Sondland Could Be Called to Revise Testimony: Impeachment Update

Erik Wasson
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Sondland Could Be Called to Revise Testimony: Impeachment Update

(Bloomberg) -- Investigators in the House impeachment probe of Donald Trump are meeting Tuesday with acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, who had warned it was “crazy” to withhold military aid in a bid to get dirt on the president’s political rivals.

Here are the latest developments:

Sondland Could Be Called to Revise Testimony (7:09 p.m.)

The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry could call Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, back to revise his testimony after Taylor contradicted some of his previous statements.

Representative Lacy Clay, a Missouri Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said Taylor’s testimony was “riveting” and well-documented. Although Sondland previously sought to distance himself from Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, part of his account was at odds with Taylor’s private deposition.

“We will probably give Mr. Sondland the chance to come back and re-state,” Clay said Tuesday.

Hesitant Democrat Calls for ‘Timely Inquiry’ (6:50 p.m.)

Representative Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Democrat who has been among the most reluctant in his party to embrace impeachment, said Tuesday he thinks the House should “move forward with the investigation.”

Van Drew said even though there are issues with Trump that “we’re all uncomfortable with,” Congress shouldn’t pursue an impeachment process because “a president is rude or crude or you don’t like him.”

“The House is going to do what it’s going to do. Let the Senate decide and move forward and get that done, I hope, in a timely fashion,” Van Drew said. “Not to rush it, but to get it done in a timely fashion.” -- Evan Sully

White House Calls Testimony ‘Triple Hearsay’ (6:04 p.m.)

The White House called Taylor’s testimony “a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.”

“There was no quid pro quo,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in an emailed statement. “Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically motivated, closed door, secretive hearings.”

Taylor is still serving as the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Envoy Says He Was Told Ukraine Must ‘Pay Up’ (4:27 p.m.)

Taylor said another senior diplomat used Trump’s background as a businessman to explain the president’s demand that Ukraine promise publicly to investigate a matter related to Joe Biden before getting U.S. security aid.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, “tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman,” Taylor said in his opening statement to House impeachment investigators.

“When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check,” Taylor said, describing Sondland’s words.

Taylor said he told Sondland that explanation “made no sense: the Ukrainians did not ‘owe’ President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was ‘crazy.’”

Envoy Says Trump Linked Aid With Biden Probe (3:43 p.m.)

The top U.S. envoy to Ukraine told House investigators a senior diplomat told him in early September that Trump made clear that U.S. security aid to Ukraine was entirely dependent on a public promise for an investigation of a matter related to Joe Biden.

Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, in a prepared statement obtained by the Washington Post and confirmed by an official familiar with the matter, quoted senior diplomat Gordon Sondland as saying Trump wanted Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “in a public box” with such a promise.

“In August and September of this year, I became increasingly concerned that our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy-making and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons,” Taylor’s opening statement said.

Taylor corroborated some of the testimony of earlier witnesses, including former National Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill, regarding the role of Sondland, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry in running a back-channel Ukraine policy outside regular State Department channels.

“By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskiywanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainianinterference in the 2016 elections,” Taylor said, referring to a company related to Biden’s son. “It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani.”

Taylor said he was told by Hill of a July 10 meeting in which Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, connected a White House meeting for Zelenskiy with proceeding with “investigations.” Taylor said then-National Security Advisor John Bolton was so irritated that he abruptly ended the meeting and told Hill to brief White House lawyers.

He also said that during an NSC video conference on July 18, a staff person from the Office of Management and Budget, who was not identified, said a hold was placed on Ukraine security assistance until further notice at the direction of the president to acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. -- Billy House

Envoy’s Notes Show Link With Biden Probe (3:09 p.m.)

Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor provided investigators with a timeline and notes documenting conversations showing that U.S. aid to that country was linked to its willingness to investigate Joe Biden, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Taylor is testifying behind closed doors to House impeachment investigators about efforts by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to direct U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Members of the committee said they were told Taylor’s lawyers plan to release his opening statement.

The official said Taylor also kept detailed notes about his conversation with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, after Taylor asked in a text message whether “security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland responded, “Call me.”

Taylor did -- and then documented that conversation by writing it down, said the official. The official didn’t say what Taylor’s notes said.

The official also said Taylor described Ukrainian officials’ sense of optimism that with the election of their new president, the country would be able to move ahead with anti-corruption efforts that had been stalled.

Republicans have taken that as substantiating Trump’s claims about the existence of Ukraine corruption that needed to be addressed. -- Billy House

Envoy Kept Notes on Concerns About Giuliani (12:20 p.m.)

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine kept “meticulous” notes about his concerns and interactions with colleagues regarding attempts by Rudy Giuliani to influence Ukraine’s government on President Donald Trump’s behalf, a top Democrat said.

The testimony of acting U.S. Ambassador William Taylor “further corroborates” the allegation that Trump was pressuring the Ukrainian government and linked the release of U.S. aid to Ukraine’s help in investigating Democratic Joe Biden, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, and his son, according to Representative Gerald Connolly of Virginia, a member of the Oversight Committee.

The notes Taylor kept and turned over to the committees made his testimony “more credible,” Connolly said, without elaborating on the contents of the notes.

While Democrats described Taylor’s testimony as reflecting contemporaneous concerns about Giuliani’s activities regarding Ukraine, Republicans said the ambassador also provided testimony that backed up Trump’s concerns about corruption in Ukraine.

“The concerns the president had in general -- totally underscored and buttressed the concerns the president had,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee.

Taylor is a key witness because of his text messages to colleagues expressing concern about back-channel Ukraine negotiations led by Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. Taylor’s exchanges with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, form a crucial part of the inquiry. -- Billy House

Senate Panel Contacting Possible Witnesses (1:52 p.m.)

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr says his panel’s probe into allegations of U.S. pressure on Ukraine for political purposes will include witnesses beyond the whistle-blower whose complaint sparked the House impeachment inquiry.

“I am calling some other people,” said Burr, a North Carolina Republican, who until now has said little about his plans for the GOP-led Senate investigation. Burr said his staff is reaching out to some of the people he wants to come in for bipartisan questioning, adding that “we started a while ago.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month that the Intelligence Committee was the appropriate venue in the chamber for looking into the whistle-blower complaint. Burr has warned not to expect his panel to “move at light speed” with its investigation, but said he is “committed to getting to the bottom” of questions about Trump’s July phone call with the president of Ukraine. -- Laura Litvan

House GOP Leaders Criticize Inquiry Secrecy (11:08 a.m.)

House Republican leaders intensified their attacks on the impeachment process led by House Democrats, saying they are being denied copies of transcripts of witness interviews and get only “cherry picked” information emerging from the inquiry.

“Everybody in America should be alarmed that they are trying to reverse the result of the 2016 election behind closed doors, in secret,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said the only transcript that has been made public is the White House memo of a July conversation between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. McCarthy said it shows no “quid pro quo” that Trump withheld aid to the former Soviet bloc nation in exchange for a probe into Joe Biden and his son.

“Democrats have written this script,” McCarthy said. “They hate this president, and they are abusing their power to undo an election.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, told reporters Tuesday that the House is conducting a “responsible” process.

“No I don’t think we have prejudged him,” Hoyer said of Trump. “We are gathering information, facts, evidence” -- Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson

Ukraine Envoy Taylor Arrives for Testimony (9:26 a.m.)

Taylor arrived on Capitol Hill for his closed-door testimony Tuesday before the three House committees leading the impeachment investigation.

Taylor is considered a key witness because of his text messages in early September to colleagues expressing concern about back-channel Ukraine negotiations led by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, even saying it was “crazy” to withhold military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president’s political rivals.

His testimony before the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees is expected to extend into early evening. -- Billy House

CNN Poll Finds 50% Support for Trump Removal (7:16 a.m.)

Half of those surveyed support impeaching Trump and removing him from office, the highest percentage to do so in CNN polling on the matter thus far.

The CNN poll found that while support for impeachment is growing, Trump’s overall approval rating have remained steady.

The survey, conducted Oct. 17 to 20, shows 50% of respondents believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 43% don’t agree and 7% have no opinion. Meanwhile, 41% approve of Trump’s handling of the presidency and 57% disapprove -- a slight increase from a September CNN poll that showed 39% job approval.

The poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.7 percentage points.

A separate poll released Monday by the New York Times and Siena College found that the majority of registered voters in six swing states -- all of which Trump won in 2016 -- back the impeachment probe, 50% to 45%, but don’t support removing Trump from office by a margin of 53%-43%. That poll’s margin of error was-plus or-minus 2.8 percentage points, and it was conducted from Oct. 13-20.

Key Events

Investigators will hear Wednesday from Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense. They also decided not to hear from witnesses Thursday and Friday during ceremonies and the funeral for the late House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings.House committees have begun to schedule weekend depositions, amid predictions that the investigation’s conclusion could be pushed deeper into December than expected. On Saturday, Philip Reeker, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs, is scheduled to appear, according to an official familiar with the plans.In a 218-185 vote, House Democrats defeated a move by Republicans to censure Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff for his handling of the investigation.Trump called on Attorney General William Barr to investigate unsupported claims that Ukraine was involved in the origins of the Russia investigation. “I would like the attorney general to find out what’s going on,” Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News.

--With assistance from Kathleen Miller, Laura Litvan, Erik Wasson, Billy House, Steven T. Dennis and Evan Sully.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Wasson in Washington at ewasson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, Anna Edgerton

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