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There was confusion around the words of the Trump administration’s acting chief of staff Thursday. Mick Mulvaney first connected the delay of military aid to Ukraine with an investigation into a DNC server in 2016 but then said the two were unrelated. Meanwhile, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland testified on Capitol Hill. Lisa Desjardins reports and joins Judy Woodruff and Yamiche Alcindor to discuss.
And now to the other major story of the day, the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
And, as Lisa Desjardins reports, the news came in fast from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
From the White House, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, on one hand, refuted the idea that President Trump ever held up Ukraine aid money to force an investigation into former Vice President Biden.
The money held up had absolutely nothing to do with Biden.
But he then said this about whether the president tied that aid money to a different investigation about Democrats and his 2016 election.
Did he also mention to me in past that — the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that.
But that's it. And that's why we held up the money.
Democrats like House intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff heard an admission of abuse of power.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:
Things have just gone from very, very bad to much, much worse. The idea that vital military assistance would be withheld for such a patently political reason, for the reason of serving the president's reelection campaign, is a phenomenal breach of the president's duty to defend our national security.
This as another key Trump official arrived at the Capitol.
The U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, today was also an impeachment witness.
Why was it important for you to show up here today?
It's always important to show up when Congress calls.
Are you here to salvage your reputation, sir?
I don't have a reputation to salvage.
Sondland is a hotel chain founder who donated $1 million to President Trump's inauguration committee, and later was appointed to his ambassadorship by Trump.
He testified behind closed doors. Multiple news outlets obtained his opening statement. In it, he said President Trump directed the team working on Ukraine to talk to Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump's personal attorney, about the president's concerns. He also testified: "I didn't understand, until much later, that Giuliani's agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son."
Sondland did defend the president, though, saying that, at one point, Mr. Trump repeatedly told him no quid pro quo, meaning aid wasn't a bargaining chip for the investigations.
At the White House, Mulvaney tackled that testimony as well, insisting neither Giuliani's role nor any political influence on U.S. policy was impeachable.
I have news for everybody. Get over it. There's going be political influence in foreign policy.
In Texas, President Trump spoke on other topics, but didn't address impeachment.
And Lisa is here with me, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.
So, hello to both of you.
Lisa, let's talk first about the European Union ambassador, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland.
He's a central figure in all of this. What do we know about how he fits in to this big picture?
Well, it's interesting.
Today, he both became more important and less. Less important because he told people that — he told investigators that he wasn't actually on the call, but more important because he establishes relationships.
And that's what I want to talk about here and kind of get to why Democrats are looking at him so hard.
First, let's take a look at Mr. Sondland. As people know, he is, as you say, the ambassador to the E.U., and he also was a donor to President Trump's inaugural.
Here's what we learned today. He said that President Trump himself directed Sondland to talk to Rudy Giuliani and then Giuliani in conversations with Sondland, if you look at Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, he pushed for that investigation into the 2016 DNC hack, as well as Burisma, Burisma being the energy company where who worked? Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son.
So right there is an important establishment of relationships, because more and more I had heard from Republicans that they had thought Rudy Giuliani went rogue, Rudy Giuliani was doing something the president was aware of — wasn't aware of.
What Gordon Sondland seemed to establish today was that the president directed him to talk to Giuliani. The president was putting trust in Giuliani to take care of his concerns.
So let's pick up on that, Yamiche.
What are you learning about what Ambassador Sondland had to say today? And how does this fit in to what the president's been saying and the people around the president?
Ambassador Sondland said some things that were both problematic for President Trump, without breaking with him completely.
So, he said that he was disappointed in President Trump's decision-making as it relates to issues of Ukraine. He also said that he was disappointed in the fact he involved his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in issues dueling with Ukraine.
That being said, he says that I didn't know, at least at the beginning, that Rudy Giuliani wanted to investigate Joe Biden and Hunter Biden.
So he was doing was really putting distance between himself and what President Trump and Rudy Giuliani were doing. That's problematic for the president, because this is someone that donated millions of dollars to President Trump's campaign actually having a little bit of distance with him.
So, what you see there is someone who really is close to the president or is an ally of the president saying, look, I'm just going to go and say what I know and have — and it really fits a pattern of what other people have been saying, telling lawmakers.
So President Trump there is really not coming out looking good, and it look as though him and Rudy Giuliani were, in fact, trying to do these dealings with Ukraine as kind of — a sort of shadow campaign without the State Department's involvement there.
And, Yamiche, then, separately, as we heard in Lisa's report, there is this explosive statement from the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, today about what happened on that phone call between the president and the leader of Ukraine, and then later today a very different statement.
Let's — fill us in on that.
There is so much going on with Mick Mulvaney right now.
He came out to the White House podium as part of a briefing, and he vigorously defended the president, but he said that the president was withholding military aid for Ukraine because of an issue dealing with the Democratic National Committee. He wanted Ukraine to look into that.
Tonight, just a couple minutes ago, he released a statement saying that his words are being misconstrued and that, in fact, the president never mentioned the DNC as part of him withholding that military aid to Ukraine.
The president said that he's happy or very OK with the performance and the words of Mick Mulvaney. But those words from the podium really led to a lot of backlash. Democrats were saying that this was really evidence of a quid pro quo.
You even had a senior Department of Justice official reach out to me, and that person told me, look, the DOJ has no idea what Mick Mulvaney is talking about, essentially. And they said that they were not aware of any sort of withholding of military aid that had to do with a DOJ investigation.
The president's own personal attorney Jay Sekulow also came out and said the president's legal team had nothing to do with what Mick Mulvaney was talking about.
What you're seeing here is really Mick Mulvaney releasing this statement as part of the backlash that he's now facing.
It's getting more and more difficult to keep track of who is saying what about all this.
But, Lisa, so let's back up a little bit.
Where does this impeachment inquiry stand right now?
Let's talk about the timeline in the last day.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said, hey, we could have a Senate trial even by the end of the year. Is that possible? Well, let's look at what we know is likely to happen.
First, right now, the House Intelligence Committee is holding these closed-door meetings and then hearings as a part of their investigation. After that, they say they will hold public hearings also as part of their impeachment process.
Then, at that point, the Intelligence Committee will put together likely a report. They will send it to the Judiciary Committee, along with the other committees involved. The Judiciary Committee will probably hold hearings and then have meetings probably to mark up or go over articles of impeachment.
Judy, that's a lot of work that still needs to happen, and they're running out of time this year, so I think things are going to continue to move at a very fast pace. A trial in the Senate by the end of year seems like a long stretch to me. It's not impossible, but maybe articles of impeachment by the end of the year is likely.
But they still have not and don't plan to at this point take a vote at on authorizing an impeachment?
Right now, they are still moving along with their investigation. And they could move just straight to articles of impeachment as it stands.
Finally, Yamiche, another piece of news from Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff at the White House.
And that is, the president is proposing to hold the next G7, leaders of the seven leading countries in the world, meeting at his golf resort?
This was a very controversial decision by President Trump to say that he wants to hold the G7 at Trump Doral, which is a property that he has and owns in Florida.
Here's what Mick Mulvaney had to say as he was defending that decision.
Listen, I was skeptical. I was.
I was aware of the political sort of criticism that we'd come under for doing it at Doral, which is why I was so surprised when the advance team called back and said, this is the perfect physical location to do this.
So I get the criticisms. So does he. But face it. He would be criticized regardless of what he chose to do. But, no, there is no issue on him profiting from this in any way, shape or form.
Mulvaney is saying here that the president — it was really the president's idea to do this.
He is also saying that the president isn't going to profit from this. But it's very clear that the president is going to get a lot of publicity for Trump Doral.
The other thing to note is Trump Doral has been losing money. The Washington Post reports that the revenue is down. Democrats have been saying that this is really a brazen attempt by the president to profit off the presidency.
So we're going to have the really look at how this develops. But the G7, at least for now, is going to be held at a Trump property.
Another very full day.
Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.
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