Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs, testified before the House Intelligence Committee at just before 6 p.m. ET Wednesday. Their appearance followed testimony from U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who appeared before the committee for a hearing that began more than eight hours earlier.
Sondland testimony targets Trump, Pompeo and confirms deal with Ukraine
Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the E.U., is pointing the finger at President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton in explosive public testimony on Wednesday in which he says explicitly that there was a "quid quo pro" linking a White House visit by Ukraine's president to investigations into a political opponent of the president.
Under fire from all sides after multiple witnesses contradicted his earlier deposition, Sondland blames everyone but himself for the pressure campaign on Ukraine now driving impeachment proceedings against Trump. He plans to show up for his televised hearing with reams of new text messages and emails he said prove the highest levels of the White House and the State Department were in on it.
"They knew what we were doing and why," Sondland plans to tell the House Intelligence Committee, according to his opening statement obtained by NBC News. "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."
He says he knows House members have asked "was there a quid pro quo," adding that when to comes to the White House meeting sought by Ukraine's leader, "The answer is yes."
Beginning at 9 a.m. ET on Capitol Hill, Amb. to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies in the impeachment probe — the most highly anticipated public hearing yet in the proceedings. Then, at 2:30 pm ET, Laura Cooper of the Defense Department and David Hale of the State Department have their turns before the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry.
And at 9 p.m. ET from Atlanta, 10 Democratic presidential candidates — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Cory Booker and Tom Steyer – participate in the fifth round of Dem debates, this one hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post.
Sondland’s testimony is significant because it comes after the State Department’s David Holmes revealed behind closed-door testimony that he overheard a phone conversation between the E.U. ambassador and President Trump, in which the two men discussed “the investigation” — ostensibly into Joe Biden.
ANALYSIS: Witnesses take a toll on Trump's impeachment defenses
They both wore the uniforms of their country during congressional testimony, but Alexander Vindman struck the reverse image of Oliver North.
Thirty-two years ago, North — then a Marine lieutenant colonel on the National Security Council staff — testified before Congress about his role in defying Congress to deliver aid to Nicaraguan rebels. On Tuesday, Vindman, currently an Army lieutenant colonel on the National Security Council staff, told House impeachment investigators that it was "improper" for President Donald Trump to "demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent."
Had Vindman stood alone — under attack as he was from Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and other allies of the president — he would have made for a compelling accuser. But later in the day, his conclusion was supported by two witnesses — former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security Council staffer and longtime GOP Hill aide Tim Morrison — who said that it was not "appropriate" for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate an American citizen, particularly one, former Vice President Joe Biden, who is a political rival of the president.
In the end, Vindman was just the most riveting of four witnesses who delivered testimony that was deeply damaging to Trump's remaining defenses against allegations that he was personally involved in pushing for an arms-for-investigations deal.
First, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, a special adviser on Europe and Russia to Vice President Mike Pence — who both listened in on the July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy — said that call gave them cause for concern, while Vindman faced repeated personal attacks by Republicans on the committee.
Next, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine who resigned after his name appeared in the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, made a significant revision to his testimony, and Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council staffer, expressed worry about ties between military aid to Ukraine and the opening of investigations that would be politically advantageous to Trump.