Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to E.U., changes story on Ukraine aid — live updates

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Top U.S. diplomat changes testimony in impeachment inquiry


The latest news on the impeachment inquiry

  • House Democrats released transcripts of the testimony of two key figures in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland
  • White House lawyers are expected to take the lead on defending the president in the impeachment inquiry as it moves to its public phase
  • Democrats sent a letter to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney requesting he appear before impeachment inquiry committees on Friday.

Washington — The U.S. ambassador to the E.U. revised earlier testimony to the House committees leading the impeachment probe, saying he now recalls telling a top Ukrainian official that the release of military aid “likely” required the country to announce anti-corruption investigations into President Trump’s rivals.

Gordon Sondland, in an addendum to his October testimony, claimed his memory has been “refreshed” after reviewing others’ testimony. Now, in revised testimony dated Monday, November 4, Sondland said he recalls that aid to Ukraine was, according to his understanding, conditioned on Ukraine making a public anti-corruption statement.

Sondland initially told lawmakers he was unaware Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was targeting former Vice President Joe Biden by urging Ukrainian officials to open an investigation into Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which had put Biden’s son on its board of directors.

In the addendum, Sondland said he now remembers a September conversation with Andrey Yermak, an aide to Ukraine’s president, in which he “said 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.”

On Tuesday, House Democrats released transcripts of the testimony by Sondland and former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, both of whom are central witnesses in the impeachment inquiry.

Earlier, Democrats sent a letter to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney requesting his testimony, a request that the White House shot down hours later.

The chairs of the committees wrote that Mulvaney “may have been directly involved” in efforts by Mr. Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to withhold aid from Ukraine. Mulvaney did not comply with an earlier subpoena for documents related to his involvement with Ukraine policy.

“Past Democrat and Republican Administrations would not be inclined to permit Senior Advisers to the President to participate in such a ridiculous, partisan, illegitimate proceeding – and neither is this one,” spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday afternoon.


Several administration officials schedule to testify

7:12 a.m.: Acting Office of Management and Budget director Russell Vought, State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Undersecretary of State David Hale are scheduled but not confirmed for closed door depositions before the committees conducting the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday.

Vought and Perry have already indicated that they are not cooperating with the impeachment inquiry.

Tuesday, November 5

DNC calls Sondland’s revised testimony a “nightmare” for Trump

Tuesday, 6:55 p.m.: Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez described Sondland’s revised testimony as a “nightmare” for Mr. Trump and Republicans.

“For weeks, Trump and his Republican allies used Sondland’s denials as Exhibit A in their effort to protect Trump. But now Sondland admitted the truth, and it’s a nightmare for Trump,” Perez said in a statement to CBS News.

“It’s long past time for Republicans to put country above party and hold this president accountable. No one is above the law – not even the president.” — Kathryn Watson


​White House lawyers to take lead on impeachment defense

Tuesday, 6:21 p.m.: White House lawyers are expected to take the lead on defending the president in the impeachment inquiry as it moves to its public phase, CBS News has learned.

Throughout the Mueller investigation, the president relied on a team of personal attorneys to represent him on television and in the criminal proceeding. But government lawyers will now take the lead in defending the president against Democrats seeking to remove him from office, a reflection of the fact that this investigation is based on actions the president took while in the White House.

The president’s personal attorneys will still have a role to play in certain aspects of the impeachment inquiry, but they will also be busy with litigation over their clients tax returns that is headed to the Supreme Court and other legal challenges facing the president outside of Washington. — Paula Reid


​Graham won’t read impeachment transcripts, calls process “B.S.”

4:09 p.m.: Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, doesn’t plan on reading the transcripts of testimony from Volker or Sondland, declaring the entire deposition and impeachment process “B.S.”

Graham dismissed Sondland’s apparent reversal in which he now admits he thought Ukraine aid was tied to Ukraine making a public anti-corruption statement. Graham suggested he doesn’t care what any “bureaucrat” like Sondland thinks. But Sondland is no bureaucrat — he was a prominent businessman before becoming ambassador and was a strong supporter of the president, donating $1 million to his inaugural fund.

“That’s his opinion,” Graham said of Sondland. “All I can say is that the president of Ukraine didn’t believe that. The president of the United States on the phone call didn’t say that … if the person being threatened with withholding the aid, if they say, ‘I wasn’t threatened,’ I don’t care what any bureaucrat says.” — Alan He and Kathryn Watson


​White House responds to release of Sondland and Volker transcripts

3:30 p.m.: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham attempted to paint a narrative that the deposition transcripts from Sondland and Volker help rather than hurt the White House. It’s the media, she insisted, that’s crafting a misleading narrative, even as Americans can read the hundreds of pages for themselves.

“Both transcripts released today show there is even less evidence for this illegitimate impeachment sham than previously thought,” Grisham said in a statement. “Ambassador Sondland squarely states that he ‘did not know, (and still does not know) when, why or by whom the aid was suspended.’ He also said he ‘presumed’ there was a link to the aid–but cannot identify any solid source for that assumption.

“By contrast, Volker’s testimony confirms there could not have been a quid pro quo because the Ukrainians did not know about the military aid hold at the time. No amount of salacious media-biased headlines, which are clearly designed to influence the narrative, change the fact that the president has done nothing wrong.” — Kathryn Watson


​Sondland revises testimony, says he now recalls Ukraine aid being linked to public anti-corruption statement

Tuesday, 2:00 p.m.: In a multi-page addendum to his testimony, all of which was released Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland claimed that his memory has been “refreshed” after reviewing others’ testimony. Now, in revised testimony dated Monday, November 4, Sondland said he recalls that aid to Ukraine was, according to his understanding, conditioned on Ukraine making a public anti-corruption statement.

Sondland, a Trump donor whose initial testimony seemed to reflect favorably upon the president, had initially testified he was unaware Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was targeting former Vice President Joe Biden by urging Ukrainian officials to open an investigation into Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which had put Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, on its board.

In the addendum to his testimony, Sondland said he now more vividly remembers a conversation with Andrey Yermak, an aide to Ukraine’s president.

“I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak” at a September meeting in Ukraine, “where I said 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,” Sondland said in his revised testimony.

At multiple points in his revised testimony, Sondland said he now recalls details that were previously cloudy. — Kathryn Watson and Nancy Cordes


​Sondland and Volker testimony transcripts released

1:50 p.m.: House Democrats have released transcripts of the testimony of two key figures in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland.

In October, Sondland testified he and other diplomats reluctantly worked with Rudy Giuliani at the direction of President Trump. Sondland and others have testified that it was Giuliani who wanted to push Ukraine to investigate U.S. election interference in 2016 and also Burisma, an energy company that employed Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

Volker testified that he had expressed misgivings about Rudy Giuliani’s influence on the president’s view of Ukraine, and he submitted text messages to Congress that included exchanges with Sondland and another diplomat about the efforts to urge Ukraine to announce investigations into Democrats and 2016 election interference.

Read the transcripts here:

— Stefan Becket


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