Adam Schiff

House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks before Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Gordon Sondland’s testimony is in the books and I’m assured he even made his evening flight out of town. For almost eight hours, he sat before the House Intel Committee answering questions for the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

(See Impeachment LIVE Blog: Gordon Sondland SMOD Edition)

What did we learn? Surprisingly, this testimony actually gave us some new insights, which was a stark departure from the previous witnesses providing essentially nothing of value. Sondland found himself taking it from both sides, often getting confused along the way.

To start, this is going to be the headline that is beaten to death by the mainstream media. Nothing else Sondland said will matter.

“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.”

“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky…Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President.”

Using the term quid pro quo set the beltway on fire. As I wrote in the live blog, though, there’s a ton of nuance that Sondland ultimately throws in. We’ve known for a long time that President Trump wanted corruption investigations, including into Burisma and 2016 interference, to happen. We also knew that Sondland told the Ukrainians they needed to commit to those before a White House photo op would take place.

Two things on this point. One, notice the quid pro quo cited here is not the one Democrats have been screeching out, i.e. over withheld aid. In fact, Sondland testified over and over today that he was never aware of aid being withheld to jumpstart the investigations. Two, the real question here is one of intention. All White House visits have preconditions. Unless there’s definitive proof that Trump only wanted to “get Biden” by investigating Burisma, then there’s nothing inherently improper about what happened. Sondland testified to that fact, stating that he was under no impression that the team was doing anything wrong setting up the conditions.

These are points I’ve been making since the beginning, but Trump painted himself into a corner by screaming “no quid pro quo” over and over. All foreign policy is a quid pro quo and now the administration will have to explain how they just didn’t mean this quid pro quo. It was an unforced error.

But, there were some big moments in the President’s favor as well.

That leaves Rudy Giuliani hanging out there, as everything Sondland heard from Trump was to not set up a quid pro quo. Was it his idea to set up the conditions for the White House meeting? Even if it was, it was a stupid misfire to ever let Giuliani anywhere near this stuff. He’s been a loose cannon for years and no one should have expected him to be disciplined enough to not get himself in trouble.

Then there was this moment, which constituted one of the most hard-hitting of the day.

Jordan got in on the action as well.

Did any of this move the ball forward for either side? I don’t think so. Everyone who’s supporting Trump had mostly already conceded the things Sondland revealed. They simply don’t think what took place was improper and believe that even Joe Biden is not immune just because he’s running for office.

I suspect today did provide the necessary fodder to pass articles of impeachment though. Democrats have come too far to turn back now.

Tomorrow, we’ll get another hearsay witness with absolutely nothing to add in David Holmes, who claims to have overheard a phone call between Sondland and Trump. Today was really the Democrats’ only shot and they took it. We’ll see if it’s enough.

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