rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- If there's one witness in the House impeachment inquiry who could speak to exactly what President Donald Trump wanted in Ukraine, it would be Gordon Sondland and he's testifying in public for the first time on Wednesday.
A wealthy hotelier who donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration, Sondland was tapped by the president to serve as U.S. ambassador to the European Union and again handpicked by Trump to take a lead role on Ukraine. And in revised closed-door testimony, Sondland said he personally delivered the "quid pro quo" to Ukraine, telling a top Ukrainian aide that nearly $400 million in military aid that was already promised to the country was contingent upon an anti-corruption probe that would have included Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Here is how the hearing is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.
The legal counsel representing Republicans, Steve Castor, pressed Sondland on why he omitted from his opening statement the phone conversation with President Trump during which Sondland said the president said he wanted nothing from Ukraine.
“[President Trump] just said, I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo,” Sondland testified earlier Tuesday. “Tell Zelensky to do the right thing. Something to that effect.”
“How come [that wasn’t in your opening statement]? That's so memorable, so striking,” Castor said.
“I don't know. It was in my previous testimony and I assumed if people had questions, they would bring it up,” Sondland said. “It was not purposeful, trust me.”
As Sondland delivers some of the most significant testimony to date, which has included explicit characterizations of Rudy Giuliani’s efforts as a “quid pro quo,” the president’s personal attorney is weighing in.
“Sondland is speculating based on VERY little contact,” Giuliani tweeted. “I never met him and had very few calls with him.”
Shortly after publishing the tweet, Giuliani appeared to delete it.
In another tweet a short time earlier, he said, "During the July 24 conversation @realDonaldTrump agrees to a meeting with Pres. Zelensky without requiring an investigation, any discussion of military aid or any condition whatsoever. This record shows definitively no quid pro quo, which is the same as no bribery. END OF CASE!"
In his original closed-door testimony, Sondland said he recalled speaking 2-3 times with Giuliani by phone, including in August in which “I listened to Mr. Giuliani’s concerns.” In that prior testimony, Sondland said he didn’t recall ever meeting Giuliani in person.
ABC's Jordyn Phelps at the White House reports a fired-up President Trump just ranted to the press corps in reaction to Gordon Sondland’s testimony on the Hill as he departed the White House for a trip to Texas.
The president zeroed in on his conversation with Sondland and offered a dramatic reenactment – emphasizing that he told Sondland he didn’t want a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
“What do you want from Ukraine I keep hearing all these ideas and theories, what do you want? What do you want?” Trump recounts Sondland asking him.
The president then made extended comments -- while shouting -- complete with an aside in which he took issue with a characterization that he was not in a good mood during the call: “I’m always in a good mood, I don’t know what that is.”
He then offered his response, reading off handwritten notes.
"Ready, you have the cameras rolling?"
“Here’s my answer, I want nothing, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo, tell Zelenskiy to do the right thing,” Trump said – a point he emphasized multiple times. “This is the final word from the president of the United States, I want nothing,” Trump said.
The president said “it was a very short and abrupt conversation” and sought to distance himself from Sondland, noting that he supported other candidates before him and saying he didn’t know him very well.
“I don’t know him very well, I have not spoken to him much, this is not a man I know well, seems like a nice guy but I don’t know him well, he was with other candidates, he actually supported other candidates, not me, came in late,” Trump said.
Sondland again asserted that the administration's efforts in Ukraine were not "irregular," insinuating that officials who described it that way may be "aggrieved" at being left out of the loop.
"I'm not sure how someone could characterize something as an irregular channel when you're talking to the President of the United States, the secretary of state, the national security adviser, the chief of staff of the White House, the secretary of energy. I don't know how that's irregular if a bunch of folks that are not in that channel are aggrieved for some reason for not being included, I don't know how they can consider us to be the irregular channel and they to be the regular channel when it's the leadership that makes the decisions," Sondland said.
Ambassador Sondland said he was “shocked” to hear other American officials describe his efforts to coerce Ukraine to announce investigations sought by Trump as a “drug deal.”
Fiona Hill, a former NSC aide, testified that then-National Security Adviser Bolton made reference to the “drug deal” after a July 10 White House meeting with a Ukrainian delegation.
Others have testified that Bolton abruptly ended the meeting when Sondland raised the need for Ukraine to announce those investigations, but Sondland maintained that his recollection was different.
“I don't recall any abrupt ending of the meeting or people storming out or anything like that,” Sondland said. “That would have been very memorable if someone had stormed out of a meeting based on something I said.”
Even so, Sondland conceded that others’ testimony that he raised the investigations to the Ukrainians was likely accurate.
“I probably mentioned that this needs to happen in order to move the process forward,” Sondland testified. “That seemed to be the conventional wisdom at the time.”
A lawyer representing committee Republicans pressed Sondland over his testimony that Rudy Giuliani was representing the president’s interest in coordinated a quid pro quo with Ukraine, as Sondland said in his opening statement.
“You testified that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president. Correct?” Republican Counsel Steve Castor asked Sondland.
“That’s our understanding. Yes,” Sondland replied.
“How did you know that? Who told you?” Castor asked.
“Well, when the president says, talk to my personal attorney and then Mr. Giuliani as his personal attorney makes certain requests or demands, we assume it's coming from the president,” Sondland said.
"Did the president ever tell you personally about any preconditions for anything?" Caster asked at another point.
"No," Sondland replied.
"So, the president never told you about any preconditions for the aid to be released?" Caster asked more specifically.
"No," Sondland answered again.
Speaking to cameras outside the hearing during a short break, Schiff said Sondland’s testimony goes “right to the heart of bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors,” referencing the Impeachment Clause in the Constitution.
“I think [Sondland’s testimony] is a very important moment for this impeachment inquiry,” Schiff said.
Schiff also said Sondland's testimony gives an idea why the White House and the administration have so strongly blocked other officials from appearing before House investigators.
"We now can see the veneer has been torn away," Schiff said.
Sondland said he was never told explicitly by President Trump that Ukraine’s cooperation in announcing investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma was necessary for the release of aid money, but that he assumed that was the case.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement on elections,” Sondland said.
“The only thing we got directly from Giuliani was that the Burisma in 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting,” he continued. “The aid was my own personal guess based, again, on your analogy two plus two equals four.”
Sondland said, before a meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Warsaw on Sept. 1, he brought up to Pence that military aid to Ukraine seemed tied to investigations and that Pence responded affirmatively and said he would speak to the president about it.
"I don't know exactly what I said to him -- this was a briefing attended by many people and I was invited at the very last minute. I wasn't scheduled to be there. But I think I spoke up at some point late in the meeting and said it looks like everything is being held up until these statements get made and that's my you know personal belief," Sondland testified.
"And Vice President Pence just nodded his head?," Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman asked.
"Again I don't recall any exchange or he asked me any questions. I think it was sort of a duly noted," Sondland said.
"Well, he didn't say, 'Gordon, what are you talking about?'" Goldman asked.
"No, he did not," Sondland responded.
"He didn't say, 'What investigations?'" Goldman asked, referring to Pence.
"He did not," Sondland responded.
ABC's Katherine Faulders reports this response from Pence chief of staff Marc Short:
“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.
“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.”
ABC's Katherine Faulders in the hearing room notes that the moment Sondland characterized his conversations with President Trump stood out.
"Sounds like something I would say," Sondland says when Democratic Counsel Dan Goldman asked Sondland if he recalls telling President Trump that President Zelenskiy "loves your ass."
"That's how President Trump and I communicate. A lot of four-letter words. In this case, three letters," Sondland said.
He's speaking of the July 26 phone call that he had with President Trump.
State Department aide David Holmes, who was at the lunch where the call took place, testified that he heard the president on the other end of the telephone conversation.
Holmes testified that they discussed former Vice President Joe Biden. Sondland is again saying he doesn't recall any mention of the Biden on the call, but Burisma.
"I recall Burisma, not Biden," Sondland testified.
Sondland testified that as he “understood it,” the Ukrainians only “had to announce the investigations, [ Zelenskiy ] didn't actually have to do them,” referring to investigations into Burisma and the 2016 elections.
"That undermines the Republican -- and Trump's -- argument that this was all about rooting out corruption," ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce says in analysis.
ABC News' John Santucci and Katherine Faulders are told President Trump is watching the Sondland testimony.
They report senior White House officials, including members of the counsel’s office and communications team, are glued to their televisions watching Sondland's testimony very closely.
Some of the president’s closest allies have privately acknowledged this is going to be a bad day for them, one senior level source reacting in real time that the testimony is “not great for Rudy,” referring to the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Sources tell ABC News White House aides believe this all raises more questions specifically relating to Giuliani, Mulvaney and Pompeo as well as about the operations of the National Security Council.
Sondland described a "continuum that became more insidious over time," saying requests for investigations started as generic but started to include more specific demands to look at the Bidens over time.
"As time went on, more specific items got added to the menu, including the Burisma and 2016 election meddling, specifically the DNC server, specifically, and over this, over this continuum, it became more and more difficult to secure the white house meeting, because more conditions were being placed on the White House meeting," he said.
He also said he did not know that references to investigating Burisma involved Hunter Biden at the time, but that he realized the connection after the transcript was released of the July 25 call between Presidents Trump and Zelenskiy.
That narrative was disputed by David Holmes, who said after Sondland hung up with the president on July 26 he said Trump "doesn't give a s--t about Ukraine," only "big stuff that matters to him, like this Biden investigation that Giuliani is pushing."
Sondland said Wednesday he does not recall saying that.
ABC's Justin Fishel notes that "while Sondland acknowledges a quid pro quo- he is not going to say he was withholding aid to get them to investigate Bidens."
In describing his efforts to “break the logjam” of withholding aid to Ukraine, Sondland said he tried on multiple occasions to persuade the Ukrainians to publicly announce support for the investigations Trump sought.
“I told [Ukrainian chief of staff Andriy] Yermak that I believed that the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland said.
He also recalled his efforts to coordinate a pull-aside meeting in Warsaw during which President Zelenskiy could assure President Trump that his administration would approve the investigations.
“I really regret that the Ukrainians were placed in that predicament, but I do not regret doing what I could to try to break the logjam and to solve the problem,” Sondland testified.
Sondland also confirms the July 26 call with President Trump took place, when Sondland allegedly told State Department aide David Holmes that Trump only cared about Ukraine when it came to “big stuff” like the “Biden investigation.
“The call lasted five minutes. I remember I was at a restaurant in Kyiv, and I have no reason to doubt that this conversation included the subject of investigations. Again, given Mr. Giuliani’s demand that President Zelensky make a public statement about investigations, I knew that the topic of investigations was important to President Trump. We did not discuss any classified information,” he said.
Sondland says he has no reason to doubt other witnesses accounts of that call but that the White House has not let him review a readout or transcript to refresh his memory. But he says the call did not strike him as significant at the time and he does not remember discussing the Bidens after the call, as Holmes testified.
“I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the President’s concerns. However, I have no recollection of discussing Vice President Biden or his son on that call or after the call ended,” his statement says.
Sondland also says "even as late as Sept. 24 of this year," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "was directing Kurt Volker to speak with Rudy Giuliani. In a WhatsApp message, Kurt Volker told me in part: 'Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S,'" , Sondland said, adding that 'S' is the designator for secretary.
Sondland said of Pompeo, Perry and Mulvaney: “Everyone was in the loop" and "It was no secret."
Sondland disputed the recollection of other witnesses in describing a July 10 meeting at the White House with a delegation of Ukrainians.
“Their recollections of those events simply don’t square with my own,” Sondland said. “I do not recall any yelling or screaming as others have said.”
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and former NSC aide Fiona Hill have both described the meeting as a heated affair with infighting among the Americans after Sondland raised the need for Ukraine to open investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.
Hill has testified behind closed doors that the meeting ended abruptly, and afterwards, Ambassador John Bolton, the national security adviser, instructed her to tell the NSC lawyers about the “drug deal Rudy [Giuliani] and [acting White House chief of staff Mick] Mulvaney are cooking up.”
During his opening statement, Sondland – who the White House worried was a “wild card” witness – pointed his finger directly at President Trump in coordinating a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelenskiy,” Sondland said. “Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President.”
Sondland’s assertion appears to be the most explicit and credible testimony to date that the president personally ordered a quid pro quo. Sondland’s credibility has been described by other witnesses, who have described him as having a direct line to President Trump.
“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’” Sondland said at one point. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
Sondland says it is "absolutely false" he and other pursued a kind of shadow foreign policy led by the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. He said leaders in the National Security Council, State Department, and White House were fully aware of what he and others were doing.
"Precisely because we did not think that we were engaging in improper behavior, we made every effort to ensure that the relevant decisionmakers at the National Security Council and State Department knew the important details of our efforts," Sondland said.
"The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false."
The group of American officials known as "the Three Amigos" did not want to coordinate Ukraine policy with Giuliani, but they "played the hand they were dealt" and cooperated with him, Sondland said in his opening statement.
“The Three Amigos” refer to Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and former U.S. Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
The trio worked with “Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States … we followed the President’s orders,” Sondland said, but added that “given what we knew at the time, what we were asked to do did not appear to be wrong.”
Sondland is sworn in and begins his opening statement.
He is joined at the witness table by his counsel, Robert Luskin, a white-collar defense lawyer based in Washington, D.C.
Luskin is no stranger to major legal proceedings. According the profile on his law firm’s website, Luskin is described as having “represented clients in virtually every high-profile matter in Washington, D.C. over the last three decades,” including defendants in cases brought by past independent counsels and the Justice Department.
Ranking Member Devin Nunes continued to blame Democrats for their focus on the impeachment inquiry in his opening statement, echoing similar comments from previous hearings that the entire process is politically motivated.
"After three years of preparation work, much of it spearheaded by the Democrats on this committee, using all the tools of Congress to accuse, investigate, indict and smear the president, they stoked a frenzy amongst their most fanatical supporters that they can no longer control," Nunes said.
"Ambassador Sondland, you are here today to be smeared," Nunes said.
Ahead of Sondland delivering his opening statement, Schiff addressed the White House and State Department decisions to block testimony from other officials or access to documents requested as part of the investigation.
Sondland is set to say there are documents and call records that would add to his testimony but that he has been blocked from accessing them.
Schiff said the documents show "the knowledge of this scheme was far and wide," including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. Schiff said they obstruct the investigation "at their own peril."
"I remind the president that Article 3 of the impeachment articles drafted against President Nixon was his refusal to obey the subpoenas of congress," Schiff said.
Schiff begins his opening statement: "We are here today, as part of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, because President Trump sought to condition military aid to Ukraine and an Oval Office meeting with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in exchange for politically-motivated investigations Trump believed would help his reelection campaign."
After reviewing testimony from other witnesses, Schiff said, "Now, it is up to Congress, as the people’s representatives to determine what response is appropriate. If the President abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts — a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid — it will be up to us to decide, whether those acts are compatible with the office of the Presidency."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gavels the hearing into session.
Sondland takes his seat at the witness table.
ABC News' White House reporter Katherine Faulders, reviewing Sondland's opening statement, notes this key passage: "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."
ABC News' Justice reporter Alexander Mallin notes that in Sondland’s opening statement he seems to indicate he is prepared to testify against the president and change some of the statements in his deposition.
“This is just stunning, an incredible repudiation of President Trump and Rudy Giuliani and in my reading seems to dismantle every counter argument we have thus far heard from Republicans,” Mallin says.
“Either way, any indication that Sondland is preparing to go before Congress to protect the president seems to be thrown away entirely with this, unless I’m reading it entirely wrong.”
Mallin notes several specific points in the opening statement in line with testimony from other witnesses:
-Sondland explicitly acknowledges a quid pro quo specifically with regards to the White House meeting between Trump and Zelenskiy
- Sondland repeatedly says he was acting at the explicit direction of the president in his interactions with Rudy and says Rudy was “was expressing the desires of the President of the United States.”
Sondland has arrived on Capitol Hill for his expected dramatic testimony.
ABC News' White House reporter Katherine Faulders reports White House sources are worried Sondland is the "wild card" witness.
"While sources close to Sondland wouldn’t describe him as “flipping” on President Trump, they say Sondland is “certainly not” going to defend the president during his testimony," Faulders says.
The White House seems most worried about him because “We just don’t know what the heck he’s gonna say,” the sources said.
Expectations for Sondland's testimony are running high both in the Capitol hearing room and over at the White House.
ABC News’ White House reporter Jordyn Phelps notes that the president has shifted his tone on Sondland in recent months.
On May 14, Sondland got a shout-out from the president at an event in Louisiana when Trump said he was doing a “great job.” In October, the president called Sondland “highly respected” and “a really good man and great American.”
But just a month later Trump said he “hardly knows the gentleman,” when asked about Sondland, but noted he said there was no quid pro quo. Trump has also said he doesn’t remember the conversation with Sondland witnesses have described on July 26, when he allegedly asked about the investigation into the Bidens.
"I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks," Sondland testified, according to a transcript of his testimony to lawmakers behind closed doors.
Sondland hasn't said why exactly he delivered that message and whether if it was what Trump wanted.
In closed-door testimony, the ambassador has downplayed his access to Trump. He said the two spoke "maybe five or six times" since he took on the role of EU ambassador and that one of those times was a "Merry Christmas call" with "zero substance."
"I always called him. He never called me," Sondland testified.
Other witnesses though have described him as having a direct line to the president, bragging about being able to call him anytime, and who -- from an outdoor restaurant terrace in Kyiv as his colleagues listened -- assured Trump that Ukraine would do what he wants because its president "loves your ass."
"Ambassador Sondland agreed that the president did not ‘give a s—t about Ukraine" but rather the "big stuff," testified David Holmes behind closed doors. Homes is the State Department employee who said he could hear Trump over the phone talking to Sondland and later asked the ambassador what Trump wants with Ukraine.
"I noted there was 'big stuff' going on in Ukraine, like a war," Holmes added, according to his testimony released by the House Intelligence Committee. "And Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant 'big stuff' that benefits the President, like the 'Biden investigation' that Mr. Giuliani was pushing."
Timothy Morrison, the outgoing senior official at the National Security Council focused on Russia and Europe policy, said in closed-door testimony that Sondland represented himself as acting on a "mandate" from the president "to go and make deals." Morrison said he was aware of roughly a half dozen times that Sondland and Trump spoke by phone between mid-July and mid-September when the military aid was frozen.
"He bragged that he could call the President whenever he wanted," Morrison testified of Sondland, according to the transcript.
The number of times Sondland spoke to the president by phone remains in question. He told Congress that he's requested his phone calls to the White House and State Department but hasn't been able to review those logs and doesn't remember specific dates or details.
But one of those calls came on a key date -- July 25 -- just before Trump called Ukraine's president. According to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House, Ukraine's president mentions military aid and Trump appears to respond by asking the newly elected leader for a "favor" that includes the probe into the Bidens.
In an interview with Ukrainian television, Sondland said he spoke with Trump "just a few minutes before he placed the call." But in his closed-door testimony, he described it as a "kind of nothing call" and couldn't recall the precise timing.
Another key conversation between Sondland and the president would have happened on Sept. 9 -- eight days after Sondland said he delivered the quid pro quo message on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting with the Ukrainians in Warsaw. After being confronted by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who said it's "crazy" to withhold security aid in exchange to help Trump's political campaign, Sondland said he called the president.
"I asked him one open-ended question: What do you want from Ukraine? And as I recall, he was in a very bad mood. It was a very quick conversation. He said: I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing," Sondland testified. "And I said: What does that mean? And he said: I want him to do what he ran on. And that was the end of the conversation. I wouldn't say he hung up [on] me, but it was almost like he hung up on me."
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