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'It kept getting more insidious': Here are 7 key revelations from the newly released impeachment testimony

'It kept getting more insidious': Here are 7 key revelations from the newly released impeachment testimony
PBS NewsHour

Republicans have been calling for weeks for the Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry to release the transcripts of the witnesses' depositions, and this week, it's finally happening.


But it's not going the way the GOP hoped. The new evidence is only building on the damning story of President Donald Trump's plot to pressure Ukraine into opening investigations of his political enemies and contradicting many of the GOP talking points used to defend the White House.

On Tuesday, the full transcripts of testimony from Ambassador Gordon Sondland and former U.S. envoy Kurt Volker — who played central roles in the plot — were released, along with additional records of their text communications.

Here are seven revelations you should know about this new evidence:

1. Ambassador Bill Taylor first brought up Rudy Giuliani's efforts to push an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden in May.

Some of those involved in the Ukraine scheme, including Volker and Sondland, have tried to play down the plot's political significance, or their culpability in the corruption, by suggesting they were unaware of the connections between Burisma — a Ukrainian oil company — and former Vice President Joe Biden. So when they were asking Ukraine to investigate Burisma, they say, they weren't necessarily asking for a politically charged probe.

This defense doesn't help Trump, because in the memo of a July 25 phone call with Ukraine, he clearly asked for an investigation of the Bidens. Rudy Giuliani had also been publicly pushing for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. But new texts released on Tuesday also indicate that those working behind the scenes had a clear understanding of what was going on the whole time. Taylor — the person who seems to have objected most strongly to the scheme behind the scenes — texted Volker in late May: "Can anyone hope to succeed with the Giuliani-Biden issue swirling for the next 18 months?"

Volker responded: "I don't know if there's much to do about the Giuliani thing..."

2. "It kept getting more insidious as timeline went on."

Sondland, too, denied knowing about the Biden connection until much later in the process (a claim that is contradicted by separate testimony from Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman.) But even when he was trying to limit his own culpability in the scheme to lawmakers, he acknowledged how nefarious the whole affair was.

"[It] kept getting more insidious as timeline went on," he said.

3. Sondland said he thought the scheme was "illegal."

[Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL)]: When you said in your statement, on page 8 of your statement, you di d not understand unti1 much later that Mr. Giuliani 's agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians directly or indirectly in the President's 2020 reelection campaign, why did you why do you think that either of those activities are problematic?

AMBASSAD0R SONDLAND: Because I believe I testified that it would be improper to do that.

MR. KRISHNAMOORTHI: And illegal, right?

AMBASSAD0R SONDLAND: I'm not a lawyer, but I assume so.

4. The White House reportedly wanted the Ukrainian president to make an announcement on Fox News.

At one point, Sondland said, they floated the idea of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky doing a televised interview to announced the investigations. At first, Sondland played coy about the idea, but then revealed the details:

Q: And do you know where that interview would have occurred?

Sondland: I don't.

Q: Or on what network?

Sondland: I don't know, but something President Trump would obviously see.

Q: Okay.

Sondland: Fox. On Tucker.

5. Democrats are zeroing in on potential coordination of testimony.

In one exchange, highlighted by Politico reporter Kyle Cheney, Sondland was grilled about the people he communicated with about his testimony. He said Trump only told him to tell the truth, and that he didn't speak to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney about his deposition. But he did say he spoke with White House counsel to "go over my recollections and testimony."

This could be extremely significant if, as mounting evidence suggests, Sondland misled or lied to Congress. Anyone who helped or encouraged him to lie, if indeed he did, could be culpable in a federal crime.

6. Trump said the Ukrainians are "all terrible people," Volker said.

Q: In fact, in your conversation with the President in May, the stated reasons why he had a deeply rooted distrust or dislike of the Ukrainians was because of what he perceived to be their role in the 2015 election and/or the Paul Manaforte [sic] case. Is that right?

Volker]: That was mentioned, but it was a long longer statement that "they are all corrupt, they are all terrible people, and," you know, "I don't want to spend any time with that." That was it was a broader statement. And he also said, "and they tried to take me down."

7. Sondland admitted to the full quid pro quo.

As I documented in another post, Sondland submitted an amended version of his testimony after reviewing other witnesses' statements. He completely changed his story, which seemed to cast doubt on the existence of an aid-for-investigations quid pro quo. Now, Sondland admits that he perceived that Trump was stalling military aid to Ukraine to induce them to announced the investigations he wanted, and the ambassador passed that message along.

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