Politics 4 takeaways from Gordon Sondland’s and Kurt Volker’s testimonies
Five takeaways from the first Trump impeachment deposition transcripts
House Democrats on Monday released the first transcripts from their closed-door hearings.The transcripts are the first full public accounting of testimony from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and former top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Michael McKinley.They largely focused on the sequence of events that led to the recalling of Yovanovitch back to the United States.The U.S. ambassador was seen as insufficiently loyal to Trump, and was the subject of a campaign by the White House and its allies to undermine her.Here are five takeaways from the transcripts.
We got two of the most important transcripts of the Ukraine investigation on Tuesday, with the House releasing the depositions of European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. Both were instrumental in managing President Trump’s and Rudolph W. Giuliani’s insistence that Ukraine launch investigations that could benefit Trump politically. They formed two of the so-called “” in charge of that process, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Below are some key takeaways.
Former diplomat Kurt Volker says Rudy Giuliani was a 'direct conduit' to Ukraine and demanded they publicly announce an investigation into the Bidens
Giuliani pushed discredited allegations that the Bidens were involved in corruption, and the conspiracy that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.Volker testified as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Trump, which centers around a whistleblower complaint claiming that the Trump administration withheld a $400 million military aid package in exchange for Ukraine announcing an investigation into the Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma Holdings - where former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden served on the board from 2014 to 2019
1. Sondland strongly confirms a quid pro quo — but doesn’t connect it to Trump
We knew that Sondland’s lawyer clarified his testimony, saying Sondland did in fact confirm a quid pro quo.
And now we see that clarification was apparently sent to the impeachment inquiry, too — on Monday. In it, Sondland says there was no other “credible” explanation other than a quid pro quo and confirms the testimonies of acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor and National Security Council aide Tim Morrison and the public comments of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), all of whom.
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Sondland said that in “the beginning of September 2019, and in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of [hundreds of millions of dollars of military] aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement” that the Trump team asked Ukraine to make about the investigations. He added that “it would have been natural for me to have voiced what I had presumed to Ambassador Taylor, Senator Johnson, the Ukrainians and Mr. Morrison.”
Sondland also says, as Taylor and Morrison, that he told a top Ukrainian official that the “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.”
Importantly, though — and this is key — Sondland doesn’t say this directive came from Trump. He instead says he was acting on his presumption. That could provide Trump a layer of insulation.
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Sen. Lindsey Graham says he will not read newly released transcripts of private testimony given by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. © Provided by MediaDC: Washington Newspaper Publishing Company, Inc.Sondland and Volker testified in a closed session to House lawmakers in the Democrat-driven impeachment investigation against President Trump. The House passed a resolution approving the impeachment proceedings and authorizing the release of transcripts of the closed-door testimony on Oct. 31. "I've written the whole process off ...
At the same time, though, even as Sondland has said Trump insisted to him there was no quid pro quo, everything about the situation he describes indicates there was a quid pro quo in everything but name.
2. Sondland thought the Biden setup was illegal
Sondland, a Trump appointee and Trump donor too, clearly wasn’t exactly looking to blow the lid off this scandal. But at certain points, he did suggest that the kind of quid pro quos that have been the subject of much debate — and have been confirmed by no fewer than six people, including him now — would indeed be bad and probably illegal.
Sondland’shas been that, while he did push for an investigation into the company that employed Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, Burisma Holdings, he didn’t know the situation involved the Bidens.
When he was asked why he was drawing that line, he acknowledged it was because that setup was bad.
“Because I believe I testified that it would be improper to do that,” he said.
A member then asked him, “And illegal, right?”
“I’m not a lawyer, but I assume so,” Sondland said.
Sondland added: “Again, I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know the law exactly. It doesn’t sound good.”
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Whether Sondland thinks this was illegal doesn’t mean it is — just as Morrison saying Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky wasn’t illegal doesn’t mean it wasn’t. But the fact that even Sondland, a Trump ally, is acknowledging the gravity of this is telling. And it makes it much more difficult for the Trump team to argue there’s nothing to see here.
This is a central figure, saying what we’ve learned actually happened was something he believed was illegal.
3. Sondland’s defense of himself still makes no sense
We already knew based onthat his defense was ignorance on the Biden-Burisma stuff.
As I wrote though, that. Giuliani’s efforts to obtain such an investigation was reported publicly , and he said at the time that this was explicitly about the Bidens. Trump himself also floated all of this publicly . Yet Sondland said in his opening statement that he was unaware of the connection on May 23 and even as late as August.
The idea that someone intimately involved in Ukraine like Sondland wouldn’t know why there was such interest in Burisma — and didn’t care to find out — seems impossible. And when pressed on this Sondland didn’t really have good answers:
3 big takeaways from Bill Taylor’s full transcript
The most important things we learned from his testimony.We already knew Taylor was the first U.S. official to indicate that an explicit quid pro quo was communicated to top Ukrainian officials, based upon his publicly released opening statement. That claim that has since been confirmed by White House aide Tim Morrison and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who personally conveyed the quid pro quo.
Q: Well, but Mr. Giuliani was talking about Burisma and the Bidens. And it’s your testimony today you had no idea of any Biden connection to Burisma, it came as a complete revelation when you read the call record in September?
SONDLAND: I don’t recall when I finally—when the light finally went on that Burisma and the Bidens were connected, but certainly not early on at all. I can’t tell you the day that finally I said, oh, Burisma equals Biden. I have no idea when that was.
Q: But I think you suggested in your opening statement that you didn’t know until you read the call record, and it was an epiphany that the President wasn’t simply interested in this energy company—which, by the way, he doesn’t mention in the call record—but he was really interested in an investigation involving the Bidens.
SONDLAND: No, I think I said that I didn’t know what was in the call until I saw the call record. I had no idea that he had brought up the Bidens in the call until I saw the call report.
Q: But I think you were also suggesting that until you read that call record—and correct me if I’m wrong—until you read that call record, you never put two and two together that actually Burisma involved the Bidens, correct?
SONDLAND: I don’t recall when I finally put it together. I don’t recall what the date was or the place was or the time was. I don’t recall.
That doesn’t exactly sound like sticking to your opening statement. Sondland had to clarify on the quid pro quo, and he might need to clarify this too. There’s just no way this is true unless he was burying his head in the sand.
4. Volker undercuts Sondland’s defense, says Giuliani pushing ‘debunked’ claims
While that may be Sondland’s defense, it’s clearly not Volker’s. Volker testified that it was clear as day what Giuliani was up to.
He also agreed that theory pushed by Trump and Giuliani that Biden’s pressure on Ukraine to remove a prosecutor general was aimed at helping his son:
Q: So is it your testimony that you understood that Rudy Giuliani’s desire for the Ukrainian Government to investigate Burisma had to do with potential money laundering or other criminal conduct by the company itself, and not in connection to either Joe or Hunter Biden?
VOLKER: No. I believe that Giuliani was interested in Biden, Vice President Biden’s son Biden [sic], and I had pushed back on that, and I was maintaining that distinction.
Q: So you were maintaining that distinction, because you understood that that whole theory had been debunked and there was no evidence to support it, right?
Yet more Trump team arguments undercut by sworn testimony.
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