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Fiona Hill's gender critique during public impeachment testimony gets applause online

iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Fiona Hill had the high-profile experience of publicly testifying in the impeachment proceedings of a sitting U.S. president – but in doing so, she was also faced with a situation that hit close to home with many women in everyday circumstances.

Hill, an accomplished scholar, was asked to explain an instance when she was "upset" with former U.N. Ambassador Gordon Sondland regarding the way things were going in Ukraine in June 2018.

"I was actually, to be honest, angry with him and, you know, I hate to say it, but often when women show anger, it's not fully appreciated," Hill testified, adding, "It's often, you know, pushed onto emotional issues perhaps or deflected onto other people."

"Often when women show anger, it's not fully appreciated."

Her blunt assessment of the sexism and double standards that often arise when women express anger, struck a chord with women tuned into the hearing, many of whom immediately seized on the moment as a relatable and common experience.

For Hill, the brief admission of anger -- and its perception -- may have simply have been her way of providing the House Intelligence Committee with an accurate answer, but for women across the country it was also a moment of having their everyday frustrations put on record while playing out in the public eye.

"I'm glad this truth will exist in official transcripts for eternity. Imagine the injustice -- first you're ill-treated, then your anger to it is deemed invalid," Twitter user @krantinari wrote.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Trump impeachment hearings Day 5: Fiona Hill and David Holmes appear

drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- On Day 5 of the House impeachment hearings, Fiona Hill, a former Russia expert on the National Security Council, and David Holmes, a political counselor at U.S. embassy in Ukraine, are testifying following a day of explosive testimony on Wednesday.

Hill has described a July 10 White House meeting with Ukrainian officials in which Gordon Sondland, Trump’s pick for ambassador to the European Union, pressured Ukraine for a political investigation and insisted acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had agreed to the plan. Following the meeting, Hill said John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser at the time, told her to tell the president’s legal adviser, “that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”

Holmes has described a July 26 phone conversation between President Trump and Sondland where he said he overheard the president asking Sondland about "the investigations."

Here is how the hearing is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.

1:41 p.m.


Hill, who said she watched Sondland's testimony carefully on Wednesday, pushed back on his statements that "everyone was in the loop" when it came to Ukraine.

Sondland said he was surprised concerns were being raised because so many high-level officials were informed on their efforts. But Hill said she now understands why they weren't able to work together.

"He was absolutely right because he was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy, and those two things had just diverged. I was irritated with him and angry with him that he wasn't fully coordinating and I did say to him, Ambassador Sondland, I think this is all going to blow up, and here we are," Hill said.

1:28 p.m.

ABC'S Benjamin Siegel reports from the hearing room: Hill, under questioning from Republicans, said there were "differences" in "understanding" about the Trump-Zelenskiy July 25 call, repeating that she was opposed to a call, and that then-National Security Adviser John Bolton was as well.

"I know that Ambassador Sondland said in that email that Bolton was in agreement. To my knowledge, Bolton was not in agreement at that particular juncture," she said, referencing an email Sondland cited in his prepared opening statement on Wednesday.

"It was based on the fact that he didn't feel the call was properly prepared, and as I said earlier, we wanted to make sure that there was going to be a fulsome, bilateral U.S.-Ukraine agenda that was discussed, which is usual with these calls," she said.

1:05 p.m.


As Fiona Hill answers questions from the Republican side, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham has put out statement that the witnesses testifying at the impeachment hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry “rely heavily on their own presumptions, assumptions and opinions” and “have no personal or direct knowledge regarding why U.S. aid was temporarily withheld.”

“The Democrats' are clearly being motivated by a sick hatred for President Trump and their rabid desire to overturn the 2016 election,” Grisham said.

1:01 p.m.


Schiff gavels the hearing back into session.

The top Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes, has begun the minority questioning.

11:58 a.m.


If you missed testimony from the previous hearings, you can catch up on the key takeaways during the break before testimony resumes.

11:04 a.m.

After the Democratic counsel finishes his line of questioning, Schiff calls a break to allow members to vote on measure on the House floor. That's expected to last at least an hour.

Just before, Hill also detailed how she saw Bolton respond when Sondland said in a meeting with Ukrainian officials that "we have an agreement that there will be a meeting if specific investigations are put under way."

She clarified that Sondland later said he had an agreement with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and that she understood "investigations" to be a reference to investigating Burisma and the Bidens.

She said she was Bolton "stiffen" after this comment and end the meeting.

She testified that Bolton told her after the meeting to report what happened to the National Security Counsel's top lawyer, John Eisenberg, and tell him that Bolton said, "I am not part of this drug deal that Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up."

Bolton has thus far declined to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry.

10:55 a.m.


When asked about then-National security Adviser John Bolton's comment that Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, was a "hand grenade," Hill responded that she knew what he meant when referencing his concerns about Giuliani's public statements about Ukraine.

"I think he meant that, obviously, what Mr. Giuliani was saying was pretty explosive in any case. He was frequently on television, making quite incendiary remarks about everyone and that he was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would, you know, probably come back to haunt us," Hill said.

"And, in fact, I think that that's where we are today."

10:50 a.m.


ABC's Benjamin Siegel in the hearing room reports that when Holmes was asked to explain his "specific and clear" recollection of part of the Trump-Sondland call, Holmes told the committee it was a "very distinctive experience."

"I've never seen anything like this in my foreign service career, someone at a lunch in a restaurant making a call on a cell phone to the president of the United States, being able to hear his voice, very distinctive personality," Holmes said.

"We've all seen him on television. Very colorful language was used. They were directly addressing something that I had been wondering working on for weeks and even months a topic that had led to the recall of my former boss, the former ambassador.

"And so here was a person who said he had direct contact with the president, and said that over the course of time. Here he is, actually having that contact with the president. Hearing the president's voice and then talking about this issue of the Biden investigation that I had been hearing about," Holmes said.

10:40 a.m.


ABC's Jordyn Phelps at the White House notes that President Trump has taken to Twitter to take issue with Holmes testimony that a call not on speakerphone could possibly be overheard by another person not on the phone.

The president notes that he has “been watching people making phone calls my entire life” and that his hearing is “great.”

"@realDonaldTrump: I have been watching people making phone calls my entire life. My hearing is, and has been, great. Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!"

10:24 a.m.


Schiff thanked Hill for testifying, saying "Your story reminds me a great deal of what we heard from Alexander Vindman," recalling Thursday's testimony. "The few immigrant stories we've heard in the course of these hearings are among the most powerful, I think, I've ever heard. You and Colonel Vindman and others are the best of this country and you came here by choice. And we are so blessed that you did, so welcome," Schiff said.

Hill followed up to emphasize that Russia would have tried to delegitimize any American president after 2016, saying the country has a vested interest in damaging relationships between the U.S. and its allies.

Hill said she wanted to make a strong point when she called for Republicans on the committee to stop perpetuating the narrative that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, saying that there was a lot of criticism of presidential candidates from all over the world during that election but that Russia especially uses those comments to create chaos in the U.S.

"What we're seeing here as a result of all of these narratives, this is exactly what the Russian government was hoping for. If they seed misinformation, they seed doubt, they have everybody questioning the legitimacy of a presidential candidate, be it president Trump or potentially a president Clinton, that they would pit one side of our electorate against the other, that they would pit one party against the other," Hill said.

10:12 a.m.


As noted earlier, in her opening statement, Hill warns the "fictional narrative" that Ukraine interfered in American elections and not Russia. The consensus among intelligence agencies and congressional investigators is that Russia has sought to interfere in American elections for decades and actively did so in 2016.

She blasted Republicans and other partisan figures who have perpetuated misinformation about Ukraine, saying political divisions make it harder to combat the problem.

"Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did," she says.

"This is a fictional narrative," Hill says emphatically.

“The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified," Hill says.

"I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine—not Russia—attacked us in 2016," Hill says.

"When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each another, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy," Hill says.

9:57 a.m.


Holmes described his recollection of a phone call between Sondland and Trump on July 26, the day after the controversial call between Trump and Zelenskiy.

Holmes said he could hear Trump's voice on the other end of the line during the call, saying he asked "So, he's gonna do the investigation?" in reference to Zelenskiy. He said Sondland responded that Zelenskiy will "do anything you ask him to."

After Sondland hung up with the president Holmes said he described Trump as being "in a bad mood."

"I then took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Sondland for his candid impression of the President’s views on Ukraine. In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the President did not “give a s--t about Ukraine.” Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not “give a s--t about Ukraine,” Holmes said.

"I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that the President only cares about “big stuff.” I noted that there was “big stuff” going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant “big stuff” that benefits the President, like the “Biden investigation” that Mr. Giuliani was pushing."

Sondland testified Wednesday that he does not recall specific details of his call with the president but has no reason to doubt Holmes testimony.

ABC's Benjamin Siegel reports from the hearing room that Holmes' testimony, like Sondland's, again underscores how limited Democrats' investigation has been by the Trump administration's refusal to cooperate with subpoenas and the impeachment inquiry.

Recalling the U.S. delegation's visit to Ukraine for Zelenskiy's inauguration in May, Holmes recalled a conversation between Energy Secretary Perry and Zelenskiy about energy sector reform, where Perry passed Holmes a list of "people he trusts" on the subject, which was a topic of "subsequent meetings" between Perry and Ukrainian energy officials.

"Embassy personnel were excluded from these later meetings by Secretary Perry's staff," Holmes said.

Perry and the Energy Department have refused to cooperate with Democrats, making it difficult for the committee to follow up with any questions about these meetings that took place without embassy staff.

Leadership hasn't stated it publicly, but Democrats and aides tell ABC News the Intelligence Committee is likely to transmit its work to the Judiciary Committee around the beginning of December, and that the House remains on track to vote on articles of impeachment by the end of the year.

9:50 a.m.


Holmes says Sondland told him the Ukrainian president needed to make clear he would not stand in the way of "investigations," which Holmes said he understood to mean investigations into the Burisma energy company and the Bidens.

"While Ambassador Taylor did not brief me on every detail of his communications with 'The Three Amigos,' he did tell me that on a June 28 call with President Zelenskiy, Ambassador Taylor, and the Three Amigos, it was made clear that some action on a Burisma/Biden investigation was a precondition for an Oval Office meeting," he says.

Holmes says he became concerned that even if the two presidents met Trump may not show sufficient support for Ukraine, which he said could have been more damaging to the relationship between the two countries.

9:45 a.m.

In his opening statement, Holmes details his knowledge of the allegations against former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was removed from her role, and the impact of her removal on the relationship between the U.S. and incoming Ukrainian administration.

"The barrage of allegations directed at Ambassador Yovanovitch, a career ambassador, is unlike anything I have seen in my professional career," he said.

9:26 a.m.


In his opening statement Ranking Member Devin Nunes continued to attack Democrats over the impeachment inquiry, calling the proceedings a "kangaroo court" and a "spectacle" intended to undermine the president.

"Whether the Democrats reap the political benefit they want from this impeachment remains to be seen. But the damage they have done to this country will be long-lasting," he said.

Nunes also filed another request to bring Republican witnesses for a day of hearings, repeating calls from the minority that they be able to question Hunter Biden and the whistleblower, among others. Schiff his indicated he will not call those witnesses to testify.

Nunes also pushed back on part of Hill's prepared opening statement, where she accused some committee members of denying Russia's efforts to interfere in American elections.

Nunes held up the Intelligence Committee report on Russian election interference from Republicans on the committee and staff handed copies to Hill and Holmes. The report authored by Republicans cleared President Trump of any collusion between his campaign and Russian actors.

More background from ABC News' Ben Siegel: House Republicans also raised questions in the report about the intelligence community's findings that Russia sought to boost Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016. Special counsel Bob Mueller would later testify to the House Judiciary Committee that Russia wanted Trump to win, and the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee have affirmed the same conclusion.

Democrats said they refused to sign on to the report because they didn't find the GOP findings credible, and because Republicans failed to interview a number of witnesses. Holmes also said that while officials were making progress on anti-corruption efforts, commercial deals, and energy sector reforms with the Zelenskiy administration he did not see any improvements in Trump's view of Ukraine, seeming to undermine the Republican argument that the administration was focused on dealing with corruption.

9:13 a.m.

Schiff continues by revisiting some of the details of Hill and Holmes' closed-door testimony.

Hill testified she became concerned about the role of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, took in Ukraine policy, saying then-National Security Adviser John Bolton described Giuliani as “a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up" and said she clashed with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland who she said told her the president put him in charge of Ukraine.

"In the coming days, Congress will determine what response is appropriate," Schiff said in his opening statement. "If the President abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe a vulnerable 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."

9:06 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gavels the hearing into session.

He begins his opening statement by reviewing what he said were the investigation President Donald Trump wanted.

"The first investigation was of a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine and not Russia was responsible for interfering in our 2016 election. The second investigation was into the political rival Trump apparently feared most, Joe Biden," Schiff said.

"Trump sought to weaken Biden, and to refute the fact that his own election had been helped by a Russian hacking and dumping operation and Russian social media campaign directed by Vladimir Putin," he said.

Hill will deliver her opening statement first, after Schiff and the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes.

Hill shared some of her personal backstory in her opening statement. She became a U.S. citizen in 2002 after emigrating from England. Her ancestors fought in both World Wars and she said many of the men in her father's family were coal miners. Her father wanted to move to the United States in the 1960s after coal mines closed in England but stayed to care for her grandmother until 2012. Her mother still lives in England.

"While his dream of emigrating to America was thwarted, my father loved America, its culture, its history and its role as a beacon of hope in the world. He always wanted someone in the family to make it to the United States," she said.

In her career, Hill says, became a "nonpartisan, nonpolitical national security professional" focused on Europe and the former Soviet Union. She says the turning point was when she attended the signing of a nuclear treaty between President Ronald Reagan met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow in 1987.

8:35 a.m.

ABC News' White House reporter Jordyn Phelps highlights that President Trump is very active on Twitter Thursday morning in blasting the impeachment probe and expressing disbelief that his name has been associated with the “the ugly word, Impeachment.”

@realDonaldTrump: "I never in my wildest dreams thought my name would in any way be associated with the ugly word, Impeachment! The calls (Transcripts) were PERFECT, there was NOTHING said that was wrong. No pressure on Ukraine. Great corruption & dishonesty by Schiff on the other side!"

This isn’t the first time the president has let on just how much he’s bothered on a personal level by the impeachment inquiry, even as he also simultaneously strikes a defiant tone of confidence that the inquiry is actually helping him politically.

Back on Oct. 12, the president said: “I never thought I’d see or hear that word with respect to me -- an ugly word, it means so much, it means horrible, horrible crimes and things, I can’t even believe it, it’s a witch hunt.”

8:30 a.m.

Both Hill and Holmes have arrived on Capitol Hill.

Hill's opening statement, obtained by ABC News ahead of the hearing, warns of the "fictional narrative" that Ukraine interfered in American elections and not Russia.

The consensus among intelligence agencies and congressional investigators is that Russia has sought to interfere in American elections for decades and actively did so in 2016.

“The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan Congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified," Hill is expected to say in her opening statement.

She's also expected to blast Republicans and other partisan figures who perpetuate misinformation about Russia, saying political divisions make it harder to combat the problem.

"I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine—not Russia—attacked us in 2016," Hill will say.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed relief at an event in Moscow Wednesday, saying "thank God" no one is accusing us of interfering in American elections anymore.

"Thank God, no one is accusing us of interfering in U.S. elections anymore; now they're accusing Ukraine - well, let them sort it out among themselves. But this factor of the domestic political struggle affects— still negatively affects-- Russian-American relations, I hope that this will someday end. We are ready for this," he said, according to ABC News' Patrick Reevell in Moscow.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pelosi says House will 'go where the facts take us' but no decision yet on articles of impeachment

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- As two witnesses testify in the 7th public hearing of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats "haven’t made any decision" yet to move forward with articles of impeachment.

When asked what else the House needs to hear and whether she believes additional witnesses like Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, need to testify, Pelosi said "all of this is up to the committees of jurisdiction" in conjunction with "the flow of evidence and facts."

"So, we'll see. We aren't finished yet," Pelosi, D-Calif., said at her weekly news conference. "Today is not over and you never know what testimony of one person may lead to the need for testimony of another, as we saw with Ambassador [William] Taylor, [at] the beginning of last week, bringing forth Mr. [David] Holmes today."

Congress is preparing to take a week-long recess to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, and while the House isn't yet ready to make a decision on how to proceed, Pelosi repeated her push for the White House to release any information that would change the current narrative.

"No, we haven't made any decision," she said. "And as I said to the president, if you have any information that is exculpatory please bring it forward because it seems that the facts are uncontested as to what happened."

She continued, "If you have reason to convince people that something was different, under oath, please let us know."

While the public has not heard from many of the president’s closest advisors and staff during the ongoing inquiry, Pelosi said she will not wait for the Supreme Court to rule on whether officials like acting White House chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former National Security Advisor John Bolton or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should testify before moving forward on impeachment.

"We cannot be at the mercy of the courts. The courts are very important in all of this. Those cases will continue," Pelosi said, explaining she "never said you cannot proceed without the courts."

Pelosi said Democrats are "moving at the pace the truth takes us" and that the high court’s eventual rulings may be more material to a Senate trial.

"No, we're not going to wait till the courts decide. That might be information that's available to the Senate in terms of how far we go and when we go," she said. "We can't we can't wait for that because again it's a technique. It's obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress. So we cannot let their further obstruction of Congress be an impediment to our honoring our oath of office."

Pelosi said that Democrats "have no choice but to act" in the face of the president’s alleged violations of the Constitution, and "the evidence is clear."

"The President has used his office for his own personal gain, and in doing so, undermine the national security of the United States by withholding military assistance to Ukraine to the benefit of the Russians, that he has undermined the integrity of our elections by what he has done," Pelosi charged. "As we continue to gather evidence and the facts from the testimony, we’ll go where the facts take us."

She added, "I believe that the truth will set us free."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trump to meet with Mitt Romney and Susan Collins amid impeachment fight

Thomas Bounias/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is expected to have lunch at the White House Thursday with a group of 10 Senate Republicans -- including Mitt Romney and Susan Collins – as he continues to aggressively court allegiance from members of his own party amid the ongoing impeachment battle.

Sens. Romney and Collins both have a history of publicly criticizing the president, and their loyalty as jurors in a potential Senate trail is far from assured.

An aide to Sen. Romney told ABC News that the senator wasn’t expecting a White House invitation but is happy to hear whatever the president wants to discuss.

Thursday’s meeting will be the fifth time the president has brought Republican senators into the White House for lunch since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry in late September.

A senior administration official downplayed Thursday’s meeting as an extension of the president’s all-encompassing outreach to party members amid the inquiry but acknowledged that the presence of Romney and Collins makes the lunch particularly critical.

After this Thursday lunch, the President will have met with about 50 Republican senators, according to a senior administration official.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Read opening statements of Fiona Hill and David Holmes for Trump impeachment hearing

Matt Anderson/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia expert, in her opening statement to the House impeachment hearing Thursday, warns of a "fictional narrative" That Ukraine, not Russia, was behind meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Among those who have pursued that narrative: President Donald Trump and, she says, several GOP members of Congress, including some on the committee.

She was joined by David Holmes, the counsel for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, who on Friday, behind closed doors and under subpoena, described a phone conversation he said he overheard between President Donald Trump and EU Amb. Gordon Sondland about "the investigations."

In his opening statement, Holmes detailed his knowledge of the allegations against former Ukraine Amb. Marie Yovanovitch, who was removed from her role, and the impact of her removal on the relationship between the U.S. and incoming Ukrainian administration.

Read Hill's opening statement here.

Read Holmes' statement here.


Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trump tells Navy not to take away Eddie Gallagher's status as a SEAL, another intervention in his case

pamelasphotopoetry/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is on a collision course with the U.S. Navy over whether Special Warfare Chief Eddie Gallagher can keep his status as a Navy SEAL.

On Wednesday, the Navy notified Gallagher that it was going to convene a board review process that will examine whether he should remain a SEAL, possibly taking away his Trident pin which identifies him as a member of the SEAL community, two U.S. officials told ABC News. One of those officials said on Tuesday that the White House was aware of the Navy's decision to begin that review.

But on Thursday morning, the president tweeted, "The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!"

The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2019

It wasn't immediately clear on Thursday how the president's tweet would affect Gallagher's Trident review board. Navy spokesperson Cmdr. Clayton Doss told ABC News that the service is aware of the tweet but referred questions to the White House. In the past when the president has tweeted an order directed at the military, it has required a formal written document from the White House to affect change.

Gallagher, while acquitted of killing a wounded Islamic State captive earlier this year, was sentenced to four months of time served and a reduction in rank for posing with a corpse during a 2017 deployment to Iraq. But last week, Trump intervened in the SEAL's case, restoring his rank to E-7. The president also pardoned two other service members accused of or serving sentences for war crimes convictions.

Timothy Parlatore, Gallagher's attorney, called the Navy's decision to convene the review board "a direct front to the president." Parlatore said the review board was set to meet on December 2 and criticized the fact that Gallagher was told he couldn't bring counsel with him to the closed meeting.

"Chief Gallagher is extremely grateful and hoping that this will finally end the unlawful retaliation against him," Parlatore said of the president's tweet.

A spokesperson for Naval Special Warfare Command, Capt. Tamara Lawrence, said on Tuesday that the SEALs implemented Trump's order to restore Gallagher's paygrade. However, Trump's intervention in Gallagher's case did not exonerate his conviction or expunge it from his service record. Because of that, Gallagher's conduct could still be reviewed to see if he deserves to remain a SEAL.

The Navy's separate board review process will determine if Gallagher, along with three SEAL officers who served with him during the Iraq deployment, should maintain their status, the two officials said.

On Wednesday, the four SEALs received a letter signed by SEAL Commander Rear Adm. Collin Green advising them that a board is being convened to review their performance, the officials told ABC News. These boards are convened to review any number of behaviors by SEALs, including medical issues, alcohol or drug abuse and loss of confidence by command.

Green has the ability to pull Gallagher's Trident without a review board because he is an enlisted SEAL. However, the SEAL commander chose to provide Gallagher with the board process, which is typically reserved for officers. Under the review board, three of Gallagher's SEAL peers will review a packet of information about his case, as well as Gallagher's rebuttal statement.

The board will then make a recommendation to Green, who can choose to endorse it before sending it to the Navy's Personnel Command for action. The process could likely take one month, one official said.

"Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command is responsible for the Naval Special Warfare Force," Lawrence said. "He remains focused on delivering a capable, ready and lethal maritime special operations force in support of national security objectives, which includes assessing the suitability of any member of his force via administrative processes."

"Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, supports his commanders in executing their roles, to include Rear Adm. Green," Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesperson for Gilday, said in a statement.

The officials said that Green had sought support from officers in his chain of command prior to proceeding with the board process.

The other SEALs who were notified of the review are the officers who were in charge of Gallagher's platoon during the 2017 deployment: Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, Gallagher's troop commander, Lt. Jacob Portier, the officer in charge, and Lt. Thomas MacNeil, the assistant officer in charge.

Since 2011, 154 SEAL Tridents or Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman (SWCC) pins have been revoked for various reasons.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sondland raises new questions about Pompeo, Ukraine pressure campaign

State Department Photo / Public Domain(WASHINGTON) -- Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that he kept Secretary Mike Pompeo informed of his efforts to persuade Ukraine to announce investigations sought by President Donald Trump, raising new questions about how Pompeo has characterized what he knew about the Ukraine pressure campaign at the center of the impeachment probe.

“We kept the leadership of the State Department and the [National Security Council] informed of our activities,” Sondland said in his opening statement. “They knew what we were doing and why.”

Sondland described multiple exchanges with senior State Department officials -- and Pompeo himself -- updating them on efforts to secure a commitment from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Burisma, an energy company with links to Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, and unsubstantiated theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

In July, Sondland said he sent an email to Pompeo and a “lot of senior officials” summarizing his efforts to prepare Zelenskiy for a phone call with Trump.

“As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelenskiy in advance that assurances to ‘run a fully transparent investigation’ and ‘turn over every stone’ were necessary in his call with President Trump,” Sondland said.

He added, “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret,” speaking generally about what top Trump administration officials knew about the hold on Ukraine military aid.

Sondland said he emailed Pompeo in August, ahead of the president’s planned September trip to Warsaw, Poland, to schedule a pull-aside between Trump and Zelenskiy to discuss how to “break the logjam” between the U.S. and Ukraine.

Pompeo replied “Yes” to the request to find time on Trump’s schedule, according to an email Sondland disclosed on Wednesday. The president eventually canceled the planned trip, and sent Vice President Mike Pence in his place.

In September, Sondland said he emailed Pompeo again, thanking him for traveling to Europe after Pence’s trip to Poland.

“All good, You’re doing great work; keep banging away,” Pompeo responded.

“State Department leadership expressed total support for our efforts to engage the new Ukrainian administration,” Sondland said Wednesday.

House Democrats, and Sondland during his public testimony, called for the State Department to cooperate with the impeachment and investigation, and comply with subpoenas for documents and records.

As Pompeo flew back from a trip to Brussels, the State Department issued a carefully worded statement limited in scope denying that Sondland had told Pompeo he believed Trump had linked security assistance to Ukraine to investigations of political opponents.

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

Throughout the House’s impeachment inquiry and in several interviews with ABC’s This Week, Pompeo has repeatedly brushed off questions.

Contrary to Sondland’s comments during his testimony that Pompeo and others were aware, Pompeo has said he never saw the kind of quid pro quo that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney referred to as a usual practice.

“Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said Oct. 17 at a White House news conference, though later the same day he put out a statement claiming the media had misconstrued his comments.

When ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Pompeo on Oct. 20 if it would be appropriate to put conditions on aid to Ukraine, Pompeo said he would not comment on a hypothetical.

"The chief of staff said it did," Stephanopoulos said.

"George, it -- you asked me if this happened," Pompeo said after a pause. "It's a hypothetical. I have told you what I observed, what I saw, the process related to this very funding."

Pompeo told reporters in Brussels earlier on Wednesday that he hadn’t had a chance to review Sondland’s testimony, but he defended U.S. Ukraine policy under Trump in general.

“I know precisely what American policy was with respect to Ukraine. I was working on it.” Pompeo said. “I'm incredibly proud of what we've accomplished.”

And he continues to remain silent when asked repeatedly about the public testimony from State Department officials, including former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich and Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

“State Department leadership expressed total support for our efforts to engage the new Ukrainian administration,” Sondland said Wednesday.

House Democrats, and Sondland during his testimony on Wednesday, called for the State Department to cooperate with the impeachment and investigation and comply with subpoenas for documents and records.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Five takeaways from the fifth Democratic debate

3dfoto/iStock(ATLANTA) -- The Democratic primary's top 10 polling candidates appeared in Atlanta and the debate matchup featured a night of mostly civil exchanges over the party’s policy rifts and plenty of tailored pitches as the candidates continued to court a still unsettled electorate less than three months before the first primaries.

In one of the last primary debates of 2019, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, the contenders continued to boast a united front on one of the key dominating external forces looming over the primary -- the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump -- but the splintered field still showcased their differences over issues including health care, climate change and foreign policy over two hours of debate.

Here are five key takeaways from Wednesday night's fifth Democratic debate:

Mayor Buttigieg, under pressure as a newly crowned frontrunner, stood tall

Over the past month since the October debate, Pete Buttigieg, a small-city mayor, has spent his time on the campaign trail cementing his status as a top contender. Wednesday night, the mayor was forced to defend his credentials.

Only days after a new Des Moines/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll showed the South Bend, Indiana mayor holding a significant 10-point lead over his Democratic rivals, Buttigieg faced questions about whether he would meet the moment.

Asked what experienced he’d bring to the White House, Buttigieg touted his non-traditional path to his candidacy.

“I have the right experience to take on Donald Trump,” he said. “I get that it's not traditional establishment Washington experience, but I would argue we need something very different right now. In order to defeat this president, we need somebody who can go toe to toe who actually comes from the kinds of communities that he's been appealing to.”

The mayor also spoke about another distinction he has from the rest of the 2020 field.

“I never thought I'd be on a Forbes magazine list, but they did one of all the candidates by wealth, and I am literally the least wealthy person on this stage,” Buttigieg explained.

He later reiterated the case for a 38-year-old mayor to ascend to the Oval Office, saying, “Washington experience is not the only experience that matters. There's more than 100 years of Washington experience on this stage, and where are we right now as a country?”

Sen. Kamala Harris was asked about the mayor’s missteps and controversy with the black community, and pointed to what she called a “larger issue” that “candidates have taken for granted the constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic party.”

“My response is I completely agree and I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don't yet know me,” Buttigieg said in response. The mayor added that his own personal experience as a gay man have prepared him to continue to fight for the rights of others.

“Seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me, working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, making it possible for me to be standing here, wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn't have happened two elections ago, lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day even if they are nothing like me in their experience,” Buttigieg said.

Biden under fire again and awkwardly defends black voter support

The persistent front-runner former Vice President Joe Biden again faced fierce questioning Wednesday night, this time being confronted over his comments regarding black voters' support of his candidacy.

In particular, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker went right at the former vice president over his comments recently calling marijuana a “gateway drug,” a comment which received one of the biggest applause lines of the night.

“I have a lot of respect for the vice president. He...swore me into my office...he’s a hero. This week, I hear him literally say that I don't think we should legalize marijuana. I thought you might have been high when you said it,” Booker said to laughs and applause. "And let me tell you because marijuana, in our country, is already legal for privileged people. ... the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people.”

The former vice president defended his record by stating he thinks the U.S. should decriminalize marijuana, and also boasting about his support among African Americans.

“I’m part of that Obama coalition. I come out of a black community in terms of my support,” Biden said.

Biden would continue to go on to awkwardly brag about his support, adding that black voters “they know who I am.” He added that he was endorsed by the “only African-American woman that had ever been elected to the United States Senate,” even while California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is black and Indian American, stood on the stage with him, prompting her to say: “The other one is here.”

Biden added, “I said the first.”

Democrats pivot away from impeachment

Despite efforts to avoid the topic on the trail, the presidential contenders were confronted from the onset of the debate with Washington’s looming impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's pressure campaign on Ukraine.

Trump wanted Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation that would have, in part, targeted the president's 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, who had served on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

In the middle of the second week of public hearings, the Democrats remained mostly united on this issue, by both condemning Trump’s conduct and reiterating their support for the House Democrats’ investigation.

“We have to establish the principle that no one is above the law. We have a constitutional responsibility, and we need to meet it,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said.

“I have made it very clear that this is impeachable conduct. And I've called for an impeachment proceeding. I just believe our job as jurors is to look at each count and make a decision,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., setting herself slightly apart from Warren on the Senate’s role in the process. “But let me make very clear that what this impeachment proceeding about is really our democracy at stake.”

But as the candidates face mounting urgency to differentiate their primary campaigns in the crucial months before February’s early nominating contests -- and shift the focus off the president -- they quickly turned questions on impeachment into an opportunity to offer their own vision for the future of the country after Trump. They weighed in on a day in which Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Trump's handpicked dealmaker on Ukraine, according to his fellow impeachment witnesses, testified publicly for the first time under subpoena.

“I want to add one more part based on today's testimony, and that is how did Ambassador Sondland get there,” Warren continued before diving into her pitch for rooting out the corruption in Washington. “Anyone who wants to give me a big donation, don't ask to be an ambassador because I'm not going to have that happen.”

“We cannot simply be consumed by Donald Trump. Because if we are, you know what? We're going to lose the election,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., urged. “We can deal with Trump's corruption, but we also have to stand up for the working families of this country.”

Klobuchar, relying on her moderate bonafides, finds her footing

Klobuchar came out swinging at Wednesday night’s debate, armed with both sharp quips and pointed policy differences, the Minnesota moderate seemed determined to make sure she stood out on the crowded stage Wednesday night with less than two months to go until the Iowa caucuses.

At one point, Klobuchar was asked about questioning whether a woman with Buttigieg’s record could make it on the primary debate stage. But instead of taking a shot at the South Bend, Indiana mayor, Klobuchar used the question to make a broader point about the unleveled playing field women face in politics.

“First of all, I’ve made very clear I think that Pete is qualified to be up on this stage, and I am honored to be standing next to him,” the senator said. “But what I said was true. Women are held to a higher standard. Otherwise, we could play a game called name your favorite woman president, which we can’t do because it has all been men.”

She also made sure to differentiate herself from the other senators on the stage regarding impeachment, particularly from rival Warren, saying “I just believe our job as jurors is to look at each count and make a decision.”

Her answer was a direct contrast to Warren who was asked if she would try and convince her Republican colleagues to vote in favor of impeachment as she has been pushing for. Warren said “of course I will.”

Klobuchar also made sure to draw contrast with Warren, who currently leads the Minnesota senator in the polls, by taking what seemed to be subtle jabs at the Massachusetts senator regarding her lofty plans.

“I'm not going to go for things just cause they sound good on a bumper sticker and then throw in a free car,” Klobuchar said. “I think we have an obligation, we have an obligation, as a party to be, yes, fiscally responsible, yes think big, but make sure we have people's backs and are honest with them about what we can pay for.”

The senator also drew applause after offering a savvy line touting her grassroots bonafides by saying: “My first Senate race, I literally called everyone I knew and I set what is still an all-time senate record. I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends.”

A night of sparse on-stage clashes

After last month’s debate, which was filled with tense sparring over kitchen table issues, the November matchup saw relatively few tense exchanges between the Democratic rivals.

Reveling in his outsider status alongside billionaire and activist Tom Steyer, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, when pressed on his credentials for the nation’s highest office, first defended Steyer who has been under siege for spending millions of his own money in the race.

“First I just want to stick up for Tom,” Yang said. “We have a broken campaign finance system, but Tom has been spending his own money, fighting climate change. You can't knock someone for having money and spending it in the right way. My opinion.”

But the night wasn’t without its heated moments.

After Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, criticized former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as the “personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic party,” the moderators asked Harris, giving her the opportunity to share her grievances from debates ago.

After Gabbard criticized Harris’ record as a prosecutor in the second debate, Harris sharply chided Gabbard, responding, “I think that it's unfortunate that we have someone on this stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States who during the Obama administration spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama.”

Despite calls for party unity throughout the night, Harris’ quip underscored a still fractured field, that still counts 17 candidates, 11 months into the primary season.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Bill legalizing marijuana at the federal level passes House committee

Nastasic/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill on Wednesday that could decriminalize marijuana use at the federal level, giving states more room to craft unique regulations.

The "Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019" -- also called the MORE Act -- could officially remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances, expunge federal marijuana convictions and arrests, and approve allocation of resources for communities affected by the war on drugs, according to the bill's text.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and co-sponsored by more than 50 lawmakers, passed 24-10 in the committee on Wednesday.

It would also establish an organization -- called the Cannabis Justice Office -- to introduce a 5% sales tax on cannabis sales in states where it remains legal, according to the bill.

"These steps are long overdue. For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health," Nadler, the committee's chairman, said during bill markup. "Federal action on this issue would follow growing recognition in the states that the status quo is unacceptable."

Nadler added, "Despite the federal government’s continuing criminalization of marijuana, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.”

The landmark bill marks the first time a congressional committee has passed a bill in favor of legalizing marijuana at the federal level. It will still need to pass the full House before moving to the Senate -- where it’s likely to stall.

The MORE Act would remove marijuana as a Schedule I substance, a category that also features other drugs, such as heroin, LSD, ecstasy and peyote.

"States have led the way -- and continue to lead the way -- but our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change," Nadler said in a statement. "We need to catch up because of public support and because it is the right thing to do."

Former Vice President Joe Biden has spoken out in favor of decriminalizing marijuana and expunging criminal records for possession charges, but like Nadler, thinks each state should decide whether or not to legalize it.

Biden's lukewarm approach to marijuana has put him at odds with other 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who have each supported sweeping legislation to reform how the criminal justice system deals with the drug.

Fellow candidates California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have also released plans to legalize marijuana if they're elected to the White House.

While similar bills have been introduced in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted he doesn't "have any to endorse the legalization of marijuana," as he told reporters in December, despite his approval last year of a farm bill that would legalize hemp.

Still, while the House is a step closer to legalizing cannabis across the U.S., it isn't likely the bill will be signed into law by President Donald Trump, who has openly opposed pro-legalization legislation, even if it ended up on his desk.

Trump even donated part of his salary in 2019 to pay for a promotional campaign highlighting the negative effects of marijuana use, as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement in August.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Elizabeth Warren to deliver speech centered on black women workers' rights

US Senate(ATLANTA) -- Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren is set to deliver a speech on workers' rights Thursday evening, the third speech she has given on the topic since announcing her candidacy -- but the first solely focused on the history of black workers.

Warren will give the speech at Clark Atlanta University, a historically black university situated near downtown Atlanta. It will be her first event after the fifth Democratic debate, which took place in the same city on Wednesday night.

Warren's speech will focus on a black women-led strike that nearly halted the Atlanta economy in 1881, according to a video released by the campaign Wednesday and narrated by Roxane Gay, a bestselling author who writes about culture and identity.

Washerwomen, as they were called at the time, endured long hours and grueling conditions to wash clothing for most of well-to-do Atlanta. Many of the women were former slaves, while their clients were mostly white. Their ultimately successful strike, known as the Atlanta Washerwomen Strike of 1881, is touted today by labor unions, like the AFL-CIO, for its impact.

The history lesson that Warren will weave into her speech on Thursday plays to a similar narrative she's delivered in her two largest speeches of her campaign: the speech she gave when she announced her campaign for president in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which was inspired by the textile workers who went on strike there, and the speech she gave over the summer in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, which drew the largest crowd of her candidacy and focused on the women who fought for labor rights after the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City.

The rally in Atlanta on Thursday will be Warren's first large-scale speech, however, which focuses on a labor fight that was waged almost entirely by black women. The speech comes as Warren looks to increase her support among black voters across the country -- and particularly among black women, a powerful voting bloc that has, especially in recent years, proven capable of delivering unexpected wins to Democratic candidates in the South.

It also comes as Warren seeks to capitalize on a gradual increase of support among black voters over the last few months and the recent endorsement of Rep. Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman elected to Congress in Warren's home state of Massachusetts. Pressley will attend the rally Thursday, according to the Warren campaign.

Black Womxn For, a group of around 300 black women comprised of progressive black transgender and cisgender women, gender nonconforming and nonbinary activists, also recently endorsed Warren. Nearly 200 members will be at her rally Thursday, according to members of the group.

Paige Ingram, a member of the organization from Minneapolis, told ABC News she saw the rally as a pointed display of confidence on behalf of the Warren campaign.

The decision to hold the speech now, Ingram said, seemed like it was because "she has taken the time to establish accountable relationships with black voters and she's done the work."

"That takes time, that takes effort, to not just initiate a relationship but to cultivate it and figure it out," Ingram said, speaking at a Warren debate watch party Wednesday night.

So far in the race, former Vice President Joe Biden holds the strongest support with black voters, leading Democrats to wonder how other candidates running might find a path to the nomination if they don't make more of a connection in communities of color, a vital part of the country's voting population.

Warren trails Biden in many polls of black voters, as do each of the other candidates, though support for Warren has gradually increased over the last few months, gaining 12 percentage points from August to October, from 8% to 20%, according to polling from Quinnipiac University.

But in Quinnipiac University polling this month in South Carolina, a state that serves as an early test of black support in the Democratic primary contest, Biden still held a vast lead among black voters at 44%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 10% and Warren at 8%. Biden and Sanders also had nearly three times as much name recognition among black voters in the state, giving Warren perhaps another reason to hold a large-scale rally aimed at reaching black voters: introducing herself.

Despite trailing in the polls, Warren has continued to craft and pitch her plans specifically around the idea of eliminating the wealth gap between white Americans and the rest of the country, including her proposal for higher education, which would cancel student loan debt for 95% of Americans, as well as a promise of $50 million to historically black colleges and universities like Clark Atlanta University.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Warren gets most speaking time at Democratic debate for a second time

Derek Brumby/iStock(ATLANTA) -- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren led Wednesday night's Democratic debate in speaking time for the second debate in a row. Warren spoke for 13:54 minutes over the course of approximately 2 1/2 hours.

Former Vice President Joe Biden had the second-highest speaking time, clocking in at 12:57 minutes. As public impeachment hearings play out in Washington, Biden championed his candidacy on the debate stage in Atlanta as being the best matchup against President Donald Trump.

Following a recent surge in Iowa polls, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg ranked third in speaking time overall at 12:25 minutes.

Wednesday's debate was the fifth of the 2019 Democratic primary season and the first to be moderated by an all-woman panel of moderators. As for the women on the stage, California Sen. Kamala Harris came in fifth in speaking time at 11:33 minutes; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar came in sixth at 10:40 minutes; and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii came in eighth with 9:20 minutes of speaking time.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang came in last with a speaking time of 6:59 minutes.

The full list of candidates' speaking times is as follows:

  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- 13:54
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden -- 12:57
  • South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg -- 12:25
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- 11:51
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris -- 11:33
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar -- 10:40
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker -- 11:32
  • Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard -- 9:20
  • Tom Steyer -- 8:24
  • Andrew Yang -- 6:59

The speaking-time estimations are calculated by ABC News using multiple stopwatches.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


2020 campaigns 'under-prepared' to combat foreign cyberattacks: Experts

liveslow/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Former senior government officials and private sector executives warned of major election security shortcomings in a Capitol Hill hearing less than a year out from the 2020 elections.

"Our assessment is that campaigns are under-prepared," said Gen. Frank Taylor, a former under secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "Their focus is on getting their candidate elected, and the investment that's required to protect against a more sophisticated threat is much more expensive than campaigns can afford."

The campaigns of former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. have all confirmed reports of foreign disinformation efforts aimed at tarnishing their candidate's image with primary voters.

According to a study composed by the Foreign Policy Research Institute that analyzed favorable Russian media mentions about 2020 Democratic candidates, Biden had the lowest favorability rating while Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard had the highest positive rating.

Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, without naming names, in October told David Plouffe on "Campaign HQ," a podcast run by the 2008 Obama campaign manager, that a female 2020 candidate is a "favorite of the Russians" and is being "groomed' by Republicans for a third-party run.

Clinton did not mention Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard by name. However, the comment appeared to be aimed at Gabbard. Gabbard decried the comments as a "concerted campaign to destroy my reputation."

The Democratic National Committee says it has provided briefings to the campaigns aimed at helping them counter disinformation and earlier this year rolled out a checklist to help fight against cyberattacks.

But at this early stage, security experts believe the campaigns still need more help than is currently being provided to counter both cyberattacks aimed at accessing confidential voter information and disinformation designed to mislead the public.

"We recognize that campaigns might not be equipped to receive a nation state attack notification," Ginny Badanes, director of strategic projects at Microsoft, told the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection & Innovation. "While the information can be very valuable, it doesn't serve much purpose if the recipient isn't sure what to do with the information they receive."

When it comes to existing voter machine equipment, experts warned of a system susceptible to tampering by adversaries both foreign and domestic.

"To be blunt, it's widely recognized and indisputable that every piece of computerized voter equipment used at polling places today can be easily compromised in ways that have the potential to disrupt election operations," said Matt Blaze, chairman of computer science at Georgetown University. "Voting technology must maintain a paper record that reliably reflects the voters' choices."

Former special counsel Robert Mueller's 448-page report revealed the purported "sweeping and systematic" effort by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The U.S. government is left with a pressing challenge looking forward: how to prevent or defend against more attacks in 2020.

House Democrats have so far passed several election security related bills, but they've hit a roadblock in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month spoke out in opposition to the SHIELD Act (Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy) on the Senate floor.

"This proposal will not do anything to stop malign foreign actors, something that every member of this body cares deeply about," he said. "It's a textbook example of policy designed to reduce the amount of free speech in our country."

The legislation as written, however, would require campaigns to report to the government any foreign attempts to hack into their data systems to federal authorities, including the Federal Election Commission and the FBI.

"We don't expect the local sheriff to single-handedly defend against military ground invasions and we should not expect county election IT managers to defend against cyberattacks by foreign intelligence agencies," Blaze said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trump impeachment hearings Day 4: Gordon Sondland testifies

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.

12:59 p.m.


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.”

12:45 p.m.


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.

12:12 p.m.


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.

12:02 p.m.


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.

11:56 a.m.


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.”

11:38 a.m.


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.

11:09 a.m.


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.

11:02 a.m.


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.”

10:56 a.m.


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.”

10:48 a.m.


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.

10:40 a.m.


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.

10:24 a.m.


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.

10:18 a.m.


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."

10:16 a.m.


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.

9:58 a.m.


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."

9:56 a.m.


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.”

9:46 a.m.


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.”

9:40 a.m.


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.”

9:32 a.m.


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.

9:30 a.m.


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.

9:23 a.m.


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.

9:11 a.m.


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."

9:09 a.m.


House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gavels the hearing into session.

9:02 a.m.


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.”

8:37 a.m.


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.

8:30 a.m.


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."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


3 big takeaways from Gordon Sondland's public testimony

narvikk/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was President Donald Trump’s handpicked dealmaker on Ukraine, according to his fellow impeachment witnesses. On Wednesday, he testified publicly for the first time under subpoena.

Sondland is considered a key witness in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. Trump wanted Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation that would have, in part, targeted the president’s 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, who had served on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Sondland confirmed a quid pro quo, which Trump has denied


Sondland testified that a White House summit between the two presidents sought by Ukraine was contingent upon Zelenskiy’s willingness to announce the investigations Trump wanted.

That direction came directly from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and after the president repeatedly told Sondland to "talk to Rudy," he said.

"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?’ As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes," he said.

By early September, Sondland said he made another connection -- that nearly $400 million in U.S. aid was on the line, too. Sondland said Trump "never told them directly that the aid was conditioned" upon the investigations. When the Democratic counsel asked whether he made that connection based on the evidence adding up, Sondland said yes.

"The only thing we got directly from Guiliani was that Burisma and the 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting," he said. "The aid was my own personal, you know, guess based again on your analogy two plus two equals four."

Then, on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Warsaw on Sept. 1 with Vice President Mike Pence, Sondland said he told a top Ukrainian official that U.S. military aid "would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks."

As he "understood it," the Ukrainians only "had to announce the investigations, [Zelenskiy] didn't actually have to do them," Sondland said.

‘Everyone was in the loop’


Sondland said no one he talked to supported the hold on aid and that he personally shared his concerns of a "quid pro quo" with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And at one point, Sondland said, he told Pence what was going on with regard to aid and investigations and the vice president "nodded."

"Everyone was in the loop," he said, speaking generally of the hold on military aid. "It was no secret."

Sondland testified that in August, Pompeo knew he was working with Giuliani on a public statement they wanted Zelenskiy to announce in exchange for the White House meeting. And later, he said, Pompeo became aware of "the log jam" tied to the military aid.

When asked whether Pompeo "was aware of the connections that you were making between the investigation and the White house meeting and the security assistance," Sondland simply replied "yes.’

When asked if Pompeo ever took issue, Sondland said "Not that I recall."

After earlier Wednesday declining to respond to shouted questions about Sondland's testimony, Pompeo later told reporters in Brussels he hadn’t had a chance to review Sondland’s testimony but he defended U.S. Ukraine policy under Trump. “I'm incredibly proud of what we've accomplished,” Pompeo said.

In a previous interview on ABC’s This Week, Pompeo did not answer questions on Giuliani’s efforts.

On Pence, Sondland said he recalled telling the vice president that military aid seemed to be tied to Zelenskiy’s willingness to announce an investigation and that Pence responded affirmatively.

"And Vice President Pence just nodded his head?," Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman asked.

"Again, I don't recall any exchange or [if] 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.

Pence's chief of staff Marc Short said 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."

‘Sounds like something I’d say’


Sondland also confirmed testimony by another State Department staffer, David Holmes, who has said he overheard Trump ask Sondland in a private cell phone call in a restaurant in Kyiv, Ukraine, about the status of the investigations and that Sondland responded that Zelenskiy will do what he wants because he "loves your ass."

"Sounds like something I would say," Sondland said when asked about it.

He added, "that's how President Trump and I communicate. A lot of four letter words. In this case, three letters."

Sondland said he doesn't recall any mention of Biden on the call, although he does remember discussion on Burisma.

Sondland said he also couldn’t recall telling the State Department official, after hanging up with the president, that Trump doesn’t care about Ukraine. But according to Holmes' closed-door testimony, Sondland said Trump cares about "only big stuff that matters to him, like this Biden investigation that Giuliani is pushing."

Sondland said he spoke to the president on Trump’s terms, not his. And that Trump "was aware that it was an open line."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Democratic presidential candidates left off the debate stage fight to keep hopes alive

adamkaz/iStock(ATLANTA) — Julián Castro won't be on the debate stage Wednesday night, but that isn't stopping the Democratic presidential candidate from making a splash in the host city of Atlanta, holding two events as the 10 front-runners ready themselves for the MSNBC/Washington Post debate.

Meeting for a discussion on political commentator Angela Rye's podcast "On One" Monday night, Castro said he came to Atlanta on the eve of the debate for one main reason.

"Number one, because this is where all they all are, and this is a campaign. So we want to make sure we get our message out. So it's as simple as that," Castro said.

And while he won't be on the stage, Castro said he would aim to still be a part of the conversation Wednesday night through social media, adding that he thinks his presence will be felt on topics he says he's led the way on.

"I'm not on the debate stage, but I've shaped a lot of the debate already -- whether it's been on housing, on police reform, on immigration -- I've already moved a lot of the candidates, and shake that debate and I'm going to keep doing it," Castro said. "It's unfortunate that I'm not on that debate stage, but I'll keep using my voice, and I believe that we're going to get stronger and stronger this campaign."

Although Barack Obama's former Housing and Urban Development Secretary qualified for the first four debates of the election cycle, and although he met the Democratic National Committee's fundraising requirements of at least 165,000 unique donors, he failed to meet the DNC's polling requirements of 3 percent support in at least four early state or national polls. He qualified in none.

Castro isn't the only candidate not on stage.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak and author Marianne Williamson also won't appear. None of those candidates' campaigns announced they had reached the donor threshold, and none of them secured any qualifying polls, according to an ABC News analysis. Bennet, Bullock, Delaney and Williamson didn't qualify for the third and fourth debates. Sestak hasn't qualified for any of the debates.

Newcomer former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters at Sunday night's "First in the West" dinner in Las Vegas that while he would be trying to meet the debate qualification requirements, it wasn't a platform in which he was fully confident.

"I think the threshold requirements for participating in the debate are enormously important," Patrick said. "And I'm going to be trying to meet those requirements just as quickly as possible."

That said, Patrick questioned their overall value, adding, "I'm not sure it's something you want to aspire to because the format is just really, really hard as a means to communicate with the public."

Instead, Patrick's campaign has scheduled two events in South Carolina on Wednesday, including meeting with student leadership of two historically black colleges. He'll head to Georgia after the events and will be at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

"We are going to Georgia tomorrow, not to be on the stage because I haven't qualified yet," he said Tuesday. "I expect to qualify in the fullness of time. But I'm looking for lots of other ways [to connect with voters], not because we don't yet qualify, but because of who I am as a person and who I am as a public servant.”

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's flirting with entering the primary himself but actually filing to have his name on the ballots in Super Tuesday voting states, said last week, after filing to appear on the ballot in Arkansas, "I'm going to finance a campaign, if there is one, with my own money so I don't owe anybody anything."

But Castro takes issue with the self-funders, saying unlike him, they have the means to "pump money into the effort to get on that stage."

However, with four debates under his belt, Castro is no stranger to the attention and fundraising hauls potentially produced by a standout moment on the debate stage.

Just months ago at the first debate in Miami, Castro dominated headlines when he upstaged former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, his former Texan opponent, on the topic of immigration. Castro's campaign saw one of its biggest fundraising days in the hours following that debate.

Not meeting the polling requirements for Wednesday night's debate was just one of the latest blows to Castro's bid for the presidency. In recent weeks, the campaign laid off staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina in order to reinvest resources in Iowa, Nevada and Texas, all of this coming after he pleaded for $800,000 in 10 days to keep his campaign alive.

Most recently, Castro began feuding with the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic parties after calling for a reordering of the primary calendar in favor of states with more diversity, telling reporters in Iowa just last week that "the state does not reflect demographically either the U.S. or certainly not the Democratic Party."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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