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Trump Responds to Sondland Testimony on Quid Pro Quo in Ukraine Scandal; Pence Denies Conversation with Sondland on Ukraine, Biden, Burisma; Key Witness Gordon Sondland Testifies in Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired November 20, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CASTOR: And this is only - this is just investigations generally making a public statement of openness generally, right?
SONDLAND: Well, I think by August 11, Mr. Castor, I think we were talking about 2016 in Burisma. The investigations generally was really early in the...
CASTOR: OK, but we know that Secretary Pompeo knows that?
SONDLAND: I think so. I think...
SONDLAND: Well, only because I think Ambassador - or I'm sorry, Counselor Brechbuhl was briefed...
SONDLAND: ... on all of these things and...
CASTOR: By who? By you?
SONDLAND: By I believe Ambassador Volker, by myself?
CASTOR: That's not what he testified to. I mean, did you - did you...
SONDLAND: Ambassador - or Counselor Brechbuhl testified? I didn't know he had testified.
CASTOR: No, no. Ambassador Volker.
SONDLAND: Oh, OK.
CASTOR: He didn't testify that he briefed Mr. Brechbuhl. I mean, this email to the secretary is talking about this statement, which by the way, I mean, you said, "Kurt and I negotiated a statement and the statement never went..."
SONDLAND: It didn't go anywhere. CASTOR: Yes. Ambassador Volker said it wasn't a good idea. Mr. Yermak said it wasn't a good idea. And - but what you're writing to the secretary here is just a - you know, it relates to a generic openness subject, right?
SONDLAND: Yes, but I think the Secretary, though, was on the July 25 call, which obviously I wasn't on and I didn't know about.
CASTOR: Yes, but you used this email to suggest that everyone was in the loop that security secretary assistance was tied to some sort of act by the Ukrainians.
SONDLAND: No, no. I don't think I said that - I don't think I said that the assistance wasn't involved here. I think I was...
CASTOR: So what was everyone in the loop about then?
SONDLAND: Well, the secretary was in the loop that we had negotiated a statement.
SONDLAND: I am fairly comfortable that the secretary knows that where the statement was at that point, in other words the 2016 and Burisma, and that Lisa passed that along to him...
SONDLAND: ... and kept him informed.
CASTOR: OK, so we can agree that at this point in time the secretary wasn't in the loop, that there was a conditionality on the security secretary assistance?
SONDLAND: Hold on a second. Are you asking about July 19, exhibit 4?
CASTOR: I was asking about your email to the secretary on August 11.
SONDLAND: Oh, OK. Well, on July 19, which the secretary was on, I talked about full transparent investigation and turn over every stone, and the secretary was on that, so...
CASTOR: OK, but you testified in your deposition that on July 19 in this continuum you talked about...
CASTOR: ... that point in the continuum it was just a generic investigation. It wasn't anything involving...
SONDLAND: I think it went - again, I'm not trying to put words in anywhere. I think it went from the original generic from, you know, May 23 when we left the Oval Office. We're talking about corruption and oligarchs until Mr. Giuliani started to become involved, and then it - then it transitioned in the Burisma and...
CASTOR: But you hadn't even talked to Giuliani by that time. This is July 19. Sorry, use the mike.
(UNKNOWN): Will you allow him to finish his answer, please?
CASTOR: Of course. I apologize.
SONDLAND: We were communicating with Mr. Giuliani through Secretary Perry and through Ambassador Volker. I wasn't talking to Mr. Giuliani directly...
SONDLAND: ... until after August 1.
CASTOR: Good. But as of July 19, weren't we still on the generic part of the continuum?
SONDLAND: I don't know. I believe we were - I believe by then we were talking about Burisma in 2016 to be candid.
CASTOR: But not Biden?
SONDLAND: No, no. Not Biden.
CASTOR: And then turning to your email of August 11...
SONDLAND: Yes, got it.
CASTOR: I'm sorry. We - we just dealt with that. August 22nd.
SONDLAND: The 22nd?
CASTOR: Yes, it's page 23 of your opener.
SONDLAND: Yes, I got it.
CASTOR: And this is where you were requesting a pull aside for the president and this is when the president was ...
SONDLAND: He was still going to go.
CASTOR: He was still going to go; it was before the hurricane. That bumped that off his schedule. I would ask Zelensky to look him in the eye and tell him that once Ukraine's new justice folks are in place, Zelensky should be able to move forward publically and with confidence on those issues of importance to the president and the United States. Hopefully that will break the logjam. And at this point in time the issues of importance to the President of the United States were what?
SONDLAND: The two investigations.
CASTOR: OK, but nothing to do with Vice President Biden, right?
SONDLAND: Again, I didn't make the connection there.
CASTOR: I want to just pivot briefly to the president's concerns about foreign assistance.
CASTOR: Undersecretary Hale who will be with us later today testified that during this relevant timeframe, there was a real focus to reexamine all federal aid programs. Are you aware of that interest of the president?
SONDLAND: I'm generally aware of the president's skepticism toward foreign aid and you know conditioning foreign aid on certain things. I'm generally aware of that, yes.
CASTOR: And Ambassador Hale testified and his testimony has been public, almost a zero-based concept that each assistance program and each country that receives the program be evaluated. The program made sense that we avoid nation building and that we now provide assistance to countries that are lost to us in terms of policy whether it's because of corruption or another reason. Is that something that you were aware of at the time?
SONDLAND: Generally, yes.
CASTOR: OK. And you're certainly aware that the president was concerned about the European allies' contributions to the region.
SONDLAND: Exactly why I was involved.
CASTOR: OK. So, you know as we get right down to September 11th right before - you're advocating that the pause be lifted, correct?
SONDLAND: I didn't think the - I personally didn't think the pause should have ever been put in place.
CASTOR: OK. But as we get down to September 11th and you're talking with Senator Johnson and so forth, you don't know with certainty that the genuine reason the president was implementing the pause. It wasn't because of his concerns about his allies or his concerns about foreign assistance generally or that he wasn't just trying to hold the aid as long as he could to see what he could - what type of information he could get about those two subjects?
SONDLAND: Fair enough.
CASTOR: OK. I'm really trying to finish up before my - so I can yield some time back. Do you have anything else...
NUNES: I have nothing else.
CASTOR: Thank you. I yield back.
SCHIFF: The gentleman yields back. NUNES: We yield back the balance of our time.
SCHIFF: Let's take a 30 minute recess to allow Ambassador Sondland to get a bit to eat. I think the members of the committee might like to get a bite to eat and then we will resume with the member rounds of questioning of five minutes. If we could allow the witnesses to have the opportunity to leave the room first...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ambassador Sondland had intended to fly back to Brussels to resume his duties at the end of the day and so it would be a great convenience to us if we could have a shorter break now and resume with the members' questions and try and wrap up in time that he might be able to make his flight.
SCHIFF: I appreciate that counsel. We all have a busy schedule these days. The member round of questions should take I think slightly less than two hours so I think you should be good depending on the time of your flight but we will endeavor to make the break as short as possible. If you would like to excuse yourself from the room before the rest of the crowd.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I'm Jake Tapper live in Washington. You're watching CNN's special live coverage of a monumental and historic moment on what may turn out to be the worst day with the most damning evidence for President Trump in this impeachment inquiry.
It comes from the only witness so far in the House investigation who spoke directly to President Trump. This is the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, who was a major Trump donor and was appointed to his position by President Trump on this day four of these public hearings.
Sondland directly implicated the president in directing the operation to pressure Ukraine.
Sondland testifying that there very clearly was a quid pro quo. This was for a White House visit for the Ukrainians in exchange for an announcement about an investigation into the company Burisma and the Bidens.
Now, Sondland later said it became clear to him that the quid pro quo also, he presumed, was tied to the holdup of hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid that Ukraine desperately needed. And what did the president want? He wanted an announcement of the investigation into the company, Burisma, as I said, which is the company Hunter Biden worked for and what even many of the president's supporters, some of whom have testified, call a conspiracy theory that Vice President Biden did anything wrong as well as the election meddling by Ukraine in the 2016 election also called a debunked conspiracy theory by Trump officials. Now, Sondland named names today on everyone in his view who was involved with knowledge of a pressure campaign of a quid pro quo, of the meeting in exchange for the announced investigations starting with President Trump as well as Vice President Pence, he says, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sondland says, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney among many others. Sondland said multiple times, quote, everyone was in the loop, this was no secret, unquote.
Let's talk about all this with our experts. Jeffrey Toobin, your reaction?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I would quarrel with the idea that this is the most consequential moment in the impeachment hearing. I would say this is the most consequential day of Donald Trump's presidency. Because here was the central figure in what even Republicans at the beginning of this investigation said was improper at best, illegal at worst, exchange of campaign dirt in return for taxpayer money.
Here you have the central figure in that exchange saying that Donald Trump, the president of the United States, orchestrated it from the beginning, supervised it, wanted it to happen and it was all done at his instigation. I don't think after this testimony, there can be any doubt that this exchange took place, campaign dirt for taxpayer money and a meeting with the president. The question is what is the House of Representatives and more specifically what is the Republican Party going to do about it. That I don't know. But did it happen? Absolutely, it happened.
TAPPER: Laura, what's your reaction?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, this had a real feel of a kind of the Murder on the Orient Express to me, that essentially everyone was in on it, everybody knew about it, and, spoiler alert, sorry, everyone. It's been like, what, 60 years now or more. But the idea that everybody suddenly had this feigned ignorance, oh, did you mean Burisma when you said Biden, that even Kurt Volker yesterday and beyond, you had someone essentially saying, no, no, we all knew what the deal was here.
But what's fascinating is that one, I think, he said in his opening statement was the idea that, look, if I wanted to engage at all or be involved with Ukraine, I knew who I had to play with. His name was Rudy Giuliani. And Rudy Giuliani was the one to demand these sorts of quid pro quo acting at the direction of the president of the United States.
In one fell swoop, you actually had Gordon Sondland articulate the very thing that I'm sure President Zelensky felt, which is if I wanted to get what I needed, I was going to have to pay to play. I have got to play in a way here. And the way I had to do it is in an inappropriate fashion.
And so you saw the leverage in real-time of a quid pro quo at the microcosm level between Gordon Sondland, with Giuliani and even at the greater level with the president of Ukraine. It's all the same thing.
What has been the method of trying to undermine it? I've heard crickets about being able to undermine the substance of that.
TAPPER: So this has been called by some commentators a John Dean moment. And there is no person I can think of who is better qualified to weigh in on that than John Dean. Is he the John Dean of this impeachment inquiry?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I got a couple texts on that this morning. His statement, first of all, certainly caught the Republicans off guard. They didn't pick away at just but a few little picky points. The thrust of his statement is good. His statement is not as voluminous as mine was. There's not as much misconduct being focused. It's much more restricted. Remember, I testified for eight hours, read a statement for eight hours, then was a witness for 4 more days of pretty intense cross-examination.
I thought the-cross examination was pretty soft here. But, yes, I think he's in that spirit, he wanted to tell the truth.
He thought that telling the truth and letting it come out was more important than any political or presidential relationship. So it was a very -- I think Jeff is right. It's a big day in his presidency because the truth has come out about it.
TAPPER: And, Scott Jennings, there are two things here that the Ukrainians want. One was a White House meeting and the other one was this $400 million in military aid that Congress passed. Sondland says unequivocally there was a quid pro quo. A White House meeting necessitated an announcement of the investigations. He's presuming the same is true for the military aid. But isn't the fact that he's saying, yes, this is a quid pro quo, fairly damning?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I think we already knew this. I mean, I don't know that the facts here have ever been in question. I think the only question is what was the chain of command of getting all this put together.
The most important thing the Republicans extracted from Sondland, from their perspective, would be no one told me the aid was tied to anything, I was presuming it was. Then he sort of drops in Giuliani, it was clear we had to work with Giuliani.
And so, as I was watching this today, I was wondering, and, obviously, Trump came out and distanced himself from Sondland a little today, but when is he going to distance himself from Giuliani? I mean, if Sondland and the rest of these folks are going to drop in Giuliani on this, I don't know how long the president is going to want to stick with that person when the rest of his people are dropping him in.
TOOBIN: How can you say that the quid pro quo has been known and established when 20 minutes ago the president of the United States just walked out and made a statement and said, obviously, there was no quid pro quo. I mean, I think there was a quid pro quo. You do perhaps. But, I mean, if the president of the United States, who runs the Republican Party, says that, you can bet that virtually all the members of Congress are going to say that.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One of the things that was striking to me, John -- we're talking about the John Dean moment, you were a striking witness. I'm old enough to remember the testimony. But what made it really powerful is when the tapes followed and we heard the president's own voice really indicting himself.
The thing -- the weakness here -- and there's no doubt that Sondland has given some powerful testimony here. The weakness with it is that he is kind of hazy on his conversations with the president, said the president never told him that it was about the aid. It isn't really clear what conversations he had with him about the rest of it and I think, by intention, his recollection gets faulty whenever questions of the president and his conversations --
DEAN: As a witness who talked to the president, you want to be very careful what you say.
DEAN: I actually thought I had been taped. And that's one of the reasons I found the system.
AXELROD: I understand. But my point is that that is where Republicans are going to go.
JENNINGS: And they're going to draw this line between the quid pro quo for the meeting versus the aid. I mean, he specifically said, no one told me the aid was tied to anything.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Except Donald Trump in the transcript, in the summary.
TAPPER: Oh, and the transcript on July 25th, and then in the phone call with Sondland on the 26th.
BORGER: Exactly. I understand that the Republicans are looking for exculpatory stuff. And you might say Sondland said the president never told me directly X, Y and Z. But in the phone conversation with Zelensky, the president said, I'd like you to do me a favor though, right after the conversation about the Javelins. So if you didn't have that summary of the conversation, which the president says it himself, maybe they could make a better point about it. But I think that's very difficult given the president's own words.
TAPPER: And, Dana Bash, one of the things the Republican lawyer, Steve Castor, seemed to think was very exculpatory and was rather upset at Gordon Sondland for not including in his opening statement was the same thing that Gordon Sondland had testified about behind closed doors, which was on September 9th -- and we should remind people, September 9th, this is after the whistleblower has filed his complaint, all right. So who knows what President Trump knew at the time.
September 9th, when Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador in Ukraine, says this is crazy doing these investigations in exchange for the aid. And Sondland goes to President Trump and Trump, according to Sondland, says, I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo, I want Zelensky to do the right thing. Sondland says, what does that mean? Trump says I want him to do what he ran on.
But here's the thing, and this is why the Democratic lawyer kept hitting on the fact that Sondland is not a note taker, is that one of the note takers, Tim Morrison, who talked to Sondland that day and is a loyal Trump supporter, says that what Sondland actually told him that Trump said was that there was no quid pro quo but President Zelensky must announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Because he knows -- the president knows what he's doing when he has these conversations. This is not his first rodeo. Maybe it is on this level and on this scale, but this is how the president operates.
Talk to anybody who has known him, works with him currently and has known him for decades in his business. He doesn't say -- probably the closest he's ever gotten is will you do me a favor though, which is in the call summary. It's not how he operates. But his expectation is clear, and that is according to people who know him and very much like him. And so that is what the Democrats were obviously trying to get to the bottom of.
And it is noteworthy, Tim Morrison is a loyal -- who testified yesterday he's a Trump supporter. And the person we've been hearing from all day, Gordon Sondland, maybe he's somebody who has just wanted -- he's had a thirst for power, a thirst to be in government, a thirst to be a player, but he actually achieved that goal because of President Trump. He is a Trump appointee to a really important post.
He has some CYA going on here, there's no question, but he doesn't have -- he's not a deep stater who has an axe to grind.
The one thing I will say though on the Republican side, I'll disagree with you a little bit, Jeffrey, it is easy for them to tell not just their base but if people are listening who are undecided about this that this is hearsay even though the president made clear what he wanted by his actions, he didn't actually say it or at least as far as we know, to your point, John Dean, we don't have any proof of it.
TAPPER: John King, what happened today? What are voters going to need to walk away and know happened today? What did Sondland say that was important?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what Sondland did today was guarantee the House of Representatives is going to impeach the president of the United States. If you had any doubt that the Democrats were going to blink at the last minute, that the Democrats were going to say, because of this witness, we're not so sure, let's leave it to the voters, forget about that, they now have Gordon Sondland, the central figure who says, everyone was in the loop and everyone knew this is what we were doing and it came from the president and he told us to work through Rudy. That's all the Democrats need to go forward.
Now, will they get Republican votes? As of today, there's zero evidence of that. But the House is going to impeach the president of the United States. That is now certain. And I think that is the biggest thing that --
AXELROD: The other he's done is he's implicated all these other people. It's kind of laughable to hear Nunes say, we haven't heard from the whistleblower when there are people who are primary sources here who are not testifying. And this doesn't seem to upset the Republicans at all.
TAPPER: And he names President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Mick Mulvaney. I mean, there are a number of people.
KING: Can I make very quick point? The Republicans have had sort of a daily strategy because the facts are not on their side here. So, every day, they go for a different approach. What I found very interesting is near the end of the cross-examination, Mr. Castor, the Republican counsel, brought up on the record, did you know Rudy Giuliani had business interests in Ukraine while he was doing all this. Watch that as the beginning of an effort to say this was Rudy and not the president.
TAPPER: And do you think that that's what's going to happen as this will start to be blamed more on Rudy Giuliani?
JENNINGS: There's nowhere else to go. I mean, there's nowhere else to go. Sondland is dropping him in. The president clearly won't want to take responsibility for it. Rudy is not coming today (ph), as I understand. So he's not going to show up and refute it. So I would be stunned if that's not worth it.
KING: But the president likes to say read the transcript and on that one call. The president wants to keep it just on the call. He says talk to Rudy and he does the Bidens.
JENNINGS: Oh, yes.
BORGER: Yes. But then what does Rudy say about the president -- I mean, let's understand that Rudy Giuliani has a long relationship with the president.
BASH: And he has been untouchable because of that. They have been close for decades and decades.
BORGER: But if they throw Rudy Giuliani under the bus --
JENNINGS: The Republicans, they need something here. Obviously, Sondland has come in -- Nunes, by the way, was totally flatfooted on his opening statement.
TAPPER: He read an opening statement as if Sondland was going to be supportive of President Trump.
JENNINGS: Yes. So they were caught flat footed this morning. They have to have something now. And the only possible way to do this is to do what they should have done a month ago, and that's to say having Giuliani in the middle of this from the beginning was a galactically bad judgment and a dumb idea, and that's not impeachment. And that's where they're going.
COATES: But here's the -- I mean, Rudy Giuliani, certainly, he is a key figure in all this and we all know why. However, I think that Rudy Giuliani would be much more important if this was purely a criminal context here.
The focus of this is an impeachment inquiry on an abuse of power by the president of the United States. That there may be an outstanding or pending criminal action against Giuliani, I'm sure that may be there if he'd like to be somebody who is scapegoated not because he is innocent but because it's convenient to do so, perhaps.
But keep in mind the focus here and what needs to be talked about, and that is whether or not there has been any fact in dispute that would undermine the allegation the president of the United States has abused his power. There's nothing there.
AXELROD: You're talking law though. He's talking politics.
COATES: I'm talking logic, and that makes sense.
TAPPER: Everyone stick around. We're going to squeeze in a quick break. Stand by. Moments from now members of the committee are going to start to request questions of Mr. Sondland.
And President Trump just responded to this hearing complete with his own notes.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Hi. I'm Jake Tapper. You're watching CNN's special live coverage of what can only be described as an historic day in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. And it's all thanks to a Trump appointee who donated $1 million to President Trump's Inaugural Committee, E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland. In sweeping testimony today, dating back to May of this year,
Ambassador Sondland implicated President Trump and a slew of top administration officials, people in the president's inner circle, including Vice President Pence, his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. Sondland saying repeatedly, quote, "Everyone was in the loop.
So how is President Trump reacting to this news?
Let's go to Kaitlan Collins at the White House -- Kaitlan?
COLLINS: Jake, the president left the White House earlier. He came out to speak with reporters. He said he had been watching this testimony but he didn't talk about the fact that Sondland testified that it was clear to him that the president was intent on having the Ukrainians announce these investigations.
Instead, the president decided to focus on another conversation that Sondland talked about, one that he with the president.
Listen to how the president was talking about Sondland's testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So he's going, what do you want, what do you want, I hear all these theories, what do you want, right? Now, here's my response that he gave, just gave. Ready? You have the cameras rolling? I want nothing. That's what I want from Ukraine. That's what I said. I want nothing. I said it twice.
So he goes -- he asks me the question, what do you want, I keep hearing all these things, what do you want. He finally gets me. I don't know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. Seems like a nice guy, though. But I don't know him well. He was with other candidates. He actually supported other candidates, not me. Came in late.
But here's my response. Now, if you weren't fake news, you'd cover it properly. I say to the ambassador in response, I want nothing, I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky, President Zelensky, to do the right thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Jake, what you see there, the president reading from this thick stack of papers. But on top, it was this notepad where the president had made some handwritten notes in black Sharpie of that conversation with Sondland.
We should also note, the president distancing himself from his ambassador to the European Union, who is still the ambassador to the European Union, someone the president handpicked, who has donated $1 million to the president's inauguration and also flew on Air Force One with the president. But there he said he did not know him well.
TAPPER: Also interesting, that National Security Council official, Tim Morrison, said what Sondland relayed about that conversation, and President Trump did relay Sondland's testimony accurately, but Sondland told him, Tim Morrison, was that the president said there's no quid pro quo but Zelensky needs to the microphones and announce an investigation into Burisma in 2016.
Kaitlan, Vice President Pence has also been named by Gordon Sondland as someone he voiced his concerns to about what he saw as a tying of the military aid along with the announcements of investigations into the Bidens. How is he responding?
COLLINS: He said he had that conversation with Pence right before Pence was scheduled to meet with the Ukrainian president in Poland earlier this year.
Now the vice president's office is denying this. His chief of staff issuing a statement that reads, in part, "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."
Essentially denying what Sondland alleged about this conversation he had. But, Jake, he doesn't deny in that statement that the vice president was aware that this is something that the president wanted.
Something the vice president himself has not denied either during an interview with CBS just last month. He was asked, were you aware this was a situation that was happening. It's a question he would not answer despite multiple efforts. Instead, saying it was just something he personally had never brought up with the Ukrainian president.
TAPPER: All right, thank you so much, Kaitlan Collins.
Let's talk about this.
And, Dana Bash, one of the things that's interesting about the vice president's statement there is that it's very specific and refutes a number of things that Sondland never said.
TAPPER: Sondland testified that he -- he didn't have a conversation or a discussion and he didn't have a private meeting. The statement from the vice president's office denied a private meeting, which Sondland never claimed he had.
TAPPER: What Sondland said is he went over and said, I have concerns that the aid is tied to the investigations, and that Pence didn't say a word back, just nodded.
BASH: I've read a lot of carefully worded statements in my life, as have you. This takes the cake. It's kind of remarkable. It's almost a work of art how a vice president's office put this out.
Exactly what you said, denying things he didn't allege in order to put distance between them and all of this chaos. And also carefully saying things like, "Multiple witnesses have testified that he never raised Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden, CrowdStrike." So naming all of the word salad that goes with all of these controversies when he didn't say it.
One thing I will say about the vice president through the three years almost of the Trump presidency, he's like a prize fighter. He has been able to get around potential punches and blows to his reputation, to his credibility on instances that he could be in big trouble. And this poses the biggest challenge.
TAPPER: Gloria Borger, if you were going to ask the vice president a question, it wouldn't be a question form of that statement. It would just be, were you aware of Gordon Sondland's concerns that there was some sort of linkage between the aid and investigations.
BORGER: Right, and the investigations.
TAPPER: They didn't answer that.
BORGER: No, they didn't answer that.
If you look at Pence, he had been asked about Ukraine before. He had been asked about it on "Face the Nation," for example. He's dodged it every single time, only saying what his conversation with the president of Ukraine was, not what he was aware of inside the administration.
If everybody else in the administration was aware of this, including the secretary of state, you have to believe that Vice President Pence knew about it, although he seems to be in the middle of a lot of things that he's not aware of over the years.
KING: This does not say Gordon Sondland is wrong when he testified that we all knew about this and that was the policy of the president. This does not say the president was not insisting. It says the vice president never brought it up in his meetings. So it protects the vice president.
TAPPER: It says the vice president -- it lists a number of specific items --
TAPPER: -- where there's enough deniability --
TAPPER: -- if you just talk about corruption or investigations in general, there's a --
BASH: Which is what Sondland testified to.
AXELROD: Can I -- this is sort of a related question.
AXELROD: Of the lawyers. There's a suit pending as to whether Bolton, Mulvaney and others could be -- I guess Mulvaney took himself out -- but could be compelled to testify.
Doesn't what Sondland testified today make it even more likely that that is going to resolve itself in terms of people testifying?
TOOBIN: This is the key strategic decision that the Democrats have made, which is, unless we can get someone who agrees to testify without going to court, we're going to go without them.
Their view is that the very act of going to court is so slow, will take so long, that it will interfere with the schedule that Nancy Pelosi has set for this impeachment and it's not worth it. I don't know that they're right.
I think their legal position is pretty strong on trying to get testimony, particularly from Bolton, who doesn't even seem all that opposed to testifying, but he wants the cover of a court to do it.
But the Democrats are right that they are talking about not weeks but probably months of litigation and they're simply not willing to do it.
TAPPER: Ambassador Sondland is back in the hearing room.
Laura, while we're waiting for Chairman Schiff to gavel the meeting back open, I want to go back to this statement from Gordon Sondland.
He says, "Members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question, was there a quid pro quo. With regard to their question, White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."
"Giuliani conveyed to us that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma" -- that's the Bidens -- "and the 2016 election. We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump's desires and requirements."
That's not the $400 million in military aid but that is, you can have this official White House act if you do me this political favor.
COATES: This is the essence and definition of a bribe, right? The notion that, in order for me to do something, perform an official act, in this case, perhaps handing over the already appropriated congressional funds, you have to do something in return. When he answered the question, at the bare bones argument, forget the
sound bytes, forget the semantics, forget the flowery language, as bare bones, did the president of the United States engage in behavior that amounted to, one, abuse of power by virtue of a quid pro quo? Yes, he did. He answered that question.
That was probably shocking for them to hear him, this person, say it.
TAPPER: John Dean, there was a time during Watergate when Republican Senators -- oh, we're going to listen in. I'll come back to you on this one.
SCHIFF: We'll now proceed to the five minute member questioning. First, I wanted to - recognize myself for five minutes.
First, I wanted to clarify something for the record with respect to the witness who testified on Saturday, that is Mr. Sandy. He is a career official with the Office of Management and Budget. He is today reviewing his transcript, an opportunity we give all of the witnesses before their transcript is released to make sure that it's accurate and correct.
As his deposition was only taken on Saturday, this was the soonest we could arrange that. We did inform the minority yesterday that if they wished to use any of the questioning from Mr. Sandy's deposition, they could do so and we would happily take whatever excerpts they needed, even prior to the witnesses having the chance to go through it. They chose not to take advantage of that opportunity.
But I would make this far more significant point, which is he is not the top official at the Office of Management and Budget, responsible for releasing foreign assistance. Those individuals are named Vought and Duffey and both of those political appointees have been subpoenaed to testify and both of those political appointees have refused.
In fact, as the deposition will make clear when the transcript is released, at a certain point Mr. Sandy was taken out of at least one significant part of the process. But that transcript will made - be made available as soon as he finishes the review and we can redact any personal information from it.
I want to ask you just a few questions and our - our staff, because of the expanded round, had - had time to get through much of what I wanted to ask you, Ambassador. But with respect to the statement, you were going back - and I mean by you and others, Ambassador Volker and others - were going back and forth with the Ukrainians to figure out what statement they would have to make to get the meeting. Correct?
SCHIFF: And they understood they were going to have to make this statement publicly in order to get the meeting?
SONDLAND: Correct. SCHIFF: Similarly, you testified that pretty much everyone could put two and two together and make four and understood that the military assistance was also conditioned on the public announcement of these two investigations. Correct?
SONDLAND: That was my presumption, yeah.
SCHIFF: You put two and two together and you got four, is that right?
SCHIFF: Now, you're capable of putting two and two together and so are the Ukrainians. They could put two and two together, as well. They understood there was a hold on security assistance, there's testimony that they understood that in July or August but it was without a doubt understood when it was made public in the newspaper, they understood that the security assistance was being held up, right?
SONDLAND: I don't know when they understood it but presumably they did.
SCHIFF: Well certainly when it was public they understood the security assistance was withheld, right?
SONDLAND: Once it was public, I assume so, yes.
SCHIFF: And indeed that was one of the issues that was brought up in that meeting between Zelensky and Pence in Warsaw.
SONDLAND: I think - as I testified previously, Chairman, I think Zelensky, if I recall, asked the question more open-ended like when do we get our money?
SCHIFF: Well OK.
So they understood they didn't have the money yet, it had been approved by Congress, there was a hold on it, you couldn't give them any explanation ...
SONDLAND: I couldn't.
SCHIFF: Is that right?
SONDLAND: That's right.
SCHIFF: They asked, you couldn't tell them why it was being withheld, right?
SONDLAND: I could not.
SCHIFF: And if they couldn't put two and two together, you put two and two together for them because you told them in Warsaw they were going to need to make that public statement likely to get that aid released. Is that right? SONDLAND: I said I presumed that might have to be done in order to get the aid released.
SCHIFF: Cause we've had a lot of - a lot of argumentation here - well, the Ukrainians didn't know the aid was withheld but the Ukrainians found out and then it was made abundantly clear, if they hadn't put two and two together themselves, that if they wanted that aid, they were going to have to make these statements. Correct?
SCHIFF: Mr. Nunes?
NUNES: I yield to Mr. Ratcliffe.
RATCLIFFE: Ambassador Sondland, I'm going to try and quickly move to summarize all of your direct communications with President Trump as it relates to this inquiry - and of course you can correct me if I get it wrong.
[13:45:00] On May 23rd, you had a group meeting that included what you called a vanilla request about ending corruption involving Ukrainian oligarchs. Correct?
RATCLIFFE: On July 25th, you called President Trump to say you were on your way to Ukraine but nothing of substance occurred on that call. Correct?
RATCLIFFE: On July 26th, you had a five minute call at a restaurant that you didn't originally remember because it, according to your statement this morning, quote "did not strike me as significant at the time," end quote, but once refreshed, recalled that it - the primary purpose was a - a rapper named A$AP Rocky. Correct?
RATCLIFFE: And on September 9th, and most importantly, reading from your deposition, you called President Trump to ask him what do you want from Ukraine. He responded I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo, I want Zelensky to do the right thing, I want him to do what he ran on and what he ran on was fighting corruption. Correct?
RATCLIFFE: And then lastly, on October 2nd, in a random in person meeting that you had - an event for the Finnish President, you ran into President Trump and advised him that you'd been called to testify before Congress and he said to you good, go tell the truth.
SONDLAND: That's correct.
RATCLIFFE: All right. And that is the entirety of your recollection of your direct communications with President Trump about these matters.
SONDLAND: I may have had another call or meeting or two. I - again, I wish, Mr. Ratcliffe, I had the record ...
RATCLIFFE: I understand but this is what you recall?
SONDLAND: This is what I recall.
RATCLIFFE: OK so stop me if there's anything sinister or nefarious in any of this. A vanilla request about corruption, a call to say I'm on my way to Ukraine, a five minute call you didn't remember as significant but its primary purpose was to discuss a rapper, a call that you made where the President said I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo, I want Zelensky to do the right thing, I want him to do what he ran on, and him telling you to go tell Congress the truth. Anything sinister or nefarious about any of that?
SONDLAND: Not the way you present it.
RATCLIFFE: OK and that is the truth, as you've presented it, correct?
RATCLIFFE: All right. Why that's important, Ambassador Sondland, is because none of that is hearsay, none of that is speculation, none of that is opinion. That is direct evidence and ultimately that is what, if this proceeds to the Senate, they're going to care about. Unlike this proceeding, which has been based on largely speculation and presumption and opinion, this is direct testimony and direct evidence. And to that point, none of that included evidence about the Bidens and none of that included evidence about military assistance because President Trump never mentioned either of those to you. Correct?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
RATCLIFFE: All right. So going back to the July 26th call, because it's going to be a spectacle tomorrow, you didn't remember it because it didn't strike you as significant at the time. Is it fair to say that if the President of the United States was asking you to do or say something improper or unlawful, that would have been significant to you?
RATCLIFFE: All right. And if that call was part of a bribery or extortion scheme that you were part of, as Democrats have alleged, you'd remember that as significant, wouldn't you?
SONDLAND: I was not apart, and I would have remembered.
RATCLIFFE: I understand that, and I agree with you. Let's turn to the quid pro quo because it's been reported in the papers that this was blockbuster testimony today about quid pro quo and new evidence. T o be fair to you, Ambassador Sondland, according to your statement today as you say on page 14 as you testified previously, this was your opinion that there was a quid pro quo, correct? SONDLAND: The 2016 Burisma and the - excuse me, the 2016 election and Burisma in return for the White House meeting. That's correct.
RATCLIFFE: Right. So you've shared that before. To that point, to be clear again on the part of it that relates to military assistance, though, you don't have any direct evidence from President Trump about that part of it, that's your two plus two part of the equation, right, the presumption. Correct?
RATCLIFFE: All right. And you understand also that others disagree. Yesterday we heard from Mr. Morrison, Ambassador Volker. They testified that they didn't see a quid pro quo. Do you understand that?
SONDLAND: I understand that that's what they said.
RATCLIFFE: OK, that reasonable people could look at all of this and come to different conclusions, correct?
RATCLIFFE: I yield back.
SCHIFF: Mr. Himes.
HIMES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ambassador, thank you for testifying. Ambassador, a couple things jump out at me in your testimony. In your opening statement, you said 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 know that these investigations were important to the president.
That last sentence in interesting. No conditionality, no modifiers. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States. Mr. Giuliani communicates in colorful and memorable terms. What did Mr. Giuliani say to you that caused you to say that he is expressing the desires of the President of the United States?
SONDLAND: Mr. Himes, when that was originally communicated, that was before I was in touch with Mr. Giuliani directly, so this all came through Mr. Volker and others.
HIMES: So Mr. Volker told you that he was expressing the desires of the President of the United States?
HIMES: And subsequently when you saw the July - the transcript of the July 25 conversation with President Zelensky, you put it all together and, yes, this is the desire of the President of the United States?
SONDLAND: After I saw the July 25 read out. HIMES: Right, OK. Other thing that is interesting here, you are - you're - the theme of your testimony today is that everybody knew and signed off, which is a little different from what we've heard, right? We've heard this from others saying that your effort out there was irregular, it was shadow foreign policy, characterized as a drug deal. And by the way, that was not a Democratic characterization despite what Mr. Nunes says. That, of course, was the National Security Advisor of the United States characterizing it as a drug deal.
What confuses me is that you have said and testified, and it's in here, that the Secretary of State was not only aware but that he applauded you. Good work. Keep banging away. The Secretary of State if this had been irregular or a drug deal or shadow foreign policy, he would have been the one to put an end to it, and yet he did not, right?
SONDLAND: Well, the Secretary of State I think was taking into account the totality of what I had been working on, you know, globally and saying, you're doing a great job, including this.
HIMES: Right, OK. So he was aware of what you were doing and you're doing a great job includes this.
HIMES: So in some sense he was validating it rather than saying this was irregular, a shadow, or a drug deal.
SONDLAND: We never thought it was irregular. We thought it was in the center lane.
HIMES: And why do you think the Secretary of State though that?
SONDLAND: Why did he think...
HIMES: Why did he think that this was a worthy thing to do when so many senior people, including the national security advisor, though it was a drug deal?
SONDLAND: I don't know. You'd have to ask him.
HIMES: OK. To your knowledge, did he have communications with the president about this?
SONDLAND: I have no knowledge of his communications with the president
HIMES: OK. Let me take you to the July 26 call that we've talked a little bit about. You basically haven't disputed the - Mr. Holmes's characterization of that report, although perhaps the mention of Biden you don't recall that. I'm actually pretty confident we'll get a transcript of that call. A converseation in public between a high- profile ambassador and the President of the United States will be the top target not for one, but for many foreign intelligence services.
And because it's pretty sensitive stuff to this inquiry and pretty sensitive stuff because this information could be used to embarrass the president or leverage public officials, my guess is we're going to see the transcript. Our people are pretty good, and if other people have it, we're going to see this transcript.
Until then, all we've got is your recollection and the testimony of the other people there. So I'm curious about your frame of mind. This statement, the - Ambassador Sondland agreed that the president did not give a fig -- not the word used - about Ukraine. Is that a statement you might make? Do you believe that the president doesn't give a fig about Ukraine?
SONDLAND: Are you - Congressman, are you referring to the call or are you referring to my conversation...
HIMES: So Mr. Holmes recounts - and I'll read it to you - Ambassador Sondland agreed that the president did not give a fig about Ukraine. Ukraine - fig was not the word used there, and I'm asking you whether it's plausible that he might have heard that because I'm asking you whether you believe that the president does not give a fig about Ukraine.
SONDLAND: I don't - I think that's too strong. I think that based on the May 23 meeting, the president was down on Ukraine for the reasons mentioned and would need a lot of convincing, and that's why we're pushing so hard for the meeting between the president and President Zelensky because we thought once the two of them would meet his impression of Ukraine, his stock about Ukraine would go up.
HIMES: And what about this line, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant, quote, unquote, "big stuff that benefits the president." That's what you meant by big stuff. So again, we don't have the transcript. I suspect we will, but is that something you might say? Do you believe that the president really considers big stuff to be that which benefits him?
SONDLAND: I don't recall saying benefits him.
HIMES: No, I understand that. I'm not asking what you recalled. I'm asking whether it's plausible that you might have said that because you believe - I'm asking you what you believe right now - that the president doesn't give a fig about Ukraine and, in fact, cares about the big stuff that benefits the president. Do you believe that now?
SONDLAND: I really can't - I really can't opine.
HIMES: Wait, I'm not asking for your opinion. I'm asking for your beliefs. You...
SONDLAND: I don't understand your question. I want to answer your question. I just don't understand.
HIMES: Let me try one more time.
SONDLAND: OK. HIMES: Do you believe what is alleged what you said on this phone call that the president cares primarily about stuff - the big stuff that benefits the president? Is that a believable...
SONDLAND: I don't think the president said that on his - on the phone call. I don think the president said that to me on the phone. I was talking about...
SCHIFF: The time of the gentleman...
SONDLAND: ... A$AP Rocky, and he mentioned investigations. I don't know - I don't know why you're...
SCHIFF: Time of the gentleman has expired. Mr. Conaway.
CONAWAY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield six minutes to Mr. Jordan.
JORDAN: I thank the gentleman for yielding. Ambassador, when did it happen?
SONDLAND: When did what happen?
JORDAN: The announcement. When did President Zelensky announce that the investigation was going to happen? On page 14 you said this, was there a quid pro quo? Today's - your opening statement, as I testified previously with regard to requested White House call, White House meeting, the answer is yes, that there needed to be a public statement from President Zelensky. When the Chairman asked you about the security assistance dollars, you said there needed to be a public announcement from Zelensky. So I'm asking you a simple question, when did that happen?
SONDLAND: It never did.
JORDAN: It never did. They got the call July 25th. They got the meeting, not in the White House but in New York on September 25th, they got the money on September 11th. When did the meeting happen again?
SONDLAND: It never did.
JORDAN: You don't know who was in the meeting?
SONDLAND: Which meeting are you referring to?
JORDAN: The meeting that never happened. Who was in it?
You know the people -
SONDLAND: The people that weren't there.
JORDAN: You know how Zelensky - you know how Zelensky announced it? Did he tweet it? Did he do a press statement? Did he do a press conference? Do you know how that happened? I mean you got all three of them wrong. They get the call. They get the meeting. They get the money. It's not two plus two, it's zero for three. I mean - I've never seen anything like this and you told Mr. Castor that the president never told you that the announcement had to happen to get anything; in fact, he didn't just not tell you that, he explicitly said the opposite.
The gentleman from Texas just read it. You said to the President of the United States, what do you want from Ukraine. The president, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing. I want him to do what he ran on. What did he run on, Mr. - or Ambassador Sondland?
JORDAN: And dealing with corruption, right?
SONDLAND: That's right.
JORDAN: Mr. Castor raised another important point. Why didn't you put that statement in your opening statement? I think you said you couldn't fit it in. Is that right? You said we might be here for 46 minutes instead of 45 minutes.
SONDLAND: It wasn't - it wasn't purposeful; trust me.
JORDAN: It wasn't purposeful?
JORDAN: Couldn't fit it in a 23-page opener? The most important statement about the subject matter at hand, the President of the United States in a direct conversation with you about the issue at hand and the president says, let me read it one more time. What do you want from Ukraine Mr. President? I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want this new guy, brand new guy in politics, his party just took over. I want Zelensky to do the right thing. I want him to run on and do what he ran on which is deal with corruption and you can't find time to fit that in a 23-page opening statement. Do you know what a quid pro quo is?
SONDLAND: I do.
JORDAN: This for that. Right? It looks to me like Ukraine got that three times and there was no this. We didn't do anything, or excuse me, they didn't have to do anything. I've never seen anything like this - and this is - this is - when the call came out. You all remember this, when the call came out, everyone said, we're going to quid pro quo. There's going to be - that was what was in the call and of course -of course that didn't happen. That didn't happen.
Remember what the complaint said? Remember what the memo said of the whistleblower? This call was frightening, this call was scary, all of those things? None of that materialized. None of that materialized. I yield back.
SCHIFF: Ms. Sewell. SEWELL: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I'd like to dig a little deeper, this quid pro quo. Did you not say in your opening statement and in previous testimony in a closed-door hearing that you thought there was a quid pro quo.
SONDLAND: I thought the quid pro quo was the White House visit in return for the 2016 DNC server and Burisma investigation and that was...
SEWELL: When you heard - when you heard Burisma, you did not see that as code for Biden -