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

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE

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.

Trump impeachment highlights:

Trump impeachment explained.

Trump impeachment timeline.

Who are the attorneys questioning the witnesses?

Transcript of Trump's conversation with Ukrainian president

Download the NBC News mobile app for the latest news on the impeachment inquiry

Live Blog

Sondland says all the president's men focused on Biden probe

Gordon Sondland flipped on President Donald Trump — and all the president's men — Wednesday.

"We followed the president's orders," he told lawmakers at the House impeachment inquiry hearing.

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union described in detail how Trump and several of his top lieutenants — including personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — were all "in the loop" on a policy that increasingly focused on securing the announcement of investigations affecting American politics.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are pushing to gather enough evidence to justify an article of impeachment involving bribery, and they believe Sondland's testimony moved them further in that direction.

But even short of that, he provided a mountain of fresh details about the breadth and depth of the administration's focus on using the powers of the executive branch for what they say are partisan political purposes — justification, perhaps, for articles based on "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Read the full analysis.

Pence, Pompeo and Perry say Sondland should refresh his memory again

Sondland doesn’t know what he’s talking about, representatives for Pence, Pompeo and Perry all asserted Wednesday after the ambassador tied each of the three men closer to Trump’s push to have Ukraine investigate the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election and Democrats.

Sondland testified Wednesday that Pence and Pompeo were “in the loop” on Trump and Giuliani’s efforts regarding the Ukrainian probes. Sondland said he worked with Giuliani "at the express direction of the president," whose demands amounted to a "quid pro quo."

"They knew what we were doing and why," Sondland said. The ambassador testified that he discussed the investigation into Burisma — which he claims he did not at the time connect to the Bidens — with Pence before the vice president met with Zelenskiy on Sept. 1. Sondland said he told Pence "before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations."

Regarding Pompeo, Sondland said that as late as Sept. 24, Pompeo had directed Volker to speak with Giuliani. And he testified that he updated Perry, one of the “three amigos” — along with Sondland and Volker — that a meeting between Zelenskiy and Trump was dependent on the announcement of those investigations. Sondland added that Perry and Volker “did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,” but were playing “the hand we were dealt.”

Administration responds

All three of their offices pushed back on Sondland's testimony.

Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said in a statement that Pence “never” had such a conversation with Sondland “about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations” and that the two were never alone during the Sept. 1 trip to Poland.

“This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened,” Short said.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Sondland “never told” Pompeo he believed Trump “was linking aid to investigations of political opponents.”

“Any suggestion to the contrary is flat out false,” she added.

And Energy Department press secretary Shaylyn Hynes said Sondland “misrepresented” Perry’s interactions with Giuliani and the “direction” Perry got from Trump.

“As previously stated, Secretary Perry spoke to Rudy Giuliani only once at the president’s request,” Hynes said. “No one else was on that call. At no point before, during or after that phone call did the words ‘Biden’ or ‘Burisma’ ever come up in the presence of Secretary Perry.”

In Wednesday’s hearing, Turner pressed Sondland on whether anyone explicitly told him that nearly $400 million in military aid was tied to the political investigations. Sondland replied no one had made that  connection explicit.

Sondland hearing ends after nearly 7 hours

Closing statements from Nunes and Schiff have brought Wednesday's first public hearing to an end — nearly seven hours after it was gaveled in.

Nunes thanked Sondland for “indulging” his committee’s questions and pointed to Sondland’s response in his original deposition that Trump on a September phone call had told him, “I want nothing,” as proof that there was no quid pro quo.

Schiff, in his closing remarks, said Sondland’s testimony was “deeply significant and troubling,” calling it a “seminal moment in our investigation.”

He wrapped up his lengthy remarks by saying he felt that no blame lay with any of the witnesses — and that their testimony all points to only “one person” being responsible.

“Donald J. Trump, president of the United States,” Schiff said.

“The president was the one who decided whether a meeting would happen, whether the aid would be lifted — not anyone who worked for him,” he said.

State Dept. denies Sondland told Pompeo that aid was tied to investigations

“Gordon Sondland never told Secretary Pompeo that he believed the president was linking aid to investigations of political opponents," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday. "Any suggestion to the contrary is flat-out false.” 

During Sondland’s opening statement this morning, he testified that Pompeo had direct knowledge of the alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election.

Sondland also gave the House committee emails between him and Pompeo and a top aide to the secretary of state that suggest a quid pro quo might have occurred.

Sondland said he had only one ‘formal’ meeting with Mulvaney. That doesn’t square with Fiona Hill’s testimony.

Sondland said Wednesday that he had only one “formal” meeting with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who multiple impeachment witnesses testified coordinated an alleged quid pro quo effort that involved the dangling of a White House meeting in exchange for investigations desired by Trump. 

Sondland said that that formal meeting with Mulvaney wasn’t about Ukraine. That claim doesn’t line up, however, with testimony from the former Russia adviser on the National Security Council, Fiona Hill, who answered lawmakers’ questions behind closed doors in the impeachment inquiry in mid-October. 

“Sondland said repeatedly he was meeting with chief of staff Mulvaney,” Hill told lawmakers on the three congressional committees conducting the inquiry. 

Asked how she knew that, Hill said, “because I know that from Mulvaney’s staff.” 

Hill added that people who worked for then-national security adviser John Bolton “could see Gordon Sondland going into Mulvaney’s office. The guards could see Ambassador Sondland going into Mulvaney’s office.” 

Hill testified behind closed doors that she had a “very good relationship” with Sondland in the beginning, but then she “had a blow-up with him” in June of this year when Sondland told Hill that he was in charge of Ukraine policy — adding it was a decision made by Trump.

Mulvaney suggested during a press conference in October that there was a quid pro quo, suggesting to reporters in the White House briefing room that Trump had held up U.S. military assistance to Ukraine in order to get it to investigate a conspiracy theory involving Ukraine influencing the 2016 presidential election.

Hayes: The big problem with GOP's focus on Hunter Biden

Maloney, Sondland spar as hearing nears end

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., went after Sondland hard in his questioning, criticizing him for how long it took him to be completely forthright.

Maloney pushed Sondland to answer the question of who would benefit from Ukraine investigating the Bidens. After several attempts to avoid answering — and amid constant pushing from Maloney — Sondland finally said the answer was that Trump would benefit.

“Didn’t hurt a bit!” Maloney exclaimed, sarcastically congratulating the witness for his ultimate response.

Sondland, apparently taking offense, said he resented Maloney’s reaction, adding he’d spent hours testifying, both privately and publicly, and had been “forthright” today.

Maloney — referring to the fact that Sondland had to correct his closed-door testimony and that he provided new information today only after several other witnesses contradicted his prior testimonies — hit back with a curt reply.

“Let’s be really clear on what it took to get that out of you,” he said.

Watch: Top moments from Sondland testimony at impeachment hearing

OPINION: Hearings reveal extent of damage Trump's inflicted on our national security

We are in real danger. There are certainly many conclusions to be drawn from the recent days of detailed testimony by officials on the National Security Council and at the State Department in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. But beyond the political points scored and the possibility of removing a president, there's an even more unsettling feeling that I can’t shake. These hearings have laid bare just how crippled the staff, systems and structures designed to protect our country really are.

This troubling state of insecurity ought to jolt even the most jaded member of Congress into sitting up straight and starting to think about how to straighten it out really fast. But instead of trying to address the damage to our defenses, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting the inquiry, opt to exacerbate matters. They are trying to use this broken system to discredit and undermine the witnesses who are testifying to Trump’s bad behavior.

Repeatedly, these members of Congress have asked the public servants testifying — who have information about Trump allegedly pressuring Ukraine into investigating a major political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son in exchange for aid and a White House visit — whether they themselves had ever met the president. The implication they hope will be drawn from their answers that they never once met him is that these individuals lack the stature and direct knowledge to be credible. 

Read the full piece.