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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Article II: Inside Impeachment — Blockbuster testimony

On the latest episode, Article II host Steve Kornacki talks to NBC White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell about the bombshell testimony from U.S Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

They discuss how Sondland's testimony implicated administration officials all the way up to President Donald Trump and the ways in which the ambassador's statements could shape the trajectory of the inquiry. That includes the questioning Thursday of David Holmes, a senior diplomat who overheard the July 26 phone call between Trump and Sondland.

Download the episode.

Nunes, Schiff wrap up hearing in competing styles

In a scornful closing statement, Nunes compared the inquiry to a game of “three card monte” and the hearings to an “inquisition” — although he noted that he felt that the victims of inquisitions had “more rights” than the witnesses testifying at the hearings.

He then took aim at what he said were the tactics of some House Democrats, suggesting they must have learned them in law schools that teach “if the facts and the law are against you, simply rig the game and hope your audience is too stupid to catch your duplicity.”

Schiff, smiling, replied, “I thank the gentleman, as always, for his remarks,” prompting laughter from the audience.

In his own closing remarks, Schiff delivered an almost professorial lecture on what he said was the difference between “corruption and anti-corruption,” explaining that Republicans have mixed up their definitions when it comes to how they’ve assessed Trump’s calls for Ukraine to launch investigations into the Bidens and a “conspiracy theory” into the 2016 election.

“That,” Schiff said, “is not anti-corruption. That is corruption.”

Cooper suggests Trump admin didn’t follow legal mechanisms for hold on Ukraine aid

Cooper suggested in testimony that the administration didn't follow what she believes are the legal mechanisms to put a hold on already appropriated aid.

During an exchange with Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, Cooper said that Congress was notified of the aid to Ukraine, through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, and then there was a waiting period before it became available around mid-June. 

But on July 18, the Office of Management and Budget announced that the U.S. would freeze the aid to Ukraine. Cooper said that during a July 26 meeting, her superiors at the Pentagon raised the question of how the president’s guidance could be implemented. These officials, she said, suggested that a reprogramming action might be the best option to execute the decision, but more research would be required. 

After that meeting, Cooper said that there a discussion on July 31 at her level in which she expressed that it was “my understanding” that there were two ways to stop the dissemination of funds to Ukraine. 

Either the president could propose a recission, Cooper said, or a reprogramming request could be done by the Defense Department. Cooper confirmed that both options would require providing notice to Congress. 

“There was no such notice, to my knowledge, or preparation of a notice, to my knowledge,” Cooper said. 

The aid ultimately was released by the administration on Sept. 11.

An hour of hearing remains

There are fewer than 10 members left to ask questions of Cooper and Hale, which means this hearing should wrap in about an hour barring any breaks. Nunes and Schiff can make closing remarks after the five-minute member round ends.

Quigley notes State and DoD haven't complied with subpoenas to hand over docs

Rep. Quigley pointed out during his questioning that the Defense and State departments have not complied with subpoenas issued by the House Intel, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees for documents as part of the impeachment inquiry, so the committee doesn’t have the emails Cooper referenced tonight.

Carolyn Maloney chosen as first woman to lead House Oversight panel

Veteran New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney was elected Wednesday to lead the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee, the first woman to hold the job in the panel’s 92-year history.

Maloney defeated Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly by a 133-86 vote in a secret ballot among the full Democratic caucus. She succeeds Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who died last month.

As Oversight chief, Maloney, 73, will play a key role in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

The committee has a broad portfolio, including oversight of the Trump administration’s handling of the census and immigration matters, as well as investigations into Trump’s business dealings and security clearances granted to White House officials.

Read the story.

It happens. Rep. Ratcliffe says aid has been frozen to Lebanon, Pakistan, other countries

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, argued Wednesday that the U.S. occasionally withholds security assistance from foreign countries for a variety of reasons. 

Ratcliffe said that Hale had characterized in his previous testimony during a closed-door deposition that it’s a "normal" occurrence. 

"It is certainly an occurrence. It does occur," Hale confirmed Wednesday. 

Ratcliffe then listed a number of countries whose aid the U.S. froze over the last year and asked Hale to confirm or elaborate about those cases.

Hale said, for example, that U.S. aid to Pakistan was withheld "because of unhappiness over policies and (the) behavior of the Pakistani government toward certain proxy groups in conflicts with the U.S."

He also said that aid has been withheld over the last year from three countries in northern Central America, including Honduras. Lastly, U.S. aid to Lebanon has been and still is being withheld for reasons that are unknown, Hale said. 

Ratcliffe was attempting to normalize what occurred in Ukraine in which the Office of Management and Budget halted the U.S. assistance on July 18 and released it again on Sept. 11. A number of key witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, however, have testified that the release of the aid was contingent on Ukraine announcing investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 presidential election. 

During further questioning by Schiff, Hale agreed that it would be unusual and inappropriate to withhold aid in exchange for some conditionality.

State Department contradicts Sondland, says he has 'full access' to his records

The State Department is disputing Sondland’s sworn testimony from Wednesday morning that he could not access records, such as emails, relevant to the impeachment inquiry. 

“Ambassador Sondland, like every current Department of State employee called before Congress in this matter, retained at all times, and continues to retain, full access to his State Department documentary records and his State Department e-mail account, which he has always been fully free to access and review at will,” a State Department official said Wednesday evening. 

But that is not what Sondland said just a few hours earlier. 

“I have not had access to all of my phone records," Sondland said in his opening statement. "State Department emails, and other State Department documents. And I was told I could not work with my EU Staff to pull together the relevant files. Having access to the State Department materials would have been very helpful to me in trying to reconstruct with whom I spoke and met, when, and what was said.” 

At Wednesday's impeachment second hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked Undersecretary of State David Hale to respond to the State Department’s comment, asking if that sounded like standard department policy.

“I hadn't seen it until shortly before entering this hearing room, but it sounds accurate, yes,” Hale said.