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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The Nunes moment that has Twitter meming

The moment of the hearing so far — aside from the various bombshells dropped by Sondland — is Nunes’ reaction going into the first break.

As Schiff called the break, Nunes sneaked a look at Stephen Castor, the staff attorney for the GOP at the impeachment hearings. 

It’s already getting remixed.

Pence disputes Sondland testimony that he knew about concerns over delayed aid

Pence's office responded to Sondland's assertion that he told the vice president about concerns that aid to Ukraine had been frozen because of investigations of the Bidens and the 2016 election sought by the Trump administration:

"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," a statement from the VP's chief of staff, Marc Short, said.  

"Ambassador Gordon Sondland was never alone with Vice President Pence on the September 1 trip to Poland.  This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened. Multiple witnesses have testified under oath that Vice President Pence never raised Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden, Crowdstrike, Burisma, or investigations in any conversation with Ukrainians or President Zelensky before, during, or after the September 1 meeting in Poland."

Mike Pence speaks on the future of the US relationship with China at the Wilson Center's inaugural Frederic V. Malek Public Service Leadership lecture, in Washington, on Oct. 24, 2019.Nichola Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

Sondland says he's a ‘proud’ amigo; Volker, not so much

Nunes used part of his questioning to ask Sondland if he was part of the “three amigos” — a nickname for the alleged shadow policy team in Ukraine of Sondland, Perry and Volker.

“I’m a proud member of the three amigos,” Volker replied, smiling.

Nunes responded, “and that’s the same thing Ambassador Volker said yesterday.”

Actually, it’s not.

Volker, in fact, said, “I never used that term — and frankly cringe when I hear it.”

“For me, the ‘three amigos’ will always refer to Sen. John McCain, Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham, in reference to their work to support the surge in Iraq,” Volker said Tuesday.

Volker added that he was “never aware” of “any designation by Trump or anyone else” putting himself, Sondland or Perry “or the three of us as a group in charge of Ukraine policy.”

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.