Trump impeachment hearing update

The Donald Trump impeachment hearing continues before the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. It reveals differences between Trump and many diplomats and White House staff, the the unpredictability of Trump and any policy he tried to dictate. It also rises growing concerns about the actions of Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani.

RNZ – Trump impeachment hearings: ‘We followed the president’s orders’

A US diplomat who is a pivotal witness in the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump says he worked with the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine issues on “the president’s orders”.

It confirms Mr Trump’s active participation in a controversy that threatens his presidency.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, told the inquiry that Mr Giuliani’s efforts to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for investigations into Mr Trump’s political rivals “were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit” for the Ukrainian leader.

Mr Sondland, a wealthy hotel entrepreneur and Trump donor, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was aware and “fully supportive” of their efforts on Ukraine, providing a fuller role of the top US diplomat’s role in the affair.

Mr Sondland was appearing on Wednesday before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, which is taking the lead in the impeachment inquiry.

Mr Sondland testified Mr Trump had ordered him and two other senior officials to work with Mr Giuliani, who has refused to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry. Mr Giuliani at the time had been working to get Ukraine to carry out the investigations that would benefit Mr Trump politically.

“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,” Mr Sondland said.

Fox News:  Sondland implicates top officials on Ukraine, but says he ‘never heard’ quid pro quo from Trump

European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland tied top officials to the “potential quid pro quo” involving U.S. military aid to Ukraine and investigations desired by President Trump during a highly anticipated impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday – yet said he never heard that link from the president himself.

One of the key witnesses in the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry against Trump, Sondland claimed he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aware of what was going on and said he specifically told Vice President Pence he “had concerns” the military aid to Ukraine “had become tied” to investigations — though a Pence aide denied it. And he repeatedly lambasted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s leading role in the administration’s Ukraine dealings.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland testified in opening remarks. “It was no secret.”

Still, in comments seized upon by Republicans, Sondland testified: “I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of investigations. He said he never personally heard Trump discuss preconditions. And at one point, he confirmed Trump told him, “I want nothing.”

Sondland made clear Wednesday he merely presumed the aid was linked to investigations, at one point referring to this as a “guess.”

But he suggested he had his reasons, agreeing that the conclusion was like “two plus two equals four.” He stressed he never got a clear answer on why the aid was held up, saying in the absence of an explanation he came to believe that the aid and the investigations were linked.

“I shared concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid with Senator Ron Johnson,” Sondland said at one point, referring to the Republican senator involved in Ukraine policy. “And I also shared my concerns with the Ukrainians.”

Taken in their entirety, Sondland’s statements Wednesday are likely to fuel the narratives of both parties.

I think that’s given.

RNZ: US President Donald Trump’s Ukraine phone call ‘improper’ – expert

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the White House National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, testified at the third public hearing in the impeachment investigation before the US House of Representatives intelligence committee.

He also denounced attacks on witnesses in the investigation.

The inquiry focuses on a 25 July phone call in which Mr Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to carry out two investigations that would benefit him politically including one targeting Democratic political rival Joe Biden.

The other involved a debunked conspiracy theory embraced by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.

“It was inappropriate, it was improper for the president to request – to demand – an investigation into a political opponent, especially (from) a foreign power where there is at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation and that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge,” Lt Col Vindman told the committee on Tuesday.

Ms Williams told the committee that Mr Trump’s call with Mr Zelenskiy was unusual because “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter”.

She said the White House budget office had said Mr Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had directed that $US391 million ($NZ608m) in security aid to Ukraine be put on hold and that she never learned why the assistance was later released in September.

The New Yorker: The Spectacular Failure of the Trump Wranglers

On Tuesday, nearly seven hours into the marathon third day of public impeachment hearings, Kurt Volker tried to explain to the House Intelligence Committee what it was like to carry out the nearly impossible task of wrangling U.S. policy toward Ukraine during the Presidency of Donald Trump. Volker, a veteran Republican diplomat who had been serving, since 2017, as Trump’s Special Representative to Ukraine, said that he realized last spring that he had a “problem,” and that it was Trump himself.

When Volker took the job, he testified, “I believed I could steer U.S. policy in the right direction,” an ambitious statement given that Trump had already been publicly skeptical of Ukraine and supportive of its adversary Russia. Still, Volker insisted that he thought he could maintain the long-standing U.S. policy of supporting Ukraine, a bipartisan priority ever since Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, in 2014, and launched a proxy civil war in the country’s east. “If a problem arose, I knew that it was my job to try to fix it,” Volker said.

In May, he learned that there was, in fact, a “significant problem”: the attitude of the President toward Ukraine. Trump, as Volker heard firsthand in an Oval Office meeting that month, believed that Ukraine was corrupt, “out to get” him, and harbored an animus going back to the 2016 election; he even embraced a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had intervened in the U.S Presidential race.

As a result, Trump was deeply skeptical toward the Administration’s own policy of supporting Ukraine and had no desire to meet with the country’s reformist new President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Volker believed that Trump was being fed misinformation about Ukraine by his private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

“I found myself faced with a choice: to be aware of a problem and to ignore it or to accept that it was my responsibility to try to fix it,” Volker testified. “I tried to fix it.”

To say that he failed would, of course, be an understatement.

All three of the witnesses who testified with Volker had listened in on Trump’s now infamous July 25th phone call with Zelensky, and in their testimony they recounted varying degrees of concern as they heard Trump demand that Zelensky do him the “favor” of investigating his political rival, the former Vice-President Joe Biden, and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election. The witnesses called Trump’s actions “improper,” “inappropriate,” and “unusual,” and said that they potentially undermine the bipartisan American policy of supporting Ukraine.

The testimony on Tuesday morning of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who is currently serving as the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert, was particularly pointed. Wearing his Army dress blues and a chest full of decorations, Vindman delivered a devastating critique of his Commander-in-Chief.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Vindman said of listening to Trump’s July 25th phone call with Zelensky. “It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent,” Vindman said.

When he heard Trump press Zelensky to investigate Biden, he believed that it was a “political play,” one with unmistakable implications for the Ukrainians, and that it would “undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermine U.S. national security, and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region.” He went to the National Security Council’s lawyer after the call to report his concerns.

It was a remarkable moment, followed soon after by Vindman denouncing the “reprehensible” attacks by Trump and his supporters against himself and other witnesses from inside America’s nonpartisan national-security bureaucracy who have come forward to testify.

Several of the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry found that out, to their dismay. Volker is perhaps the clearest example of this. Volker thought that he could handle the problem of Trump’s attitude toward Ukraine by engaging with the source of the “negative information flow”—Giuliani.

When he met Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for breakfast, in July, Volker acknowledged that Giuliani did bring up Biden and that Volker tried to talk him out of it. It did not work.

Trump still has the support and protection of some Republicans.

Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence panel, made exactly this point, suggesting that witnesses were merely having a policy dispute with the President, even though every single person who has appeared before the Committee has said that they were trying to carry out Trump’s policy as they understood it. “The American people elect the President, not the interagency consensus,” Nunes said. In his view, a White House process cherished by official Washington does not matter one bit. So, if Trump decided to blow up American policy toward Ukraine to withhold nearly four hundred million dollars in military aid, then that was U.S. policy.

This, of course, is one of the reasons why Trump is on his fourth national-security adviser, his second Secretary of State, and his third chief of staff. In a government of one, even the officials who want to serve the President can find themselves not knowing what it is they are supposed to be doing. They can be undercut at any moment; they have been.

A few months ago, there was no policy more bipartisan in Washington than backing Ukraine in its ongoing struggle with Russia. Just about the only person in the capital who did not support it was Donald Trump. It’s all so confusing. And that is nothing new in this Presidency.

Trump tries to do what he wants, regardless of advice. If he doesn’t get the advice he wants he fires the adviser.

Guiliani has told him what he wants to hear, and tried to run Trump’s policy on Ukraine. Guiliani could end up being the fall guy – like  number of other Trump associates who have now been prosecuted and convicted.


Leave a comment


  1. Duker

     /  21st November 2019

    Giuliani knows Trump better than most , and has said he has ‘insurance’
    The snake Trump has met his ‘mongoose’

  2. Ray

     /  21st November 2019

    I am not a Trump supporter, he is a fuckwit, I just hoped he would prove to be better than he appeared, which unfortunately was a forlorn hope.
    But in all this why was Joe Biden’s son being paid a considerable amount of money for some job in a dodgy foreign country, a job he had no expertise in…what’s that all about?

    • Assertions and allegations have been made (especially by Trump and Guiliani) but I haven’t seen any evidence produced, and some media say the claims have been debunked.

      If you can find anything of substance on this, quotes and links would be useful.

    • Duker

       /  21st November 2019

      No expertise in ? You mean like Dame Jenny Shipley and the Construction company Mainzeal she was Chair of.
      As for Burisma the board at various times it seemed to have various ‘names’ that werent connected to its actual business. A former President of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski a former top CIA counter terrorism official and this
      ‘In April 2014, Devon Archer, a former senior adviser to the John Kerry 2004 presidential campaign, and Hunter Biden, an attorney and the son of then-US vice president Joe Biden, joined the board.
      They were what you would call Trophy Directors, as our ex politicians and others are, mostly ornaments for show.
      Heard of Oravida ?

      • Ray

         /  21st November 2019

        I understand that Duker but for what legitimate reason would a company on the other side world offer an ex politician’s child a job?
        And just how many other politicians or potential leaders children/relations get “bought off” with this kind of stuff, left and right?

        • Gezza

           /  21st November 2019

          I imagine it’s common in several parts of the world. Including the USA.

          Certainly seems to be in the White House. Wives, kids, their spouse …

          Having a senior foreign politician’s kid on a board, even if it doesn’t guarantee special treatment deals, probably impresses the local investors, even if some are likely to be corrupt

          • Duker

             /  21st November 2019

            The words Ive seen used are that have a high profile foreign person on the Burisma board gives a measure of ‘protection’ in a corrupt state like Ukraine. Its probably a lot cheaper than paying the corrupt police , prosecutors , judiciary and finally politicians ( in order of ascending bribes to leave you alone)

            • Ray

               /  21st November 2019

              Good stuff Duker, you have to wonder just who financed this company and really runs it, CIA ?

  3. duperez

     /  21st November 2019

    I wonder how many believe that months back when talking to anyone, let alone Sondland as he was being instructed, Trump used the words ‘quid pro quo.’

    I wonder how many believe that Trump as a directive said exactly, “No quid pro quo.”
    Are people being asked to believe that? 🙃😊

  4. duperez

     /  21st November 2019

    Apropos my comments about Trump using the words ‘quid pro quo.’ You’ve probably seen the close ups of his speech notes. The psychologists and other such specialists will be having a ball with this.

  5. When grandpa tells the same stories and you can’t get him off the phone:

  1. Trump impeachment hearing update — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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