(CNN) US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland changed the course of the House Violence Study on Wednesday for several hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee with the TV cameras rolling for a global audience.
In his opening statement, Sondland directly linked President Donald Trump to "quid pro quo" dealing with Ukrainian investigations of Trump's political opponents for official action, including a White House meeting. Sondland explicitly stated that "everyone was in the loop" about what happened to Ukraine's foreign policy, which led to top Trump officials.
Sondland, a politically appointed and hotel magnate with no background in government before joining the Trump administration, may have just given the Democrats the most damning evidence so far in the investigation. Rope. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the Intelligence Committee, called Sondland's testimony "a pivotal moment in our investigation."
Here are five takeaways from Sondland's bombshell testimony:
Sondland pressed Ukraine in Trump's direction [1
9659006] In his opening statement and throughout his testimony, Sondland said he worked with Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine on "explicit leadership of United States President."
"We didn't want to work with Mr. Giuliani," Sondland said, referring to himself, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and former US special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. "Simply put, we played the hand we got."
Sondland talked about several conversations between himself and Trump about Ukraine, which opened two investigations: one in Burisma, a company where former Vice President Joe Biden's son was on the board, and further to conspiracies about Ukrainian involvement in the US election 2016
Up until this point, an important Republican argument has been that none of the witnesses spoke directly to Trump and offered only used information. Sondland's testimony of his many conversations with Trump on the matter is crucial for Democrats to counter that talking point.
While Sondland said Trump had never explicitly told him that US military aid was dependent on Ukraine announcing investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election, the ambassador said he was "under the impression that it was absolutely contingent."
"Everyone knew" about quid pro quo
In clear terms, Sondland confirmed to everyone that there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine, that Trump held a meeting in the White House until Ukraine initiated investigations into Bidens.
"I know that members of this committee often frame these complicated questions in the form of a simple question: was there a quid pro quo?" Sade Sondland. "As I testified before, regarding the requested call in the White House and the meeting in the White House, the answer is yes."
Sondland later said, "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."
These new comments confirm testimony from other witnesses and contradict Trump, who has said all along, reiterating on Wednesday that there was no free pro quo with Ukraine.
But Sondland did not go as far as some of the other witnesses. He said Trump withheld an invitation from the White House from the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, until Zelensky announced the investigations. Other witnesses testified that US military aid was also part of the quid pro quo, but Sondland said Trump never mentioned the foreign aid component.
Sondland implicated Pence, Pompeo and Mulvaney
Republicans have argued that Giuliani could have driven a shadow of foreign policy without the involvement or knowledge of other senior officials in the White House and the Department of Foreign Affairs, but Sondland opposed this several times in his testimony.
He said that "everyone" in the Foreign Ministry was aware. He also involved key officials in the White House, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Chief of Staff at the White House Mick Mulvaney, who also heads the Office of Management and Budget.
Sondland testified that Pompeo led Volker to communicate with Giuliani "even as late as September 24 this year."
"Look, we tried our best to fix the problem while keeping the State Department and (National Security Council) carefully assessed by the challenges we faced," Sondland said.
Sondland also testified that he had told Pence that he had "concerns that the delay in (military) aid had been tied to the issue of investigations" before Pence had a meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw, Poland, on September 1, which indicated that Pence was aware of the "investigations" in the first place.
These comments and emails Sondland described to the committee placed a new party of top Trump officials at the center of the scandal. In statements Wednesday, representatives of Pence and Perry disputed Sondland's testimony, claiming they did nothing wrong. A Pompeo spokeswoman said some of Sondland's comments about the secretary of state were "flat out false."
Split hairs over & # 39; Biden & # 39; vs. & # 39; Burism & # 39;
Under aggressive questioning from the Democrats, Sondland refused to say that he realized that Trump was asking Ukraine to investigate Bidens. He would not go there. Instead, he said he only knew that Trump and Giuliani wanted Zelensky to investigate Burisma.
"With thoughtfulness 20/20, now that we have the transcript of the call, Bidens was clearly mentioned in the conversation," said Sondland, referring to Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelensky, in which he mentioned Bidens by name. "But I didn't make the connection with Bidens."
He later said that "many people did not make the connection" between Burisma and Bidens. Volker, Trump's former special envoy for Ukraine, gave similar testimony on Tuesday.
But it is difficult to take Sondland's explanation at face value. While discussing Burisma, Giuliani went on TV and posted online about the need to investigate Biden. (Sondland said he didn't see any of it.) The explanation calls for viewers to believe that Sondland never asked why Trump cared so much about a random energy company in Ukraine.
The "investigations" were really about politics
During the hearing, Sondland underwent an important Trump defense and at the same time reaffirmed an assertion from the whistleblower complaints that triggered the investigation into violence.
Zelensky "had to announce the investigations," Sondland said, referring to probes in the Biden family and 2016 elections. "He didn't actually have to do them, as I understood it."
Legal experts previously told CNN that this is a critical distinction. Most legitimate investigations are done in secret, so as not to tip the supposed criminals. But the intense focus on securing a public announcement from Zelensky shows that the system was really designed to maximize political utility for Trump, rather than a good faith effort to investigate corruption.
Whether he thought or not, Sondland confirmed the drive by the whistleblower complaint, which said Trump's request for investigations was supposed to help his campaign. Trump has claimed he asked for the probe because he wants to clean up corruption in Ukraine. (There is no evidence of wrongdoing or corruption by Bidens in Ukraine.)