A Pentagon official unexpectedly blew up Trump's defense in the Ukraine scandal and Gordon Sondland threw everyone under the bus. Here are the biggest takeaways from Wednesday's impeachment hearings.

Business Insider Politics 2 weeks ago

Wednesday's public impeachment hearings featured three more officials who testified after being subpoenaed.

They are:

  • Gordon Sondland, the US's ambassador to the European Union.
  • Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Defense.
  • David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department

Sondland was initially believed to be the key witness on Wednesday, but Cooper took the spotlight when she revealed damning new information that undermined President Donald Trump's entire defense in the snowballing Ukraine scandal.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Wednesday's hearings:

  • Cooper revealed that her staff received two emails from the State Department on July 25 asking about US military aid to Ukraine.
    • This is a massive revelation.
    • Trump spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on that day and repeatedly pressured Zelensky to launch politically motivated investigations that would benefit his reelection campaign. At the time, the president had ordered a freeze on the security assistance and was withholding a White House meeting Zelensky desperately sought.
    • A whistleblower complaint about the phone call and events surrounding it prompted sharp accusations that the president abused his power by trying to strongarm Ukraine into delivering political dirt while withholding vital military aid.
    • Trump has defended himself by saying that Ukraine didn't even know about the aid freeze until it was publicly reported by Politico in late August, and if Zelensky didn't know the US was withholding aid, he couldn't have felt pressured during their call.
    • Cooper's testimony throws a wrench into that.
  • Cooper outlined three separate inquiries about the Ukraine aid on July 25.
    • An email from the State Department at 2:31 p.m. that said, "the Ukrainian embassy and the House Foreign Affairs Committee are asking about security assistance."
    • An email from the State Department at 4:25 p.m. that said, "that the Hill knows about the [frozen military funds] situation to an extent, and so does the Ukrainian embassy."
    • A member of Cooper's staff got a question from a Ukrainian embassy official saying, "What is going on with Ukraine security assistance?"
  • The Republicans' witness undermined their case (again).
    • Hale was on the GOP witness list but, like other Republican witnesses before him, his testimony did more to hurt the party than to help.
    • Hale testified that Trump and the Office of Management and Budget — which ordered the freeze at Trump's directive — were at odds with every other federal agency on the decision.
    • "The State Department advocated, as I did in that meeting, for proceeding with all of the assistance, consistent with our policies and interests in Ukraine," he said, referring to an interagency meeting that took place in July.
    • He also defended Masha Yovanovitch, the US's former ambassador to Ukraine who was abruptly recalled in May following what she characterized as a "smear campaign" against her by Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
    • Yovanovitch has been publicly attacked by Trump since coming forward to testify, and Hale said Wednesday that the way she was treated was wrong.
    • Hale agreed that Yovanovitch is a "dedicated and courageous patriot" and that she served with dignity and grace in the face of the president's "smear campaign."
  • Sondland confirmed a quid pro quo and implicated Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former national security adviser John Bolton.
    • "Members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a 'quid pro quo?" Sondland's opening statement said. "As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."
    • "Everyone knew" about the quid pro quo, Sondland said.
  • Sondland said he pressured Ukraine "at the express direction of the President of the United States."
    • He said Trump told him to work with Giuliani on the shadow policy campaign and that Giuliani was clear on what Trump's interests were: get Ukraine to investigate Burisma Holdings and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as a bogus conspiracy theory suggesting Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
    • Sondland's statement here was significant because it undercut the GOP's attempts to paint Giuliani as a rogue agent who went off on his own to pressure Ukraine.
    • To that end, Sondland's claim that "everyone" — including top brass at the White House and several government agencies — was aware of the campaign also undermines the Giuliani defense.
  • The EU ambassador took heat from Democrats and Republicans, but for different reasons.
    • Republicans turned on Sondland after he confirmed that the quid pro quo was carried out at Trump's direction.
    • Democrats were severely skeptical of Sondland's claims that he didn't know the Burisma investigation was tied to the Bidens while trying to get Ukraine to look into it.
    • This claim from Sondland is indeed dubious. He was in constant contact with Giuliani, who at the time was all over the mainstream media specifically stating that he wanted the Ukrainians to look into the Biden family.

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