Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified Wednesday morning before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about his part in the alleged plan to get Ukraine officials to promise to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son in exchange for the release of millions of dollars of military aid.
Sondland was expected to explain why he testified in a closed-door House hearing that he had not told Ukrainian officials that the military aid was dependent on investigations into the Bidens and election interference in the 2016 presidential election. Sondland revised that testimony earlier this month saying he remembered telling a Ukrainian official that the military aid was "likely" dependent on the country announcing the investigations.
David Hale, the undersecretary of State for political affairs and Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs, were scheduled to testify later Wednesday.
Switching live coverage
7 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Editor’s Note: Live coverage has pivoted to the Democratic debate for the night. For the remainder of tonight's impeachment inquiry hearing, click here.
The president put the hold on aid
6:35 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: An Office of Management and Budget official told Hale that Trump had directed, though the acting chief of staff, to put a hold on the military aid.
Do holds on aid happen?
6:29 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Is a hold on foreign aid normal? Not necessarily, Hale says, but “It is certainly an occurrence. It does occur,” he said. Is it unusual to place a hold on military aid to leverage another country to investigate a political opponent?
“It’s certainly not what I would do,” Hale said.
Two surprise emails
6:20 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Cooper in her opening statement says she’s learned of the existence of two emails sent on July 25, two hours apart. One showed the Ukrainian embassy “asking about the security assistance,” and the second one showed that the “Hill knows about the [aid freeze] situation.” Schiff says the emails indicate that the Ukrainians knew about the aid freeze possibly before the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky.
A change of procedure
6:10 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Schiff announces that the first round of counsel questioning will be skipped tonight, and the committee will go straight to five-minute member questioning.
Nunes complained that this is a surprise to the Republicans who said they did not get adequate notice. Schiff said they were notified last night. Nunes complained because Hale is a witness they requested to be called.
5:55 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Hale is the first witness who does not have a prepared opening statement. Cooper is giving her statement now.
The second hearing of the day is beginning
5:40 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: The hearing with David Hale, the undersecretary of State for political affairs and Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs, is beginning. Schiff and Nunes are giving their opening statements. Nunes is listing people who have not been called to testify. The whistleblower is the first he mentions. Hunter Biden is the second.
The hearing is ending
3:30 p.m ET Nov. 20, 2019: Nunes is giving his closing statement, basically refuting the Democrats talking points. Schiff says the evidence is significant but troubling. Schiff is now reading parts of Sondland's opening statement.
The committee will take a break and then begin the second hearing.
‘What it took to get it out of you’
3:08 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Maloney and Sondland have a pointed exchange.
Maloney: Who would benefit from an investigation of the Bidens?
Sondland: I assume President Trump.
Maloney: There it is!
Sondland: "I really resent what you’re trying to do."
Maloney: "All due respect sir, we respect your candor, but let’s be really clear what it took to get it out of you.”
2:55 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Joaquin Castro plays a clip from a press conference by White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in which he said military aid to Ukraine was on hold to get “investigations.” Castro asks if it’s appropriate for the president to ask a foreign country to investigate a political opponent.
“The president should not investigate a political rival in return for a quid pro quo,” Sondland said
Rep. Eric Swalwell asks Sondland if he knows Trump well.
2:35 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland says, “It really depends on what you mean by know well. We are not close friends. We have a professional, cordial working relationship.” He asks him if he gave him $1 million for his inauguration. “I bought a VVIP ticket to the inauguration,” Sondland said. “That’s a lot of money, right?” Swalwell asks. “That’s a lot of money,” Sondland says.
2:20 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, argue about a story in the Washington Post about Schiff’s contention that the whistleblower is entitled to anonymity. The Post gave Schiff three “Pinocchios” for misleading facts, Conaway points out. Speier says, “The president of the United States has five Pinnochios on a daily basis so let’s not go there.” The public audience claps.
Giuliani goes after Volker, Castor
2 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: In two tweets, Giuliani states his opinion on the testimony.
Quid pro quo and who said what
1:50 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, asks Sondland about his conversations with Trump about Ukraine. He says what he talked about was the only first-hand evidence that matters. He points out that there were only three or four conversations and in the main one, he said he wanted no quid pro quo.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, asks Sondland what Giuliani told him to establish that Giuliani was speaking for Trump. Sondland says it wasn’t Giuliani but Volker who told him that Giuliani spoke for Trump.
1:40 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: The hearing has resumed.
1:12 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: They have recessed for lunch.
Not interested in the Bidens
12:40 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: As Castor continues to challenge Sondland on his recollections, Sondland said he “wasn’t into investigating the Bidens.”
He said “It was very surprising to me” when he realized that Trump wanted that.
Is he now aware of the investigations
12:17 p.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: During the second extended questioning period, Democratic counsel Goldman asks if Sondland is now aware that Trump wanted the Biden investigation and a 2016 election investigation. Sondland says, “That’s correct.”
Sondland says several times that he never heard the president say that the military aid was tied to an announcement of investigations.
Goldman also asks Sondland about text messages and emails that Pompeo was in on the plan to demand a quid pro quo from the Ukrainians. Sondland says he did send the text messages and emails and that Pompeo was informed about the quid pro quo.
FBI wants to interview the whistleblower
11:50 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Yahoo News is reporting that the FBI has asked to interview the whistleblower who filed the complaint about the President’s July 25 call.
No ‘irregular' channel’
11:45 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland rejects the idea of an “irregular channel” of US-Ukraine policy.
“I don’t see how, when you’re talking to the president of the United States, the secretary of state, the national security adviser, the chief of staff in the White House, the secretary of energy – if a bunch of folks who are not in that channel are aggrieved for not being included, I don’t know why they consider us to be the irregular channel and they the regular channel, when it’s the leadership that makes the decisions.”
Castor then suggests that Sondland’s memory isn’t the greatest since he didn’t take notes, calling his responses a “trifecta” of unreliability. Sondland said he could better answer questions if he had his notes.
Pence denies Sondland's claims
11:35 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Vice President Mike Pence’s office says Sondland never talked to the vice president in Warsaw as he testified to today. From Pence chief of staff Marc Short, per Maggie Haberman of the New York Times:
"Marc Short responds to Sondland: “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...” 1/
“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...” 2/
“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”
Nunes begins questioning
11:30 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Nunes asks Sondland if he knew about Alexandra Chalupa and her work to get opposition information on Donald Trump. No, Sondland says. Nunes also asks about Ukrainian officials slamming Trump during the 2016 election. He says it should make it easier to understand why Trump was wary of the Ukrainians. We want to know who the Democratic operatives who “dirtied up” the Trump campaign are, Nunes says. “They (the Democrats) can’t get over” that he (Trump) would send his personal attorney over there (Ukraine) to find out about it.”
What did Pence say
11:06 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland said Pence expressed no surprise at the statement nor ignorance of the situation. Goldman asks him about Pence, “He didn’t say, Gordon what are you talking about?”
“No,” Sondland said.
Goldman: “He didn’t say, Gordon, what investigations?”
“He did not,” Sondland said.
A short recess
11:04 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: The hearing has recessed for a short break.
Trump didn’t tell him anything about military aid
10:59 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland continually says that Trump never spoke to him about the holdup of military aid. “Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on an announcement of investigations.” He said that eventually he "presumed" the aid and investigations were linked.
The phone call in Ukraine; ‘he loves you’re a—'
10:40 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland tells Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman that he probably said Trump “doesn’t give a s--t about Ukraine” but denies that he said Trump only cares about the “big stuff.”
‘I don’t think I would have said that. I would have honestly said that he’s not a big fan of Ukraine, and he wants the investigations that we have been talking about for quite some time to move forward.
Sondland also said he likely told Trump on phone call at a Kyiv restaurant that Zelensky “loves your a--, he’ll do whatever you want.”
As the audience laughs, Sondland says, “That sounds like something I would say. That’s how Trump and I communicate. A lot of four-letter words. In this case three letters.”
He said he spoke with Pence
10:30 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: From his opening statement, Sondland says he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence about the quid pro quo. According to Sondland, "I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations."
‘Biden didn’t come up’
10:25 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland says he didn’t know that the Biden’s were linked at all with Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company. “Biden did not come up,” Sondland said of his first hearing of the desire for an investigation. “Today I know exactly what it means. I didn’t know at the time.”
Schiff asks Sondland to describe the “continuum of insidiousness.”
An email about the investigation
10:06 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland is reading an email that the State Department that the department has been refusing to turn over to the committee.
Within my State Department emails, there is a July 19 email that I sent to Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Perry, Brian McCormack (Perry’s Chief of Staff), Ms. Kenna, Acting Chief of Staff and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney (White House), and Mr. Mulvaney’s Senior Advisor Robert Blair. A lot of senior officials.
Here is my exact quote from that email: “I Talked to Zelensky just now… He is prepared to receive Potus’ call. Will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone’. He would greatly appreciate a call prior to Sunday so that he can put out some media about a ‘friendly and productive call’ (no details) prior to Ukraine election on Sunday.” Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney responded: “I asked NSC to set it up for tomorrow.”
Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the Presidential call. As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to “run a fully transparent investigation” and “turn over every stone” were necessary in his call with President Trump.
Explosive opening statement
Explosive opening statement
9:45 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland begins the hearing with a stunning opening statement. He says that Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton all were aware of a "quid pro quo," dangling a White House visit for the new president of Ukraine to investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter and the 2016 presidential election.
"They knew what we were doing and why," Sondland said in the opening statement. "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."
He mentioned Pompeo often, saying Pompeo was kept informed as to what was going on.
"State Department was fully supportive of our engagement in Ukraine affairs, and was aware that a commitment to investigations was among the issues we were pursuing," Sondland said.
He said he, Kurt Volker, and Energy Sec. Rick Perry did not want to work with Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, but they were told to do so. He said he felt Giuliani was speaking for Trump.
"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 will tell the House Intelligence Committee.
Sondland says he knows that the question "was there a quid pro quo" was being asked by House members. He said that when it comes to the White House meeting sought by Ukraine's leader, "The answer is yes."
Nunes’ opening statement
9:30 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Nunes slams Democrats for “hijacking the Intelligence Committee and turning it into the impeachment committee.” The Democrats have gathered zero Republican support in the House, Nunes says. He reminds the audience that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said that impeachment had to be a bi-partisan effort. “Did they forget that?", Nunes asked. He tells Schiff that the Republicans have sent a letter to the committee to assert their right to subpoena witnesses and will do so, including Hunter Biden.
9:27 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Schiff presents a timeline of meetings and phone calls involving Sondland, former national security adviser John Bolton and others he says laid the foundation for a quid pro quo that would end up with the Ukrainian president visiting the White House for a meeting with Trump after the announcement of an investigation into the energy company Burisma.
The hearing is beginning
9:10 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland is seated and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, has gaveled the hearing to order. Schiff is giving his opening statement.
The hearing will begin soon
9 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: The hearing will begin in minutes. Sondland is on Capitol Hill and will be entering the hearing room soon.
Not a career diplomat
8:45 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland has not been a diplomat for long. Trump named him EU ambassador after Sondland donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. Sondland was a hotel entrepreneur.
What will Sondland be saying
8:30 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Sondland will be answering questions today about his dealings with Ukrainian officials and why he changed testimony he gave in a closed-door hearing in October. He told members of the Intelligence Committee that he had not told Ukrainian officials that they had to announce the start of an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, in exchange for military aid. He later said he may have said investigations should be announced before the military aid was released.
Who is testifying this week
8:17 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Eight people will be testifying this week in the House impeachment inquiry. On Tuesday, Alexander Vindman, Jennifer Williams, Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison testified. Today, Sondland, Cooper and Hale appear before the committee. On Thursday, Fiona Hill, who was the top Russia specialist on the National Security Council and David Holmes, a State Department aide who overheard a phone conversation between Sondland and the president on July 26, will testify.
Let’s get started
8 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019: Good morning and welcome to live updates from the fourth public hearing of the impeachment inquiry. The hearing begins in an hour, at 9 a.m. ET. Testifying first today will be Gordon Sondland, the European Union ambassador. This afternoon, Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department, will appear before the committee, as will David Hale, the undersecretary of State for political affairs.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.