Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Defense And State Department Officials Testify In Impeachment Probe; Sondland: I Pressured Ukraine At "Express Direction" Of Trump; Sondland: "Yes" There Was Quid Pro Quo In Ukraine Scandal; Sondland Ties Trump, Pence, Pompeo To Ukraine Pressure Campaign; Sondland: I Did Not Hear Directly From Trump That Ukraine Aid Was Tied To Investigations; Sources: Trump Campaign, GOP "Blindsided" By Sondland Testimony. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 20, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around d the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're standing by for the impeachment inquiry to resume with new testimony from Pentagon official Laura Cooper and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale. That's about to begin.
But what we've heard so far today is truly remarkable. President Trump's hand-picked Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifying there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
Sondland saying he took part in what he calls the express direction of President Trump and that the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and the Acting White House Chief of Staff all knew about it.
Let's bring in our reporters and our analysts to discuss. And I want to play a clip first of all and I'm going to start, Kaitlan, with you. Listen to this. This is Sondland making this very significant statement earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: I know that members of this committee frequently frame 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 the White House meeting, the answer is yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He makes it clear, absolutely, totally discarding what the President and his allies have been saying for weeks.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And what the President and the White House are now relying on and what they just in a statement out with the President was reading from earlier was that conversation he had where he called the President to ask if there was a quid pro quo and he said the President got angry and said that there was not one and that he didn't want anything from Ukraine.
But what they're ignoring completely is what he started his testimony with today, which was this revelation saying, yes, that in relation to the aid to the White House -- or excuse me, to the White House call and the White House meeting, there was a quid pro quo. And we should note, there has still been no White House meeting for the Ukrainian leader.
So it's interesting how the White House and his Republican allies are picking certain parts his testimony to focus on, but ignoring everything else he said, which is that there was no secret that there was this pressure campaign, that the Secretary of State was involved, the Vice President he said he discussed it with, the Chief of Staff, the Energy Secretary, really just encompassing everyone who surrounds the President.
And so that's the question here as the Democrats are saying -- or Republicans are saying, well, he didn't explicitly say it. Based on his other testimony, it didn't seem like he needed to.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Kylie, because Ambassador Sondland, you can't say he's a never-Trumper or anything along those lines deep straight. He's a political appointee, someone named by the President to be the ambassador to the E.U., someone who donated a million dollars, a million dollars to the Trump inaugural committee.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, that's right. So he is not one of these folks the Republicans pick up and say this is the reason we elected President Trump, to get rid of these diplomats who have been in the State Department and are acting against the orders of President Trump.
Because the bottom line here is that you are right, Ambassador Sondland is someone who was hand-picked by Trump himself, could pick up the phone and make a call to President Trump whenever he wanted to, he discussed a few of those instances.
And the other fact of the matter is that Gordon Sondland said that he was following the direction of the President through and through and it was coming at times through Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer, but Gordon Sondland was not freelancing here and that's what this testimony demonstrated.
BLITZER: Because, clearly, Rudy Giuliani was the key guy. Every time the President was asked what should you do, speak to Rudy, ask Rudy, bring Rudy in. He knows what's going on. He's smart.
Rudy Giuliani, with all due respect to the former mayor of New York City, now the private attorney to the President, he had business dealings in that part of the world. Some of his associates have now been criminally indicted and he had no security clearances at all. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SONDLAND: President Trump directed us to "talk with Rudy." The President directed us to do so. When the President says talk to my personal lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, we followed his direction.
I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States. So we followed the President's orders. I followed the directions of the President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You were attorney at the National Security Agency, the top secret U.S. intelligence agency. Is it appropriate that someone with no security clearances is in charge of U.S./Ukrainian relations?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, certainly the President of the United States is allowed to use private citizens in certain personal capacities, that said there is no question that this was highly inappropriate. And the significant thing about Sondland's testimony about Giuliani was to the extent which he made clear, Rudy Giuliani was not entirely freelancing here.
This is something we're seeing emerging as a Republican talking point as if whatever Rudy Giuliani was doing, it's not attributable to the President of the United States personally. What Sondland is saying, no, the President told us to talk to Rudy. He made clear to everyone around him that Rudy Giuliani was speaking for him on these matters.
That's especially critical, because the other big element and consistent theme of Sondland's testimony today was that there was a quid pro quo, it was driven by the President personally.
And even if the President didn't say it expressly, every single person around him, all of his staff and the Ukrainians understood he was exchanging these official acts of military aid in the White House meeting in exchange for investigations.
BLITZER: And Jamie, he also made it clear in his lengthy testimony, he was there for hours and hours, that everyone, every senior official from the President on down to the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the acting White House Chief of Staff, they were all in on it. They knew exactly what was going on. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): In August when you worked with Rudy Giuliani and a top Ukrainian aid to draft a public statement for President Zelensky to issue, that includes the announcement investigations into Burisma, you understood that was required by President Trump before he would grant the White House meeting to President Zelensky?
SONDLAND: That's correct.
SCHIFF: And the Ukrainians understood that as well?
SONDLAND: I believe they did.
SCHIFF: And you informed Secretary Pompeo about that statement as well?
SONDLAND: I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so what do you think?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what were the first words at the beginning of the day that we knew were a bombshell, he said everyone was in the loop, and that's what we heard all day long, Pompeo, Pence.
But just to put in context, we are seeing the President twice say he gets very excited. You see on the phone call he said -- I said no quid pro quo and yet throughout this testimony he is saying they clearly all thought there was and there was a quid pro quo.
Let's remember when the phone call happened with the President, it was after the whistleblower. They knew what was coming. That was clean- up on aisle six. The President knew exactly what that phone call was about. And remember, Sondland said he was in a bad mood when he called.
GANGEL: He knew what he had to say.
BLITZER: And it's clear, Sara, that this is a devastating setback right now for the White House.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it is a big set back for the White House. You know, I think that there are certainly Republicans who went into today thinking/hoping that Gordon Sondland would be a good witness for them. I think the best thing they can say they got out of it was that President Trump never explicitly said to Gordon Sondland.
And by the way, I'm sitting on this $400 million check in exchange for the Ukrainians announcing an investigation into Joe Biden. President Trump never said that explicitly to Gordon Sondland, that is the best that they got out of this. All of the rest of it is basically Gordon Sondland explaining, yes, the President may have said that there was no quid pro quo, but then he described acting out a quid pro quo but just not calling it that.
He described essentially how he thought Ukraine was so corrupt, how he didn't want to move forward with this White House meeting, how he was still sitting on $400 million in military assistance. You know, all while the Ukrainians were panicking and other diplomats were panicking about what was going on.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And remember, there was another series of words from the President after he says there is no quid pro quo. He says they should want to do this, right? I mean, keep in mind that that --
PEREZ: I think that's a very key phrase, because what it tells you is the President's frame of mind there is, look, I shouldn't have to tell them for god's sake. You know, obviously --
GANGEL: They know.
PEREZ: Right. They should know by now. And really, it turns out everyone knew. Everyone had the signal. And obviously the President and his allies keep telling us to look at the transcript. Well, the transcript makes clear that the President is saying go talk to Rudy. Go talk to Rudy Giuliani, he knows what I want. And so it's really hard for you to like distance the President from where this is.
COLLINS: And a big Republican argument is that Sondland doesn't have a lot of credibility left. But you saw him bring text messages that he exchanges, e-mails that he have with the Secretary of State, the Chief of Staff, several of their top deputies talking about this and none of them asked when he said hopefully the Ukrainian president, this will be the -- what breaks the log jam. Hopefully this will be what pleases President Trump.
None of them acted surprised at what he was saying in those messages. They all seemed to understand what he was saying. So maybe it wasn't explicit, but if they're all presuming that the President wants the same thing, you have to ask why do they all operate under the same mentality.
HENNESSEY: And this was one of the most significant part and sort of striking things that happened today. The Republicans actually started out thinking that Sondland was going to be a friendly witness. We saw this reversal occur, which all of a sudden the Democratic counsel was actually going out of his way to try and rehabilitate Sondland's credibility talking about, well, you refreshed your memory using these documents.
That's the Democrats realizing in real time that Gordon Sondland is an impeachment witness for the Democrats, that they need him to be credible. At the same time, we see that Republicans are shifting their strategy to try and start attacking him.
BLITZER: You know, I think it's significant, Jamie, that the Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who is refusing to testify before these committees and so many others, including Secretary Pompeo refusing to testify, his name repeatedly came up during the hearing today. Listen to this exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: You've testified that Mulvaney was aware of this quid pro quo, of this condition that the Ukrainians had to meet that is announcing this public investigations to get the White House meeting, is that right?
SONDLAND: Yes, a lot of people were aware of it. And --
SCHIFF: Including Mr. Mulvaney?
SCHIFF: And including the Secretary of State?
SCHIFF: Now, have you seen the Acting Chief of Staff's press conference in which he acknowledged that the military aid was withheld in part because of a desire to get that 2016 investigation you've talked about?
SONDLAND: I don't think I saw it live. I saw it later, yes.
SCHIFF: So you saw him acknowledge publicly what you have confirmed too, that Mr. Mulvaney understood that two plus two equals four, is that right?
SONDLAND: Well, again, I didn't know that the aid was conclusively tied. I was presuming. He was in a position to say, yes it was or no it wasn't, because --
SCHIFF: And he said yes it was.
SONDLAND: He said yes it was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Jamie, you know, that's a pretty strong indictment.
GANGEL: And there you have it. Where is the White House defense? Where is Mulvaney? Where is Bolton? Where is Pompeo? Where are all of these key witnesses -- the folks from --
GANGEL: -- OMB? Where are all of the documents that were being referred to? I will say one thing, he was not a perfect witness. There were -- when it came to the President, he was vague. There were a lot of I don't remember, I'm not sure about that. And he is not a direct link to the President and that's what the Republicans are going to hold on to. The big question here, was this a bombshell today? Absolutely. Did it bring it altogether? Absolutely.
COLLINS: One quick --
GANGEL: Will it matter in the end? Will it change one vote?
COLLINS: One thing we should note is that the allegations he made, the Secretary of State denied what he said about him today, the Energy Secretary denied what he said about him. GANGEL: Vice President Pence.
COLLINS: And of course --
GANGEL: Vice President.
COLLINS: So you saw this -- and of course the Vice President also denied what he said about him. The only person we didn't get a denial from while he was testifying was Mick Mulvaney, the Chief of Staff.
BLITZER: Listen to this exchange, then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE CASTOR, MINORITY COUNSEL: Did the President ever tell personally about any preconditions for anything?
CASTOR: OK. So the President never told you about any preconditions for the aid to be released?
CASTOR: The President never told you about any preconditions for a White House meeting?
SONDLAND: Personally, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think?
COLLINS: So that is something that you're seeing Republicans talk about today is the conversations that he had with the President and exactly what it was that the President said. Because they're saying that essentially if the President didn't say this is what I want you to tell them, these are the preconditions for them to get this aid, this meeting, this phone call, then they're saying it does prove that the President is right.
They're saying essentially that it exonerates him, though kind of ignoring what he's talking about, this pressure campaign that he said was clear to the Ukrainians that he brought up with people like the Vice President he claims, which Pence has denied.
HENNESSEY: And it's almost impossible the united -- for the White House to take that position when they are themselves preventing the individuals who would be in a position to give that direct link, that precise information, people like Mick Mulvaney, people like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It's the President himself that are preventing them from testifying. We did see denials coming out from those offices today, but it's very different to see them --
BLITZER: Mick Mulvaney in that awkward news conference he had in the White House briefing room a couple of weeks or so ago, you know, he basically confirmed that quid pro quo, although a few hours later he tried to deny it.
ATWOOD: Yes, he did. And one of the things that Gordon Sondland had trouble with today was telling lawmakers who else could come forth and provide some of the answers to their remaining questions. Because the reality is that the White House is preventing those folks from coming forth.
And he did eventually say that Mick Mulvaney would be one of those people who would be able to give a definitive answer. He believed as if President Trump saw that there was a direct connection between this assistance and the investigations that were being asked for.
COOPER: You cover the State Department, Kylie, for us. How much of a setback today is this for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?
ATWOOD: It's extremely damning for Secretary Pompeo in the sense that we knew that he was aware generally of what was going on, what his ambassadors were doing, what his envoys were doing.
But now we have some more direct knowledge of some of those specific things that he signs off on, because we have e-mails that Gordon Sondland brought to the committee that he send to Secretary Pompeo laying out some of the things that he was going to be working on with the Ukrainians.
And one of those was pushing Ukrainians to come out and make an announcement that they were doing these investigations. And Secretary Pompeo signed off on all of those things, never holding him back, never reeling him in.
BLITZER: I want to go to -- hold on a second. I want to go to our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, the President where he's in Austin, Texas right now, he's weighing in once again on all of the dramatic testimony today.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The President just spoke to reporters down in Austin, Texas. He's touring a manufacturing facility down there with the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook.
And the President was once again as he was on the south lawn of the White House earlier today latching on to comments made by the E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland that the President feels clears him in all of this and here is some what the President had to say just a short while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I took down exactly what he said. He called and he said -- he asked me where -- what should he do? I said, I want nothing. And I repeated it, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell the president, as you know, of Ukraine, to do the right thing. And then he finished off and said, this is the final word from the President of the United States. So what did the President want? I want nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, Wolf, you could see that the President was referring to his notes. He was doing this on the south lawn of the White House earlier today and a couple of photographers, who were keen to this, snaps some pictures of the President's notes saying I want nothing. I want nothing. I don't want a quid pro quo, essentially reading from Sondland's testimony about their phone call.
One thing we should point out about the phone call, Wolf, is that they had this phone call after the whistleblower's complaint was being filed and after concerns were being raised inside the administration about the President's July 25th phone call with the leader of Ukraine.
Now separately from all of this, Wolf, we should report that we understand that there was a sense of panic inside the White House, inside the Trump campaign and in some sections of the Republican Party up on Capitol Hill earlier this morning as Gordon Sondland was beginning to deliver his testimony.
We are told that some of these aides and associates were blindsided, "blindsided" by what Gordon Sondland had to say. And some were "freaking out," according to our sources. And, Wolf, one of the sources I spoke with earlier this afternoon said that it seemed as if Gordon Sondland was throwing top administration officials under the bus, describing his testimony as really bizarre.
So, Wolf, it sounds as though people inside of Trump world were not expecting Gordon Sondland to testify to what he testified earlier today. The President latching on to those comments as you saw just a short while ago.
But remember, what Gordon Sondland said during his testimony that everyone was in the loop. This was not a secret. The President is trying to make the case tonight I think, Wolf, that everyone was in the loop but himself. Wolf?
BLITZER: That's an important point, indeed. I want you to stand by over there at the White House, you know.
Evan, the President was denying any quid pro quo in that phone conversation with Gordon Sondland. Shortly after the whistleblower's complaints were released, there was deep concern at the White House, deep concern up on Capitol Hill already, the public was beginning to learn all about this. So it's not surprising the President would say no quid pro quo, no quid pro quo.
PEREZ: And also, I mean, my question is when were those notes written? Were those written right before he went to the cameras today or not? Look, I think, you know, to Jamie's point, I think today was an interesting thing that we saw unfurl, right?
We saw Sondland just by the fact that he went there was a blow to Pompeo and the State Department. You know, if Pompeo had his preference, Sondland would not have been testifying today, and certainly not the President's either, right?
And -- but at the same time, I do think that Sondland could have been a lot more damaging to the President and for whatever reason chose not to or he chose a different path, right? He decided to give the Democrats enough of what they needed, but not go all the way, because there's a lot of I don't remember in that testimony, which I found very interesting.
Because it seems that Gordon Sondland is saying that he's going to take his own path. He's not resigning, he says, right? He says he's going back to his job. I'm not sure how you do that. But, he's decided that he is going to take his own path and stay within the administration, but making problems for the President.
BLITZER: Everybody stick around. We're standing by, the next round, round two of the hearings today about to begin. A top Pentagon official, a top State Department official, they will walk into the House Intelligence Committee hearing room. None of the members have showed up yet.
We're going to continue to anticipate this next round. A lot going on, on this historic breaking news day. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Round two of today's hearings about to begin, two senior officials from the State Department and the Pentagon about to walk into that room. It's beginning to fill up a bit. Members will be coming in, the chairman, the ranking member, David Hale from the State Department, number three official of the State Department, Laura Cooper from the Pentagon. They will be sworn in. They will be making statements and answering questions as well.
Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill watching all of this unfold. Manu, what are you hearing, what's the very latest?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Democrats are now debating exactly how to move forward, because we are reaching the end of this public hearing phase.
Today, these last two witnesses about to testify, tomorrow two more witnesses are going to testify, Fiona Hill the former top Russia adviser, David Holmes the State Department official in Kiev, that individual who overheard that conversation that occur between President Trump and Gordon Sondland in which President Trump according to Holmes' testimony called for that investigation into the Bidens. They discussed that.
But nevertheless, Democrats are discussing how exactly to move forward. Some say they've got more than enough evidence. It is time to go to the next phase, which is write the report from the House Intelligence Committee, move forward with actual votes in the House Intelligence -- House Judiciary Committee for articles of impeachment and then move toward the full House vote as soon as next month.
They believe that they've got to that point even though that they have -- don't have someone who heard from the President directly saying that linking the aid to the statements, demanding those investigations into the President's political opponents. They believe there is far more than enough circumstantial evidence and Mick Mulvaney's public comments are enough to confirm that.
And right now here is Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader. Mr. Hoyer, do you think you have enough evidence right now to move forward with articles of impeachment?
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): We need to complete the process. As the judge tells the jury, don't make a decision until you hear all of the evidence, and that's where we are and that's where we'll remain until all of the evidence is in.
RAJU: Do you think that you can do this before the end of the year, articles of impeachment?
HOYER: We're going to do it as expeditiously as we can, but we're going to make sure we have done a thorough job before we act.
RAJU: Thank you, sir. So there you have it. So, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer saying that not committing to a specific timetable, but Democrats are under the belief that where they are right now is enough to get to the next phase, potentially to move forward with the impeachment.
Nancy Pelosi has been skeptical about putting a specific time frame at least publicly, but privately Democrats are preparing for that next moment. Still, Wolf, there are some Democrats who believe that it may make sense to pursue some of those key fact witnesses who could come testify like Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, potentially fight to get those witnesses to come in court and event -- come and testify if they were to win those court fights.
And there is a key court ruling they are awaiting in just a matter of days about a separate matter, whether the White House counsel -- former White House Counsel Don McGahn should testify before the House Judiciary Committee if they win Democrats due in that case they hope that may influence some other individuals to come forward and testify in this impeachment inquiry. We'll see if that actually happens.
But nevertheless, you're hearing from Democrats right now, they feel pretty good about what they're hearing. They believe they have more than enough evidence to move forward. We'll see when they ultimately decide if this is it with the House Intelligence Committee. This could be the last week before they move into the next phase, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we'll stand by. We're getting ready for round two as I say of this hearing, David Hale and Laura Cooper, they're about to walk into this hearing room and the chairman of the committee, Adam Schiff, will bring this session to order.
It's interesting, you know, Kaitlan, that Ambassador Sondland couldn't -- he said he couldn't remember all of the precise details of that July 26th phone call he had. He was sitting in a restaurant, outdoors, in Kiev, in Ukraine. The U.S. embassy consulate for political affairs was there.
He got the President of the United States on the phone, on the cell phone, they were talking. David Holmes, who's going to be testifying tomorrow about what he heard and what he saw, he could hear it. Listen to Sondland today describe that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL GOLDMAN, MAJORITY COUNSEL: Well, he also testified that you confirmed to President Trump that you were in Ukraine at the time and that President Zelensky, "loves your ass." Do you recall saying that?
SONDLAND: That sounds like something I would say. That's how President Trump and I communicate, a lot of four letter words. In this case three letter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He got a sense of humor there, too. But he basically confirmed what David Holmes has testified behind closed doors and what he's probably going to say tomorrow before the T.V. cameras.
COLLINS: He essentially said he didn't recall talking about what he said after, which is that the President only cares about the investigations more than he cares about Ukraine. But what was also equally important to that is that he didn't dispute what people like David Holmes have testified about that call and just how loud it was. That's what was interesting, his insight into the President.
So when he said he spoke with and obviously, they spoke enough that he didn't remember every single detail of the call. If you haven't spoken to the President that much, you're more likely to remember everything that the President has said to you in a phone call.
COLLINS: He said they had spoken around 20 times if he had to guess, which came as the President was distancing himself. But I think one of the main things that he said today, that he revealed, which is that the President wanted these investigations. He didn't actually care about the end result of the investigations.
He said that the President just simply wanted the announcement of the investigations --
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, of course.
COLLINS: -- which goes back to the whistleblower's complaint which is that the President just wanted it called for.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Which is -- that's a big deal.
BLITZER: Well, tell us about that.
PEREZ: I think that's a big deal because, you know, if the President's defense is that we were really genuinely concerned about corruption, right, then you have the FBI go through the official channels and do a real investigation.
And by the way, that would definitely be quiet. That would not be public. There would be nobody at the microphone announcing officially that this investigation is open.
But that's not what they wanted. That's not what the President wanted because if we -- if -- if it were, they would have done it that way. They would have done it through the official channels. What they wanted was an investigation that was announced publicly because of the bonanza that that would -- that that would -- that would bring for the President's campaign.
And I think that's why it is a very big deal that -- and I think we should -- you know, we should remember this, that, you know, they wanted a public announcement of an investigation. They really didn't care how it turned out.
PEREZ: They didn't care if the Ukrainians actually did it. What they wanted was the public announcement because that, getting that into the mainstream and to the media and to the coverage of the 2020 campaign, is what the President needed.
BLITZER: And that's an important point, Sara, because Sondland kept saying it was all for the statement. They wanted a statement from the Ukrainian leadership about this investigation. And Evan is 100% right, I don't think they cared if there was actually going to be an investigation.
MURRAY: And that's what Gordon Sondland said. He said nobody really followed up on what they wanted the -- to happen with the investigation part, if they ever had to show that it was completed. They just wanted Ukrainian President Zelensky to go to the microphones and announce that there was going to be an investigation that would involve the Biden family.
And I think, you know, when you think about Gordon Sondland's credibility, there are certainly knocks against him along the way. There were plenty of "I don't remembers" and "I don't recalls," but he also was one of the people who actually went there and testified under oath.
The denials that we got disputing his version of events, those were not provided by people who sat there and were sworn in. Those were provided by people who have refused to testify. And Gordon Sondland even said, I don't have a perfect memory and I
could have done this better if I were given the documents to refer back to, but they're not being provided to me by the White House, by the State Department. So he essentially said, this is the best I can provide while the rest of -- the administration is stonewalling because I felt it was actually my duty to show up here today.
HENNESSEY: But this also goes to another area where, I think, Sondland has sort of questionable credibility, and that's whenever he said that he never made the connection between Burisma and the Bidens.
This is something we all saw Kurt Volker trying to claim yesterday, that, yes, they understood that the President was very interested in this one specific country -- company -- company that Rudy Giuliani was going on television and linking to the Bidens, but they had no idea these two things were linked.
We saw Tim Morrison testify yesterday that all it took for him was a Google search.
HENNESSEY: He literally Googled the name and realized, oh, this isn't about this company; this is really about the Bidens. And we did see Sondland sort of refusing to acknowledge that anyone with a modicum of common sense would and had actually made that connection.
GANGEL: It strains credibility. We are back to, I'm shocked, shocked, shocked, there is gambling going on. I mean, within this group, they knew --
PEREZ: They knew.
GANGEL: -- what Burisma stood for. And just to go to the point of his memory, he said several times, I'm not a notetaker. And tomorrow, a man who is a notetaker is going to testify. And that is David Hale, who was at the lunch who heard the phone call.
You know, every time we got to where Sondland and Trump intersected, he was very, very careful not to remember. His memory became vague because those are phone calls and conversations that are more likely to be transcribed somewhere.
BLITZER: I want to play the --
GANGEL: Or reported somewhere.
BLITZER: I want to play this clip. I want to -- I want to play this clip. Kaitlan, listen closely to this exchange that the Ambassador had with Sean Patrick Maloney. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY), MAJORITY MEMBER, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: When he asked you about investigations, which we all agree now means the Bidens -- we just did this about 30 seconds ago. We don't -- right? It's pretty simple question, isn't it? I guess -- I guess I'm having trouble why you can't just say --
GORDON SONDLAND, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: When he asked about investigations, I assumed he meant --
MALONEY: I know what assumed.
SONDLAND: -- the company, Burisma.
MALONEY: But who would benefit from an investigation of the Bidens?
SONDLAND: They're two different questions, I don't --
MALONEY: I -- I'm just asking you one. Who would benefit from an investigation of the Bidens?
SONDLAND: I assume President Trump would benefit.
MALONEY: There we have it. See?
MALONEY: Didn't hurt a bit, did it? Didn't hurt a bit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANGEL: Even got applause.
BLITZER: Got a -- got a round of applause.
COLLINS: Got a round of applause because it was something that was pretty obvious, I think, to the people in the room who were talking about who that would have benefited. Obviously, it would not have benefitted Joe Biden as he's running for office. And that was a fascinating aspect of what you saw Gordon Sondland testifying, and you see the members coming back in the room.
But Gordon Sondland was essentially going about this being careful what he was saying about the President because he still works for the President. He returned home to Brussels. He's on a flight right now back to his job as the ambassador.
And that was also interesting about -- talking about how he couldn't get his e-mails from the State Department.
COLLINS: He was pretty implicitly critical of the Secretary of State, his boss technically, as he was going about that. So that was another thing that was really fascinating to watch as you saw him up there testifying, walking that fine line of what -- who he was criticizing and what exactly he was saying.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Kylie, because the -- the Chairman, Adam Schiff, is now back in the hearing room. The ranking Republican, Devin Nunes, he's there. So presumably, this hearing is getting ready to start fairly soon.
ATWOOD: And we could predict that one person who is not very excited for this hearing is Secretary Pompeo. He's on his way back from Brussels. He's just been traveling.
And when he was asked about this testimony today, he actually came out pretty aggressively against the reporter and said that he had been doing work today. And he charged the reporter of not doing their work because they were asking those types of questions.
But David Hale is one of the folks that is going to be -- come before lawmakers this evening, and he is someone who has worked closely with the Secretary. Now, he didn't resign when Ambassador Yovanovitch was abruptly kicked out of her position because President Trump lost confidence in her.
But the thing here is that David Hale did say that he, time and time again, spoke with the Secretary about trying to put out some sort of statement on Yovanovitch. It's going to draw Secretary Pompeo back into the spotlight this evening.
HENNESSEY: Look, it must --
BLITZER: Oh, you -- by the way, you can see Adam Schiff, the Chairman.
BLITZER: He is now in his chair. So once the photographers move away from that table, the witnesses are there, this hearing will begin. Go ahead, Susan.
HENNESSEY: Yes. And this testimony is actually going to be -- it's going to be a little bit less flashy than Gordon Sondland all day, but this is really, really critical witnesses who are about to testify.
PEREZ: I think, yes.
HENNESSEY: These are both people that are going to be able to testify to the decisions to hold -- to withhold that aid, the areas in which the ordinary policy process was deviated from, why they understood this aid was being held up.
Because, keep in mind, this is not the President's personal piggy bank, the personal -- the President's personal fund to dole to people as he likes or as he feels they are in our crops (ph).
BLITZER: And it's -- it's important --
HENNESSEY: Congressionally appropriated funding. BLITZER: It's very important, Evan, that these two officials, like
almost every other national security and foreign policy official in the administration, were deeply concerned that the President of the United States was delegating authority to Rudy Giuliani.
PEREZ: Right, they had deep concerns. And, you know, another part of this is the part that -- the very important part which is the removal of the ambassador. Again, if there is a crime --
BLITZER: Ambassador Yovanovitch.
PEREZ: Right, Ambassador. Because, again, if there is a crime, one of them could be the -- the campaign to remove her in retaliation for what she was doing to fight corruption. Now, there's a federal law in the United States that you're not allowed to retaliate against -- against someone who is essentially assisting the FBI and the authorities in fighting corruption.
So, you know, the campaign to remove her, again, there might have been a crime committed there and -- and who would be part of that. I think Hale would have a very big window into exactly what was happening, what Giuliani was doing, who else was involved in this, how that came to be. And I think that's why he's an important witness.
GANGEL: To Evan's point, we've asked, over and over again, why didn't alarm bells go off with more of the officials who were on that July 25th phone call when they heard this? Why didn't Mike Pompeo think that it -- because, as we heard from Sondland's testimony today, they all knew what was going on.
BLITZER: And the Ukrainians knew what was going on, too. The Ukrainians were very well plugged in.
GANGEL: And it also speaks to a problem for working for Donald Trump, and that is this kind of behavior is normal. Top aides get desensitized here.
BLITZER: By the way, Laura Cooper is walking in right now. Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine and Eurasia.
HENNESSEY: And keep in mind that Laura Cooper was one of the people who previously testified that whenever they got that very surprising call --
BLITZER: And there is -- there is David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs. Go ahead.
HENNESSEY: Cooper has testified that whenever they got that surprising call that the aid was actually being withheld, that on that call, the -- the line from the White House was that this was coming from the President himself.
And so, she's someone who is also going to be able to testify the view from the Department of Defense, how involved was the President. What was being communicated to them about why this aid was being frozen? COLLINS: Well, that's another interesting thing about her testimony
-- and they may get into that here -- is that she testified the White House has been saying this is all about anti-corruption efforts. They wanted to make sure that Ukraine wasn't being corrupt if they were getting this money.
She testified that -- during this period it was held, I believe July, August and September, she testified that there had been no new reviews to see what they were doing to combat corruption --
GANGEL: Everything had been signed off.
COLLINS: -- which you think they would if that's what they were basing the release of the aid.
BLITZER: And David Hale, we're looking at him right now. Let's not forget he's a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and Lebanon and Jordan. He's a career foreign service officer, a career diplomat, a lot of experience in the world of diplomacy. You wanted to make a point?
GANGEL: Yes. Everything had been signed off on.
MURRAY: And then it's --
GANGEL: That we know and announced publicly.
BLITZER: All right. The photographers are --
GANGEL: And that's what is going around.
BLITZER: The photographers are leaving right now. They'll be watching from a different location. There is the Chairman, Adam Schiff. He's about to begin this hearing.
He'll make a statement, I assume. The ranking Republican Devin Nunes -- there he is -- he'll make a statement. Then they'll swear in these two witnesses. They will have opening statements, and then the Q&A will begin.
This could be pretty significant right now, what we're about to hear in the course of this round two of these hearings today. Let's listen in.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: The meeting is in order. Good afternoon, everyone. This is the sixth in a series of public hearings the Committee will be holding as part of the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry.
Without objection, the Chair is authorized to declare a recess of the Committee at any time. There is a quorum present.
We will proceed today in the same fashion as our other hearings. I'll make an opening statement then the Ranking Member, Mr. Nunes, will have an opportunity to make a statement. And we will turn to our witnesses for the -- for their opening statements if they should choose to make one.
For audience members, we welcome you and respect your interest in being here. In turn, we ask for your respect as we proceed with this hearing.
As Chairman, I'll make any necessary or take any necessary appropriate steps to maintain order and ensure that the Committee is run in accordance with House Rules and House Resolution 660.
With that, I now recognize myself to give an opening statement in the impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States.
This afternoon, the American people will hear from two witnesses who are both veteran national security professionals, one at the Department of State and the other at the Defense Department.
David Hale is the undersecretary of state for political affairs, the third most senior official in the Department and the most senior foreign service officer.
Laura Cooper serves as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia, and is responsible for a broad range of countries and the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. Between them, they have several decades of national security experience, serving both Republican and Democratic presidents.
And as we have heard from other dedicated public servants like former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, former deputy assistant secretary of state, George Kent, Ambassador Bill Taylor, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, and Jennifer Williams, their only priority has been the security of the United States.
Undersecretary Hale was witness to the smear campaign against the Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and the efforts by some in the State Department to help her.
In late March, Yovanovitch reached out to Hale for assistance, telling him in an e-mail that the tempo of social media and other criticisms of her were such that she felt she could no longer function unless there was a strong statement of defense of her from the State Department.
Hale pushed to get the State Department to put out a robust, full-page statement of defense and praise of Ambassador Yovanovitch sadly to no avail. That silence continues until today.
In late April, we heard in riveting testimony last Friday from Ambassador Yovanovitch she was recalled to Washington and informed that she had lost the confidence of the President. The Secretary of State did not meet with her; the subordinates dealt with her instead.
With the departure of Yovanovitch, Hale watched as three new players moved in to assume a prominent role in terms of Ukraine policy. The three amigos were nominally led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, but it would be Ambassador Volker and Ambassador Sondland presumably working with Ambassador Taylor who would be the ones really doing the continual work here.
In midsummer, Trump ordered a suspension of military aid to Ukraine despite the fact that the aid had been authorized and appropriated by Congress and that the Defense Department, in consultation with the State Department, had certified Ukraine met all the necessary requirements to receive the aid including anti-corruption reform.
The aid was in the national interests of United States and critical to Ukraine's security, a country that had been invaded by Russia.
From her office in the Pentagon, Ms. Cooper oversaw significant amount of security assistance flowing to Ukraine and was involved in efforts to understand and reverse the suspension of nearly $400 million in U.S. aid.
Cooper, along with others, learned about the freeze during a series of interagency meetings in the last two weeks of July. At the first meeting, on July 18th, an OMB representative relayed that, quote, the White House Chief of Staff has conveyed that the President has concerns about Ukraine and Ukraine security assistance, unquote, and that a hold had been ordered by the President. No explanation was provided.
All of the agencies responsible for Ukraine policy supported security assistance and advocated for lifting of the hold. The only dissenting voice was the Office of Management and Budget which was following the orders of President Trump. And still, no good explanation of the hold was provided.
While the aid suspension had not been made public, word was getting out. Catherine Croft, special adviser for Ukraine negotiations who worked closely with Ambassador Volker and who testified before this committee at a deposition, received two separate calls in July or August from officials at the Ukraine embassy who quote, approached me quietly and in confidence. to ask me about an OMB hold on Ukraine security assistance.
Croft was, quote, very surprised at the effectiveness of my Ukrainian counterpart's diplomatic trade craft. As in to say they found out very early on, much earlier than I expected them to. Ukrainians wanted answers but Croft did not have a good response.
But then in late August, Cooper met with Kurt Volker, with whom she had met many times in the past. During that meeting in which they were discussing the hold on security assistance, Volker revealed that he was engaged in an effort to have the government of Ukraine issue a statement that would, quote, commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference, unquote.
Cooper understood that if Volker's efforts were successful, the hold might be lifted. Unbeknownst to Cooper, no such statement was forthcoming, but the aid was abruptly restored on September 11th, days after the three committees launched an investigation into the Trump- Ukraine scheme. And with that, I now recognize the Ranking Member.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: Thank you. As we Republicans have argued at these hearings, the American people are getting a skewed impression of these events. That's because the Democrats assume full authority to call witnesses, and they promptly rejected any new witnesses the Republicans requested.
So I'd like to take a moment to discuss a few of the people whose testimony has been deemed unacceptable for the American people to hear.
The whistleblower. The whistleblower is the key figure who started this entire impeachment charade by submitting a complaint against President Trump that relied on secondhand and thirdhand information and media reports.
This began a bizarre series of events. Although the complaint had no intelligence component whatsoever, the Intelligence Community Inspector General accepted it and even changed the guidance on the complaint forms to eliminate the requirement for firsthand information. Then his office back-dated the forms to make them appear as if they were published a month before.
Democrats then took the extremely rare step of pushing a whistleblower complaint into the public, using it as the centerpiece of their impeachment crusade. We later learned that -- that Democratic staff had prior coordination with the whistleblower, though the Democrats themselves had denied it on national television.
Following that revelation, Democrats did a dramatic about-face. They suddenly dropped their insistence that the whistleblower testify to us and rejected our request to hear from him. Then in the hearing yesterday, the Democrats cut off our questions and accused us of trying to out the whistleblower, even though they claim they don't even know who he is.
Alexandra Chalupa. Chalupa is a former operative for the Democratic National Committee who worked with officials of the Ukrainian embassy in Washington, D.C. in order to smear the Trump campaign in 2016.
She met directly about these matters with then-Ukrainian Ambassador Chaly who, himself, wrote an article criticizing Trump during the 2016 campaign. Chalupa's activities were one of several indicators of Ukrainian election meddling in 2016, all of which were aimed at the Trump campaign.
Once you understand that Ukrainian officials were cooperating directly with President Trump's political opponents to undermine his candidacy, it's easy to understand why the President would want to learn the full truth about these operations and why he would be skeptical of Ukraine.
Hunter Biden. Biden is another witness who the Democrats are sparing from cross-examination. The securing of an extremely well-paying job on the board of a corrupt Ukrainian company, Burisma, highlights the precise corruption problem in Ukraine that concerned not only President Trump but all of the witnesses we've interviewed so far.
The Democrats have dismissed questions about Biden's role at Burisma as conspiracy theories. Yet they're trying to impeach President Trump for having expressed concerns about the company.
If we could hear from Biden, we could ask him how he got his position, what did he do to earn his lavish salary, and what light could he shed on corruption at this notorious company. But Biden would make an inconvenient witness for the Democrats, and so they blocked his testimony.
At these hearings, we heard a lot of secondhand, thirdhand information and speculation about President Trump's intentions. But in the end, the only direct order we've heard from the President is his order to our last witness, Ambassador Sondland, that he wanted nothing from Ukraine.
That is a -- that is consistent with the testimony provided by Senator Johnson who set that President Trump angrily denied the accounts that a quid pro quo existed.
Aside from rejecting our witnesses, the Democrats have tried other petty tricks to shape public opinion. Just this morning, they called a break in the hearing in order to press their absurd arguments to T.V. cameras.
Then, for this hearing, they canceled the multiple rounds of initial questioning they had earlier today with Ambassador Sondland and as they have had with all the previous witnesses, who they bizarrely consider as their star witnesses.
When you look through the presumptions, assumptions, and smoke and mirrors, you see the facts of this case are clear. President Trump was skeptical of foreign aid generally and especially skeptical of aid to corrupt countries like Ukraine. He wanted to discover the facts about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election against his campaign.
A brief hold on Ukrainian aid was lifted without Ukraine taking any steps they were supposedly being bribed to do. President Zelensky repeatedly said there was nothing improper about President Trump's call with him, and he did not even know about the hold in aid at the time he was supposedly being extorted with it.
So what exactly are the Democrats impeaching the President for? None of us here really know because the accusations change by the hour. Once again, this is impeachment in search of a crime.
Mr. Chairman, I would urge you to bring this to a close, to adjourn this hearing, and move on and get back to the work of the Intelligence Committee. With that, I yield back.
SCHIFF: I thank the gentleman. Today, we are joined by Ambassador David Hale and Ms. Laura Cooper.
David Hale serves as the undersecretary of state for political affairs with the Department of State, a position he has held since August 30, 2018. Mr. Hale joined the foreign service in 1984 and holds the rank of career ambassador.
He previously served as the ambassador to Pakistan, ambassador to Lebanon, special envoy for Middle East peace, deputy special envoy and ambassador to Jordan. Ambassador Hale also served as deputy assistant secretary of state and executive assistant to Secretary of State Albright.
Laura Cooper is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia at the Department of Defense. She is a career member of the senior executive service.
Ms. Cooper previously served as a principalf director in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Affairs. Prior to joining the Department of Defense in 2001, Ms. Cooper was a policy planning officer of the State Department in the Office of Coordinator of Counterterrorism.
Two final ports -- points before witnesses are sworn. First, witness depositions as part of this inquiry were unclassified in nature and all open hearings will also be held at the unclassified level. Any information that may touch on classified information will be addressed separately.
And second, Congress will not tolerate any reprisal, threat of reprisal, or attempt to retaliate against any U.S. government official for testifying before Congress, including you or any of your colleagues. If you would both please rise and raise your right hand, I'll begin by swearing you in.
Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you, God?
Let the record show the witnesses answered in the affirmative. Thank you and please be seated.
The microphone is sensitive, so please speak directly into it. Without objection, your written statements will be made part of the record.
And with that, Ambassador Hale, if you have an opening statement, you're free to give that. And immediately thereafter, Ms. Cooper, you are recognized for your opening statement.
DAVID HALE, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Mr. Chairman, I -- I don't have a prepared opening statement, but I would like to just comment, of course.
As -- as you said, I've been undersecretary since August of 2018, a foreign service officer for over 35 years, an ambassador three times, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations proudly, and I'm here in response to your subpoena to answer the questions of the committee.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Undersecretary. Ms. Cooper?
LAURA COOPER, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE, AND EURASIA: Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of this Committee, I appear today to provide facts and answer questions based on my experience as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
I would, first, like to describe my background as well as my role and vantage point relevant to your inquiry. I bring to my daily work and to this proceeding my sense of duty to U.S. national security, not to any political party.
I have proudly served two Democratic and two Republican presidents. I entered government service through the presidential management internship competition, joining the State Department in 1999 to work on counterterrorism in Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Inspired by working with the U.S. military on a Department of Defense rotational assignment, I decided to accept a civil service position in the policy organization of the Office of the Secretary of Defense in January 2001, where I have remained for the past 18 years.
My strong sense of pride in serving my country and dedication to my Pentagon colleagues were cemented in the moments after I felt the Pentagon shake beneath me on September 11, 2001.
My office was scheduled to move into the section of the Pentagon that was destroyed in the attack, but a construction delay meant that we were still at our old desks in the adjacent section on that devastating day.
After we had wiped the black dust from our desks and tried to get back to work, I found meaning by volunteering to work on Afghanistan policy and would give my next four years to this mission.
I later had the opportunity to move into the leadership ranks of my organization and have had the privilege to manage issues ranging from defense strategic planning to homeland defense and mission assurance.
I accepted the position of principal director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia in 2016 and was honored to be appointed formally to the position of deputy assistant secretary of defense in 2018.
In my current role, I work to advance U.S. national security with a focus on deterring Russian aggression and building strong partnerships with the frontline states of Ukraine and Georgia, as well as 10 other allies and partners from the Balkans to the Caucasus.
Strengthening Ukraine's capacity to defend itself against Russian aggression is central to my team's mission. The United States and our allies provide Ukraine with the -- with security assistance because it is in our national security interests to deter Russian aggression around the world.
We also provide security assistance so that Ukraine can negotiate a peace with Russia from a position of strength. The human toll continues to climb in this ongoing war with 14,000 Ukrainian lives lost since Russia's 2014 invasion. These sacrifices are continually in my mind as I lead DOD efforts to provide vital training and equipment, including defensive lethal assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
I have also supported a robust Ukrainian Ministry of Defense program of defense reform to ensure the long-term sustainability of U.S. investments and the transformation of the Ukrainian military from a Soviet model to a NATO interoperable force.
The National Defense Authorization Act requires the Department of Defense to certify defense reform progress to release half of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative or USAI funds, a provision we find very helpful.
Based on recommendations from me and other key DOD advisors, the Department of Defense, in coordination with the Department of State, certified in May 2019 that Ukraine had, quote, taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption, increasing accountability, and sustaining improvements of combat capability, unquote, narrating obligation of the entire 250 million in USAI funds.
This brings me to the topic of today's proceedings. I would like to recap my recollection of the timeline in which these events played out. I testified about all of this at length in my deposition.