EVENT ENDED

Analysis after Gordon Sondland, Laura Cooper and David Hale's impeachment testimony

Image: Day 4 of Impeachment hearings with Laura Cooper and Gordon Sondland
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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The fourth day of public hearings in the House's impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump saw testimony from three Trump administration officials.

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.

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Sondland, Volker try to convince investigators they had no idea Burisma and Biden were linked for months

Sondland and Volker have made a somewhat unconvincing argument that they did not come to know that “Burisma” was shorthand for an investigation into the Bidens.

Asked about embassy official David Holmes’ testimony that, after a July 26 phone call between Sondland and Trump, Sondland said the president only cared about “big stuff” like the Biden probe, Sondland said he didn’t think he would’ve made the connection to Biden then, instead saying Burisma, because he did not know the two were linked.

Trump, meanwhile, was talking specifically about Biden on his call with Zelenskiy the day before. And, the connection between Burisma and Biden, whose son Hunter sat on the company’s board, was made explicitly clear in numerous media reports in the beginning of May — before, according to Sondland, the efforts to have Ukraine announce the probes began.

Meanwhile, Volker on Tuesday said he now understood Burisma to mean the Bidens. But he also testified that he knew, while the investigation push was ongoing, that Hunter had sat on the board of the Ukrainian gas company.

“So this smart guy, along with Volker, never connected Burisma with Bidens until they saw readout of Trump’s call?” former Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., an NBC News and MSNBC analyst, tweeted. “Simply not believable. Period.”

What Sondland came to believe about the 'quid pro quo' over military aid

Goldman is pressing Sondland again over whether military aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the launching of the investigations desired by the White House — and whether such a directive came directly from Trump.

"The aid was my own personal guess," Sondland said.

He added, "My testimony is I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on announcement" of the investigations into Burisma/the Bidens and the 2016 election.

But a moment later, Sondland said that "by Sept. 8, I was absolutely convinced it was."

Goldman then asked whether Sondland, by Sept. 9, understood that Trump, "either himself or through his agents required" that Zelenskiy make a public announcement "into the two investigations that President Trump cared about in order to get both the White House meeting and to release the security assistance."

"I believe that is correct," Sondland said.

Earlier in the questioning, Sondland had said only that it was his "personal presumption" that the military assistance to Ukraine was being withheld pending an announcement by Zelenskiy to open investigations.

Trump, Sondland communicate in 'four-letter words'

Goldman is pressing Sondland on a July 26 call he held with Trump that was overheard by Holmes.

As Sondland said in his opening statement, he repeated that he was not going to dispute what Holmes "did or didn’t hear."

Goldman pointed out that one thing Holmes testified that he had overheard was Sondland telling Trump that Zelenskiy "loves your ass."

Sondland replied, smiling, "That's how Trump and I communicate … a lot of four-letter words."

"In this case, three letters," he added.

Goldman points out direct line between Sondland and Trump

Goldman, in emphasizing that Sondland had a direct line to Trump, appears to be pointing out that Sondland’s account could be the clearest yet about what Trump desired when it came to the launching of investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election.

“You had direct access to President Trump, yes?” Goldman asked.

Sondland replied that he does when Trump “decides” to take his calls.

“He certainly took your call twice as it related to Ukraine,” Goldman said.

Sondland nodded affirmatively.

Sondland said he thought release of military aid was contingent on investigation announcement

During an exchange with Schiff, Sondland said he ultimately thought the military assistance to Ukraine was being withheld pending an announcement by Zelenskiy to open the sought-after investigations.

“That was my presumption — my personal presumption, based on the facts at the time. Nothing was moving,” Sondland said, referring to the frozen security assistance. 

Asked again whether the release of the nearly $400 million in military aid was contingent on the investigations announcement, Sondland replied, “That was my belief.” 

Meet the two seasoned staff prosecutors now in impeachment spotlight

The fast-moving impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals is not only putting the partisanship on the House Intelligence Committee on full display, it's also catapulting the lead lawyers for both parties into the national spotlight.

Daniel Goldman is the Democrats' lead counsel and Steve Castor represents the Republicans. Both lawyers have extensive experience in Washington and in the courtroom and led the questioning of the closed-door depositions of witnesses in the inquiry. Both will have 45 minutes to grill witnesses on behalf of their respective sides as the inquiry moves forward.

Read the full story.

Lawmakers read along with Sondland, with the exception of Nunes

Both Democratic and Republican members appeared to be reading along as Sondland read his statement. The exclusion was Nunes who was mostly looking straight ahead and sometimes talking to his counsel, Castor, sitting to his left. Castor was following along the opening statement. You could see him flipping through the packet when it's time to turn a page.

Schiff emphasizing key points made by Sondland

Schiff is using his questions, presumably, to bring attention to key points from Sondland’s opening statement. 

Schiff referred to the “quid pro quo” mentioned by Sondland involving a White House meeting for Zelenskiy in exchange for the launching of investigations by Ukraine into Burisma and the 2016 election.

Schiff also mentioned Sondland’s statement that Mulvaney, Pompeo and others were all aware of these conditions.

“Correct,” Sondland replied each time.

Sondland failed to bring up his call with Trump during deposition. He confirmed it today.

Sondland confirmed Wednesday that he did speak with Trump by phone at a restaurant in Kyiv the day after the Trump-Zelenskiy phone call. 

This was a key admission; he did not mention this phone call during his closed-door deposition on Oct. 17, when he appeared under subpoena. 

“I spoke by phone with President Trump. The White House, which has finally shared certain call dates and times with my attorneys, confirms this,” Sondland said Wednesday. 

Sondland said that the phone call lasted five minutes and he recalled that he was at a restaurant. Responding to the testimony by David Holmes, a foreign service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, about that phone call, which Holmes said he overheard, Sondland said, “I have no reason to doubt that this conversation included the subject of investigations.”

“Other witnesses have recently shared their recollection of overhearing this call. For the most part, I have no reason to doubt their accounts,” Sondland added.

Sondland said he can’t remember precise details of the conversation — which occurred during a lunch attended by Holmes and two other State Department staffers — and that the White House “has not allowed me to see any readouts of that call.” 

This comes after Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, testified last week and revealed information regarding this phone call for the first time, after Holmes had told him about it during the week prior. 

Holmes testified about this phone call in a closed-door deposition Friday and will testify about it publicly on Thursday.