Defense Official’s Testimony Is Postponed: Impeachment Update

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(Bloomberg) -- Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, gave closed-door testimony before House committees Thursday. A whistle-blower’s complaint said Sondland advised Ukrainian leaders on how to handle President Donald Trump’s demand for an investigation of a political rival.

Here are the latest developments:

Testimony Put Off for Defense Official (10:45 p.m.)

Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of Defense, who had been scheduled to speak to House impeachment investigators on Friday, will not appear, a person familiar with the matter said late Thursday night.

Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, instead will testify on Oct. 24, added the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss the postponement.

Trump Says Survival of U.S. Democracy at Stake (9:02 p.m.)

Trump said the future of U.S. Democracy hangs in the balance as House Democrats pursue their impeachment inquiry.

“At stake in this fight is the survival of American democracy itself,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Dallas on Thursday night. “They are destroying this country but we will never let it happen.”

He said Democrats have been trying to “overthrow” the results of the 2016 election that put him in office.

Almost One in 10 Shifted to Back Inquiry, Study Finds (3 p.m.)

The recent shift in public opinion on impeachment has come largely from 9% of Americans who changed their mind since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed an impeachment inquiry of Trump, according to a analysis by the Pew Research Center.

The Pew study confirms several polls in recent weeks that have shown a majority of Americans now supporting the impeachment inquiry — if not removing Trump from office. Unlike other polls, the Pew study tracks opinions from the same group of respondents over time, allowing it to more closely track changes.

Of the 9% who have changed their minds, 61% are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents and 32% are Republicans or lean Republican. Republicans under 30 and and college-educated Republicans were slightly more likely to support impeachment.

The Pew study also found that 58% of all Americans — and 20% of Republicans — say Trump has “probably” or “definitely” done things that are grounds for impeachment. -- Gregory Korte

Mulvaney Says Ukraine Aid Wasn’t Tied to Bidens (1:13 p.m.)

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said the delay in releasing U.S. aid money to Ukraine was tied to the Trump administration’s demands to help it investigate matters related to the 2016 election, not former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

“The money held up had absolutely nothing to do with Biden,” Mulvaney said Thursday during a briefing at the White House. Mulvaney said he was involved in the process of delaying the aid.

Asked whether the U.S. told Ukraine it would withhold funding unless the country investigated unsubstantiated allegations surrounding a Democratic National Committee email server, Mulvaney said, “We do that all the time.”

Trump has repeatedly suggested that Ukraine or Ukrainian actors and Democrats -- not Russian operatives -- were involved in the breach of a Democratic National Committee server in 2016 that resulted in the release of internal emails.

Thomas Bossert, who served as Trump’s first homeland security adviser, said last month that he told the president there was no basis to his theory that Ukraine was involved with the server. -- Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Ben Brody

Pelosi Says No Timeline Set for Impeachment (11:22 a.m.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she has “no idea” whether the House impeachment inquiry and a Senate trial could be wrapped up by the end of the year.

She was asked about reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his GOP colleagues he expected the entire matter to be settled before Congress leaves Washington for its holiday break.

“The timeline will depend on the truth,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol. She also said she had no concern about the impeachment process moving into the election year.

Sondland Says Giuliani Had Re-Election Agenda (10:01 a.m.)

Sondland said Trump told him to deal with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine and that he realized later that the president’s personal lawyer had an agenda to get Ukrainian help with the 2020 re-election campaign.

Sondland said he was “disappointed” when Trump directed him, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and then-special envoy Kurt Volker to work with Giuliani on Ukraine policy, according to his prepared remarks to the House panels leading the impeachment inquiry.

“Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine,” Sondland said in his statement.

Nonetheless, the three men concluded that it was a better course than abandoning their goal of setting up a White House meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“But I did not understand, until 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 re-election campaign,” he said.

Sondland Distances Himself From Trump (9:38 a.m.)

Sondland plans to use his opening statement before House impeachment investigators to distance himself from Trump and the president’s actions regarding Ukraine, according to a copy of the statement obtained by Bloomberg News.

The ambassador to the European Union, also a generous Trump donor, said withholding aid for Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of a political rival would be “wrong,” and he downplayed his involvement any such deal.

“Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong,” he said. “Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings.” He said he wasn’t aware until much later that Trump pressed Ukraine’s president in a July phone call to investigate the Bidens.

Defense Official’s Testimony Is Postponed: Impeachment Update

Sondland said he won’t use his testimony to “push an agenda,” but rather “to tell the truth.”

“Some may want me to say things to protect the President at all costs; some may want me to provide damning facts to support the other side,” Sondland said in his statement. “But none of that matters to me.”

Sondland is also backing former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, calling her “a delight to work with.” Trump disparaged Yovanovitch in his phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and said she was “bad news.”

Sondland’s testimony began as scheduled Thursday, despite the death of Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings.

Key Events

  • Michael McKinley, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, told the committees he resigned last week partly because the State Department didn’t “offer support to foreign service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry on Ukraine,” according to excerpts released by a former colleague.
  • Republican senators discussed the possibility of finishing an impeachment trial before the holidays if the House impeaches Trump before Thanksgiving, GOP Senator Kevin Cramer told reporters.
  • Trump defended his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is being scrutinized by federal investigators for his financial dealings after two associates were charged with violating campaign finance laws. Trump said “Rudy was a great prosecutor” and the best mayor in the history of New York.

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