What happened at Wednesday's first impeachment hearing
Washington -- In the most explosive testimony in the impeachment inquiry to date, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union told House lawmakers that he and other diplomats sought a "quid pro quo" from Ukraine, executing a scheme that was known and supported by the highest levels of government.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU since 2018, implicated President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the effort to persuade Ukraine to announce supposed anti-corruption investigations in exchange for a coveted White House meeting. The investigations targeted supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 campaign and a Ukrainian gas company that had employed Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden's son.
The ambassador also said he became "absolutely convinced" by the end of August that a weeks-long delay in hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Ukraine was tied to the announcement of investigations. He said he did not, however, have direct knowledge of a link between the delay and the investigations, and said he never discussed military assistance with the president.
Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee that he and other diplomats reluctantly worked "in good faith" with Rudy Giuliani "at the express direction of the president of the United States." He said senior officials back in Washington were fully aware of his outreach to top Ukrainian officials, and cited several conversations with Mr. Trump and Pompeo directly.
"The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false," Sondland said, citing emails that "show that the leadership of State, [National Security Council] and the White House were all informed about the Ukraine efforts" beginning as early as May.
"Everyone was in the loop," Sondland said.
2:46 p.m.: Asked by GOP Representative Will Hurd about his decision in September to call the president to ask what he wanted in Ukraine, Sondland said he had become "exasperated" by the turn of events.
Sondland said the situation with Ukraine was at an impasse, with aid delayed and no White House meeting scheduled. He said he heard many explanations for the standstill.
"I finally got exasperated by receiving Ambassador Taylor's latest text, and I just picked up the phone. I got through to the president and I said, 'What do you want?'"
As Sondland previously testified, and as Mr. Trump reiterated Wednesday, Mr. Trump claimed he wanted "nothing" from Ukraine and for Zelensky to "do the right thing." -- Kathryn Watson
2:41 p.m.: Sondland reacted to Mr. Trump earlier comments that he doesn't know Sondland well, saying he and the president were not "close friends" but have a "professional, cordial working relationship."
"It really depends on what you mean by 'know well.' We are not close friends. We have a professional, cordial working relationship," Sondland said.
Sondland also acknowledged he gave $1 million to purchase a "VVIP ticket" to Mr. Trump's inauguration, which he characterized as "a lot of money."
Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell if he had talked to Mr. Trump "often," noting Sondland said he had spoken to Mr. Trump on the phone around 20 times.
"If that's often, then it's often," Sondland said. -- Grace Segers
2:15 p.m.: Republican Congressman Mike Turner slammed Sondland for his "presumption" that the release of military aid to Ukraine was conditioned on announcing investigations, saying it amounted to "nothing."
"You really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations," Turner said. Sondland replied, "Other than my own presumption."
"Which is nothing!" Turner said.
"No one on this planet told you President Trump was tying aid to investigations. Yes or no," Turner asked Sondland.
"Yes," Sondland replied.
In response, Schiff said Mr. Trump would have to say "Ambassador Sondland, I am bribing the Ukrainian president" to convince Republicans he did something wrong. -- Grace Segers
1:59 p.m.: Mr. Trump weighed in on Sondland's testimony on Twitter, quoting Sondland's account of their September conversation:
The tweets come after Mr. Trump told reporters he did not know Sondland well, but that he "seems like a nice guy." -- Grace Segers