WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump asked a foreign country to investigate a political rival as he enters his re-election campaign. That has been established almost beyond doubt. But Republicans and Democrats agree on little else as they embarked on only the fourth impeachment inquiry in the nation’s history.
One witness explicitly acknowledged a quid pro quo and another spoke of figurative hand grenades and drug deals. A third was the target of disparaging tweets by the president while her testimony was underway.
Here are key takeaways from two weeks of hearings.
THIS FOR THAT
In the most anticipated testimony, Gordon Sondland, the European Union ambassador, repeatedly described the administration’s dealings with Ukraine as a quid pro quo — one thing in return for another.
“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,” Sondland said.
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The deal, he said, involved arranging a White House visit for Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in return for Zelenskiy’s announcing investigations of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Democrat Joe Biden’s son Hunter was a Burisma board member.
That proposed arrangement was pushed by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who conveyed Trump’s wishes to multiple administration officials.
But in testimony that Republicans sought to exploit, Sondland said no one ever told him military aid to Ukraine was contingent on the country announcing investigations — though he said he came to presume that was the case.
‘EVERYONE WAS IN THE LOOP’
Sondland was central to Trump’s efforts to secure investigations by Ukraine.
But he insisted that this was no rogue effort, and he would not be a fall guy. He testified how officials across the government were aware of Trump’s demand that Ukraine commit to the investigations.
Those officials, he said, included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the White House’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.
“Everyone,” Sondland said repeatedly, “was in the loop. It was no secret.” That also included Vice President Mike Pence, he said.
Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, disputed that account and said that Pence never spoke with Sondland “about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations.”
In Brussels, Pompeo dismissed Sondland’s testimony, but didn’t comment on specifics.
‘DOMESTIC POLITICAL ERRAND’
Fiona Hill, a former White House adviser and Russia expert, recounted a tense relationship with Sondland. If other people were supportive of the ambassador’s efforts, Hill very certainly was not among them.
Her testimony vividly outlined the diverging objectives of Trump’s official staff and parallel effort led by Giuliani that also involved Sondland.
“He was being involved in a domestic political errand,” Hill said of Sondland, “and we were being involved in national security foreign policy.”
In one June blowup, when confronted Sondland over his assertion that he was in charge of Ukraine policy, he replied that Trump had given him authority. She was angry and irritated over the lack of coordinated and warned him that “this is all going to blow up.”
“And,” she pointedly added, “here we are.”