Get ready for a day of only the hottest takes.
Gordon Sondland is set to appear at 9AM Est before the House Intel Committee. To this point, we’ve not had a single “witness” provide any knowledge about a quid pro quo, extortion attempt, or “bribery” (the latest polled term by Democrats). That’s put Adam Schiff in the situation of placing just about everything he’s got left on Sondland. He needs this witness to actually speak to a direct order from Donald Trump.
What I can guarantee, is that no matter what happens today, the media are going to proclaim it as Trump’s downfall.
Right now, this feels like the Benghazi hearings but with the parties reversed. In the end, none of this showmanship, crying ambassadors, connecting of dots, or wearing military uniforms is going to matter. All that will matter is if charges of “bribery” can be proven directly. That’s the bar Schiff has set for himself. If that doesn’t happen today, these impeachment proceedings are going to crumble.
I’ll also note that there’s another witness this afternoon, but I’m not live blogging it. It’s a woman from the State Department that claimed they were in a frenzy when the aid was put on hold. Once again, there’s no personal knowledge of anything being provided.
It’s Sondland or bust for Schiff.
Looks like Sondland is going to blow this thing wide open.
“Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States,” Sondland said. “We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President’s orders.” …
“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” Sondland’s statement says. “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President.”
The nuance here has always been that we already knew Trump wanted the investigations. It’s not improper to want those things looked into. There’s no mention of Biden here (not yet anyway). No mention of holding up aid. But this will be enough to blow the news cycle up, so get ready.
The other key here is that part of the impeachable arugment made against Trump is that it was illegal for him to hold up the aid in return for investigations. If it was only about a White House meeting, that lowers the stakes dramatically, although no one who’s held the former view until now will admit it. They’ll just reset the goalposts.
To make Schiff’s case, Democrats will need to press Sondland under questioning. Was there ever a mention of a political motive or are we just going to impeach a President for wanting corruption investigations?
Just to note, I haven’t read the entire opening statement yet. It’s very possible Sondland will equivocate in some of the 23 pages and this will be less “bombshelly.” But currently, the media are obviously running wild with those two paragraphs.
Another note here. Sondland said this under oath.
Before sending that text, Ambassador Sondland had a phone call with the President.
Sondland asked President Trump “what do you want from Ukraine?”
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) November 5, 2019
He also testified that he had made assumptions about a quid pro quo but did not have direct information about that. If he’s changing his testimony now, he’s going to get nailed when Republicans start questioning him. This guy likely goes to jail either way at this point.
But look, as I’ve said before, Trump has made mistakes here. Setting Giuliani loose was stupid and counter-productive. Not thinking long term and realizing everyone would turn on Giuliani is an unforced error and he’s going to pay a price for it. He won’t be removed, but the political damage will be real unless Republicans just take Sondland apart later today.
Sondland has already testified under oath that:
There were NO preconditions regarding Ukrainian aid.@realDonaldTrump told him personally: “I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing… to do what he ran on.”
It’s clear: There was #NoQuidProQuo!
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) November 20, 2019
My suspicion is that Sondland will try to equivocate this when questioning starts. That he assumed Giuliani was speaking directly for the President (a fair assumption) and moved to ask for the investigations as a precondition for the WH meeting but that the President had told him otherwise on that phone call. The real question will be if he can attest to wanting to target Biden specifically and for partisan reasons, i.e. not legitimate concerns.
Meanwhile, Sondland is arguing he’s non-partisan even though he was a major donor to Trump. That’s not going to fly for either side.
Ok, so this is the nuance I was talking about. Sondland testified just now that the WH meeting was conditioned on investigations into 2016 meddling and Burisma. There is no mention of Joe or Hunter Biden, although the later is directly tied to Burisma and would naturally be proper to investigate if the company was targeted.
That’s the line that’s going to try to be walked here. Sondland doesn’t want to admit to arranging any kind of political quid pro quo, even one dealing with something as non-consequential legally as a White House meeting. Doing so would expose him. Instead, he says that the investigations were “important” to Trump and doesn’t say they involved the Bidens. Under that guise, they could all be proper or not depending on what assumptions you make. And no GOP Senator outside of 2-3 would vote to remove over that.
Sondland’s opening statement finally ends.
Schiff is questioning now and if Sondland thought throwing the Democrats a bone would earn him a softer touch, that’s not happening. The witness is getting tied up in knots, saying he’s confused by what’s being asked. Schiff tries to say it was political and Sondland says he can’t characterize it that way. Again, that is the line he’s trying to walk.
Sondland says he was assuming that Giuliani was speaking for the President in regards to the investigations but has no direct evidence any of the requests were political. There’s that line being toed again. Further, Sondland says any of his thoughts on the aid being help up were his presumptions. Schiff tried hard to get him to admit otherwise, but he didn’t succeed.
Now, the Democrat counsel is asking questions.
This has been a common refrain from Never Trumpers for a while.
"He had to announce the investigations. He didn't actually have to do them, as I understood it." – Sondland.
This is key. It was never about corruption. It was about tarring a domestic political opponent.
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) November 20, 2019
The problem is that two minutes later, Sondland directly contradicted this characterization. He testifies that the investigations didn’t have to start or be completed before a meeting, not that they didn’t have to ultimately happen. Further, he testifies that Trump “wanted the investigations to go forward” and that the public statement was not political, but meant to get Ukraine on record so they couldn’t back out.
Next, Sondland says he never heard any order from Trump involving aid and investigations.
“President Trump never told me directly the aid was conditioned on the meetings”
He says he made assumptions to that effect. That seems important.
We are in recess right now. Republican questions are coming up next, so stay tuned.
Nunes is questioning now. He points out that recess was not a bathroom break, but a chance for Schiff to go do a press conference to proclaim all the “bombshells” this morning. Nunes is making the case that Trump’s suspicions about Ukraine were legitimate, thereby the request for investigations were. He’s going over the things we’ve heard before, from the DNC operative trying to get dirt on Trump, to Ukrainian officials trashing Trump during 2016.
This is an admission that helps Trump, because it bolsters his motivations as being proper.
Sondland concedes that he understands why, based on certain facts (Politico article, etc), Trump thought Ukrainians tried to take him down in 2016 & was therefore distrustful of them.
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) November 20, 2019
Sondland is pressed by GOP counsel and admits that not even Giuliani told him there was an order from the President to setup a quid pro quo. He says he assumed that part as well. His entire testimony appears to be assumption, which he readily admits. He reiterates that he received no word from anyone, including Rudy about tying aid to investigations.
Republicans shooting at heart of where they believe Dem argument is vulnerable. Sondland never heard Trump describe a quid pro quo.
Q: Did POTUS ever tell you "personally" about any preconditions for aid to be released? For a White House meeting?
— Olivia Beavers (@Olivia_Beavers) November 20, 2019
This is all going to come down to whether Giuliani will testify that he was acting of his own volition at that point, simply trying to get the investigations done that Trump thought were important and legitimate. That assumes Democrats could ever make him testify at all. If he doesn’t, the waters will remain muddy.
➡️ The president never told you about any preconditions for aid?
➡️ The president never told you about any preconditions for a White House meeting?
— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) November 20, 2019
Honestly, if Giuliani were sane enough to just testify, he could end all this immediately. All he’d have to say is that Trump wanted the investigations and that he took liberties to get that done in ways he didn’t think were improper. But because Giuliani is not sane, the WH could never trust him to testify, which means this will be drug out further than it otherwise would need to be.
GOP counsel brings the heat to end, pointing out that Sondland kept no notes, has no evidence of anything, and admits that everything he’s saying is speculative. Sondland says he’s been clear when he was speculation (which is true). This is going to be the issue long term. Without Giuliani confirming an order from the President involving the meeting, we are left with a link unconnected and everyone is going to go wild in their own directions.
This could be fixed if Giuliani weren’t a crazy person that you’d never trust to testify.
If Rudy Giuliani were sane enough to testify, he could end this tomorrow. He could simply say that he took liberties trying to get the investigations the President wanted but that no direct order to tie them to anything existed.
Unfortunately for the WH, Giuliani is not sane.
— Bonchie (@bonchieredstate) November 20, 2019
But he is a crazy person that you’d never trust to testify which is why Trump made a stupid mistake ever involving him in anything, much less foreign affairs.
Now we are back to 30 minutes of “staff led” questions which I assume will be Schiff and his counsel.
Fake news is going to be wild today, so be on guard.
This tweet from the AP is false
Trump was literally quoting Sondland's testimony
Expect an avalanche of lies from the media over the next 24-48 hours in response to Sondland's testimony
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) November 20, 2019
Democrat counsel and Schiff are still questioning. It’s all old ground, getting Sondland to reiterate things and agree that he doesn’t dispute whatever Taylor and Morrison said.
Schiff is pressing him on a connection between aid and investigations, which Sondland continues to maintain didn’t happen. He repeats that Trump never said anything like that to him.
And now Nunes is back up.
Lunch Recess is happening now.
Republicans are questioning and the gloves are off. They are going hard at Sondland. Rep. Turner is absolutely destroying him right now, getting him to admit that everything he’s said is a presumption.
He even gets Sondland to say that Giuliani never actually told him that, which is a big point here.
Sondland just testified that "no one on the planet" told him that Trump tied aid to an investigation in Ukraine.
"I presumed," he said.
— Jason Howerton (@jason_howerton) November 20, 2019
Schiff gets up and tries to save matters by saying that Trump didn’t have to actually order a quid pro quo, which is nonsensical when we are talking about the high bar of removing a President.
Meanwhile, this entire spectacle is backfiring.
In new results, 40% of WI registered voters think Trump should be impeached and removed from office, 53% do not think so, 6% don’t know. #mulawpoll
— MULawPoll (@MULawPoll) November 20, 2019
Rep. Spiers just got a round of applause for saying Trump gets “5 Pinnochios” everyday. This was in response to a Republican entering a WaPo fact-check into the record that showed Schiff is lying about whistle-blower anonymity by law. That tells you what kind of group is actually watching this.
Spiers then went on to scream “muh Russia,” claiming that holding the aid up was helping Russia, again trying to paint the President as doing Putin’s bidding. That’s odd, because it was Obama who never gave Ukraine any lethal aid. Was he a Putin puppet?
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) grills Ambassador Gordon Sondlandpic.twitter.com/7f4KZOqgEv
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) November 20, 2019
And here’s the clip of Rep. Turner I cited in my previous update. This was the biggest moment of the day for Republicans so far.
This one clip completely eviscerates the entire Democrat impeachment narrative in two minutes.
Absolutely a MUST WATCH.
— Big League Politics (@bigleaguepol) November 20, 2019
And that’ll do it. They are just doing closing statements and I’m not going to waste my time relaying whatever Schiff decides to say. He’ll no doubt go run to a microphone immediately anyway.
I’ll have my final wrap up of this testimony later this evening. There is another witness later this afternoon, but unless they choose to commit perjury, they have nothing worthwhile to add and were privy to nothing noteworthy.
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