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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Schiff calls Sondland testimony: 'Very important moment' in impeachment inquiry

Sondland: Trump and Giuliani wanted Ukraine to announce, not actually do, the probes

In a key moment of his testimony on Wednesday, Sondland said that, as he understood it, Zelenskiy simply had to announce the probes into Burisma and the debunked conspiracy into Democrats and the 2016 election — not actually do them.

“He didn't actually have to do them, as I understood it,” Sondland said, noting that Zelenskiy simply had to announce them “in some form” publicly.

Sondland said Giuliani and the president at no point made clear they were interested in the progression of those investigation, just that they wanted to see them announced.

That makes it seem clear that the interest in announcing the probes would be to have a cloud of scandal hang over Biden and others, not to weed out corruption in Ukraine.

And on Tuesday, Vindman testified that his anticorruption talking points were ignored by Trump in his initial April call with Zelenskiy, implying that corruption was not a concern for Trump until he became invested in pushing investigations. Plus, as Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, noted last week in questioning witnesses, the Trump administration did not place any hold on aid the prior two years. That signals the Trump administration only recently became concerned with corruption — a longstanding problem in Ukraine.

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.