This week on “Face the Nation,” November 24, 2019
The Testimonies Heard Around the World
Public hearings with nine more witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry captivated Washington this week as former Trump administration officials and career diplomats testified about how Trump administration officials were conducting foreign policy in Ukraine.
At the center of the probe is whether President Trump hinged a White House meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky and nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine on a promise that the country would open politically-motivated probes into the Ukrainian gas company Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Addressing the controversy early in his testimony, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told lawmakers: “I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a “quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
Fiona Hill, a career Russia expert who served as senior director for Russia on the National Security Council, testified that she came to realize Amb. Sondland was sent on a “domestic political errand” to pressure Ukraine to carry out the investigations.
Sondland testified that he and other advisers to Trump worked with the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine “at the express direction of the president of the United States.” He added, “we followed the president’s orders.”
Sondland maintains that he did not know that mention of Burisma was associated with investigations into the Bidens, a discrepancy also supported by Amb. Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine.
“I saw them as very different — the former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable. In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections,” Volker testified this week.
However, Hill challenged the ambassadors’ claims in her own testimony, saying it was “clear that Burisma was code for the Bidens.”
“It is not credible to me that he was oblivious,” she testified about Sondland.
Hill also objected to claims that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 elections, a debunked conspiracy theory Republicans have advanced throughout the inquiry to defend Trump’s demands of Ukraine to investigate corruption as a legitimate concern.
She denounced the notion as “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Meanwhile, David Holmes, a diplomat in the U.S. embassy in Kiev, described a conversation he overheard between Mr. Trump and Amb. Sondland in Ukraine at a Kiev restaurant on July 26 — the day after Trump’s now-infamous call with Zelensky.
Holmes testified that he heard Sondland tell Trump that the Ukrainian president “loves your a**” and would open the investigations Trump had requested — a significant development in the inquiry that ties the president directly to the pressure campaign.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, someone calling the President from a mobile phone at a restaurant, and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language,” Holmes said.
Multiple top officials were also implicated in testimonies, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified.
What happens next?
The House Intelligence Committee has started working on its report in the impeachment inquiry, Rep. Adam Schiff revealed Friday.
Although no additional depositions have been scheduled, Schiff said the committee is “not foreclosing the possibility of additional depositions or hearings,” and will continue to investigate while compiling the report.
The report will go to the House Judiciary Committee, which would draft articles of impeachment.
Should the House vote to impeach Trump, the White House is preparing for a trial in the Senate, according to a senior Trump administration official.
White House counsel met with several Republican senators Thursday morning to discuss impeachment strategy. The White House backs a full trial of some length on the merits to allow for the president to call witnesses.
“I want a trial,” Trump told Fox in an interview Friday morning, though he said he doesn’t expect Democrats will impeach him
“Face the Nation” Guest Lineup:
And, as always, we’ll turn to our political panel for some perspective on the week:
- Joel Payne (@paynedc) Democratic Strategist and CBS News Contributor
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