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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Cooper says Ukrainians were aware of hold on July 25, contradicting GOP

Cooper, in a straightforward opening statement that focused almost entirely on procedure, explained how and when she became aware of the hold on the military aid to Ukraine. 

But in an addendum to her prepared statement, she explained that she’s learned of the existence of multiple emails that had been sent to her office (but that she hadn’t received) pertaining to questions she had been asked during her October deposition about whether she knew if the Ukrainians had known about the hold or had asked any questions about it. 

Cooper said that her staff later showed her two unclassified emails from the State Department. Both were sent two hours apart on the afternoon of July 25. The first, Cooper said, showed that the Ukrainian Embassy was “asking about the security assistance,” and the second suggested that “Hill knows about the [aid freeze] situation.”

Cooper said that a third email, on July 3, from the State Department, showed that the “CN [congressional notification] was being blocked from OMB [White House Office of Management and Budget].”

Schiff, a moment later, asked Cooper whether her sharing the existence of those emails meant that the Ukrainians “knew there was something going on with” the aid.

“Yes, sir,” she replied.

This means that Cooper is saying the Ukrainians were, in fact, aware of the aid hold on the same day as the well-documented July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy. This contradicts the argument by Republicans, including Trump, that the Ukrainians had no idea of the hold this early — meaning, according to that argument, that there could not have been a quid pro quo.

Hale, unlike all previous public inquiry witnesses, did not deliver an opening statement.

Hale and Cooper are sworn in before their testimony

Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper, right, and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale are sworn in before their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill on Nov. 20, 2019.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images

Nunes plays the greatest hits

Nunes, in his opening statement, hit on many of the same topics he’s mentioned in his past opening statements in the previous hearings.

He said that Democrats “accused us” of trying to out the whistleblower during the hearings on Tuesday, “even though they claim they don’t even know who it is.”

He also accused Democrats of “sparing” Hunter Biden from under-oath questioning and alleged that they have employed “petty tricks” in the hearings.

“What exactly are the Democrats impeaching the president for?” he said in closing.

“None of us here actually know,” he added.

Schiff opens second public hearing of the day

Schiff, in his opening statement of the second of two hearings of the day, summarized the case House Democrats are building in their impeachment inquiry and explained how the testimony of the next two witnesses, Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine, and David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs, plays into it.

“Cooper, along with others, learned about the freeze” in a series of interagency meetings in July, Schiff explained.

Hale, he said, “was witness to the smear campaign against Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and the efforts by some in the State Department to help her.”

And Sondland made his flight back to Brussels...he'd been worried about that during his lengthy testimony and the ambassador's lawyer expressed his concern to Schiff about it as the appearance dragged on more than six and a half hours...But here Sondland is at the airport, on his way...

Cooper arrives for testimony before House Intel

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.Julio Cortez / AP

Schiff gavels in second hearing with Cooper, Hale

Chairman Adam Schiff gaveled in the second impeachment inquiry hearing of the day with Hale and Cooper at roughly 5:40 p.m. We expect opening statements from the chair and ranking member followed by the witnesses and then to go right into five-minute member questions. A roughly 2.5 hour hearing is expected. 

Format changed for upcoming impeachment witnesses, cutting length of hearing

The hearing format has been revamped for the testimony this evening of Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs.

There will be no extended question round for the Intelligence Committee chairman and the ranking Republican members, or their staff lawyers. That means following opening statements, the hearing will move straight to lawmakers' questions.

The hearing is therefore likely to run about 2.5 to 3 hours, not the more than 6.5 hours like the earlier Sondland session.     

The Michigan lawmaker left the GOP in July, remaining in Congress as an independent.

Prior to that decision, he was the first congressional Republican to conclude that Trump had engaged in "impeachable conduct" after viewing the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.  

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.