Gordon Sondland has implicated a number of White House officials who were “in the loop” with Donald Trump's direction to withhold aid to Ukraine in an exchange for a meeting and a public statement announcing an investigation into the president’s political opponents.
The testimony came as Democrats were preparing to hold their fifth debate of 2020 in Atlanta, where they will undoubtedly be asked about the freshly sprung impeachment inquiry that has dominated headlines.
Mr Sondland, a US ambassador to the EU, affirmed that there was a so-called quid pro quo, dropping a bombshell testimony into another pivotal hearing in the House impeachment inquiry into the president’s alleged abuses of power in his dealings with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to his testimony, Mr Sondland worked under the president’s order to work with Rudy Giuliani “not because we liked it but because it was the only constructive path” to building a relationship with a vulnerable Ukraine. In emails and other conversations with US officials — including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — Mr Sondland established a clear link from the president, through Giuliani, and efforts to engage Ukraine with investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma.
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Mr Trump told reporters outside the White House that he barely knows Mr Sondland, who he previously called a "great American", and that he seems like a “nice guy".
The president read from a stack of papers in his hand, which included, in capital letters, his recollection of a conversation with Mr Sondland in which Trump said "I WANT NOTHING. I WANT NOTHING. I WANT NO QUID PRO QUO."
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said that "the US aid to Ukraine flowed, no investigation was launched, and President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelensky. Democrats keep chasing ghosts."
Mr Pence and Mr Perry also released statements during the hearing denying Mr Giuliani’s influence in their dealings with Ukraine. They’ve refused to testify in the impeachment probe.
Mr Trump also lashed out at his Democratic opponents conducting the House impeachment inquiry, mocked key witnesses giving testimony for their sartorial choices and denied that the onset of a heart attack was what prompted his sudden trip to hospital on Saturday.
"These people are sick. They’re sick. And the press really in this country is dangerous. We don’t have freedom of the press in this country. We have the opposite. We have a very corrupt media," the president ranted from the Cabinet Room of the White House on Tuesday.
The inquiry heard from four witnesses on Tuesday who detailed the administration’s coercion of Ukraine.
White House press secretary accused of lying after saying Obama aides left taunting notes for Trump staffers
Just as Lt Col Vindman and Jennifer Williams were being sworn in yesterday, Trump's press secretary Stephanie Grisham made the extraordinary claim that outgoing Obama staffers had left taunting notes for their successors entering the White House in January 2017.
"You will fail," one read, according to Grisham.
It was a clear lie - no evidence of the notes exist and we'd surely have heard about them before, wouldn't we? - but the tactic did expose the administration's desperate bid to distract from the hearings and obvious concern about their impact.
Fox News hosts in furious on-air row over Trump impeachment
Trump's favourite broadcaster is a turbulent place to be right now, with loyalty to the president being stretched to breaking point as the facts of the Ukraine scandal become ever harder to dispute.
Jeannine Piro and Juan Williams have been squabbling something awful and Vincent Wood was watching.
Whistleblower's lawyers berate Republican congressman on Twitter
Andrew Bakaj and Mark Zaid - attorneys for the CIA whistleblower whose complaint about the Zelensky call kickstarted the impeachment probe - have laid into Ohio Republican Jim Jordan for pushing conspiracy theories in his line of questioning towards testifying witnesses.
Jordan spent his allotted time during Vindman's testimony yesterday decrying the impeachment process and claiming that Democrats had uncovered no evidence of a quid pro quo related to the withholding of military aid to Ukraine
"The facts are on the president’s side, the process is certainly not. It has been the most unfair process we have ever seen and the American people understand it," he said in the hearing.
Phil Thomas has more.
Twitter ridicules ranking Republican Devin Nunes over 'Mr Vindman' gaffe
As alluded to by Trump, ranking Republican Devin Nunes yesterday made a gaffe at the inquiry when he referred to "Mr Vindman" and was quickly corrected by the military man with his proper title.
That led to the hashtag #DevinNunesIsAnIdiot trending on Twitter, of which the following are a few choice examples.
This morning, #HistoryWillRememberTrump is doing the rounds - somewhat prematurely anticipating the end of his political career - which I mention solely in the interests of thoroughness.
Navy still plans to oust sailor pardoned by Trump over war crimes
Chief petty officer Edward Gallagher, a US Navy SEAL charged with a war crime after posing for a photograph with the body of a dead Isis captive, is set to be kicked out of the forces despite being pardoned by President Trump last week.
The decision could put the SEALs commander, read admiral Collin Green, in direct conflict with the White House, with the military quietly disapproving of Trump's pardoning of Gallagher and two other servicemen charged with equivalent offences.
Trump back on Twitter making the case for the defence
The president has picked up where he left off yesterday, staring his day by hammering out clips of Republicans from the inquiry and demanding: "Read the transcripts!"
You can do that here, if you so wish.
‘We are on the brink’
Largely overlooked in all the excitement about the House impeachment investigation is the perspective from Ukraine.
"I think everybody in Ukraine is so tired about Burisma. We have our own country. We have our independence, we have our problems and questions. That's it," the country's president Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN this week.
Our own Oliver Carroll has this report from Kiev on a country abandoned by the Trump administration since the scandal broke and facing limited options in Europe as it seeks to hold off Kremlin aggression.
Gordon Sondland 'kept Mike Pompeo informed' on Ukraine campaign
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is seemingly plotting his exit from the Trump administration over concerns the association is damaging his reputation.
The New York Times reports ths morning that he was kept informed about Sondland and Volker's efforts to pressure Ukraine into appeasing Trump by announcing a Biden investigation.
Trump supporter who threatened to 'put a bullet' in Ilhan Omar's head pleads guilty
Islamophobic Trump supporter Patrick Carlineo, who threatened the life of Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, has pled guilty, according to the authorities.
Carlineo called Omar’s DC office in March and asked the staffer who answered: "Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why are you working for her? She’s a [expletive] terrorist. Somebody ought to put a bullet in her skull."
Senate passes bill supporting Hong Kong protesters
The upper chamber of Congress has passed a bill that compels the US government to support Hong Kong pro-democracy activists by requiring it to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in the territory.
The bill, if enacted into law by Trump, would also require the State Department to annually review the special autonomous status it grants Hong Kong in trade considerations.
Trump has largely tried to avoid angering China on the issue, with whom he is already locked in a bitter trade war, but was encouraged to speak out earlier this week by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
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