you how selfish his acts were. And ranking member Collins, you can deny this as much as you want. People died in Ukraine at the hands of Russia," said Swalwell. "In Ukraine, since September 2018 when it was voted on by Congress, was counting on our support. One year passed and people died. And you may not want to think about that, it may be hard for you to think about that, but they died when the selfish, selfish president withheld the aid for his own personal gain."
Trump administration heavily redacted documents concerning their withholding of Ukraine aid
The Trump administration has refused to disclose how key officials at the Department of Defense and the White House Office of Management and Budget reacted to President Trump’s decision to halt military aid to Ukraine.
On Nov. 25, federal district court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the administration to produce records reflecting what these officials said to one another about the legality and appropriateness of Trump’s order. The Center for Public Integrity sought the information in Freedom of Information Act requests filed in late September.