Ken Starr called Wednesday "one of those bombshell days" after hearing US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland's testimony as part of the House impeachment inquiry. President Trump had a different take: "It's all over." Politico reports that in comments to reporters, Trump had this to say of Sondland: "I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy, though." But as for Sondland's recollection of a September phone call in which Trump explicitly said "I want no quid pro quo," the president said this: "That means it’s all over. This is the final word from the president of the United States. I want nothing." You can read Sondland's opening remarks in full here. Highlights:
- On quid pro quo: In what the Guardian describes as Sondland "pointing a finger directly at Trump," he said this: "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. Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and others that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election. Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to the Ukrainians. Mr. Giuliani also expressed those requests directly to us. We all understood that these prerequisites for the White House call and White House meeting reflected President Trump's desires and requirements."
- On Giuliani: "Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President's orders."
- On the suspension of aid: "In July and August 2019, we learned that the White House had also suspended security aid to Ukraine. I was adamantly opposed to any suspension of aid, as the Ukrainians needed those funds to fight against Russian aggression. I tried diligently to ask why the aid was suspended, but I never received a clear answer. In the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, as Mr. Giuliani had demanded."
- A "bombshell": At the Atlantic, David A. Graham presents what he says were the two key sentences of Sondland's opening statement: "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret." Writes Graham, "Sondland’s testimony shows that far from freelancing a crazy scheme, he was working closely with the president and with top policymakers in the administration, keeping them apprised."
- A three-letter word: Daniel Goldman, the Democrats' lawyer, asked Sondland if he remembering saying to President Trump that the Ukrainian president "loves your ass" during a July 26 call at a Kyiv restaurant, reports CNN. Sondland replied that it "sounds like something I would say. That's how President Trump and I communicate. A lot of four-letter words. In this case, three letters," he said to laughter.
- A major blow? CNN writes there was one "major blow" for Democrats that came when Sondland repeatedly answered Goldman by saying Trump never directly verbally linked the aid with an announcement of investigations. But he did reference other top officials as being in the loop, among them Mike Pence, whom Sondland says he mentioned the apparent link to while in a meeting. Sondland said Pence "nodded like he heard what I said."
- Ken Starr weighs in: In speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, the head prosecutor in Bill Clinton's impeachment hearings said Sondland's testimony "doesn't look good for the president, substantively." Starr continued, "It's over ... The articles of impeachment are being drawn up, if they haven't already been drawn up. ... This obviously has been one of those bombshell days," said Starr, who added that Democrats will claim Trump "committed the crime of bribery."
- White House responds: "Sondland is basing his new testimony on presumptions he had made regarding President Trump’s wishes," the White House said in a statement, per the AP. "Sondland confirmed he presumed what the President wanted. Sondland said that he 'speculated' about and 'presumed' what the President wanted."
(Read more Trump impeachment