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"Rudy was the guy," Sondland testifies

Gordon Sondland
Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Republicans are no longer arguing the "quid pro quo" on Ukraine, focusing instead on denying that it came from President Trump himself.

Why it matters: Democrats see EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony today as a tipping point, even though he has trouble recalling events exactly as they happened.

  • Sondland testified today: "I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a 'quid pro quo?' ... the answer is yes."
  • "We worked with [Rudy] Giuliani because the president directed us to do so."

During the first recess, Democrat Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois said Sondland’s testimony makes him curious about what acting WH Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would say.

  • “The veneer is off. Everybody’s in," Quigley said.

The White House didn't publicly acknowledge the blow Sondland delivered.

  • Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Democrats are “chasing ghosts,” and Trump said he barely knew Sondland.
  • But Trump was far more circumspect than he’s been with prior witnesses, and today his remarks were prepared in huge sharpie font.

After lunch today, House Republicans Jim Jordan and Mike Turner turned on Sondland, treating him like a hostile witness.

  • “No, we’re not friends,” Sondland said of the president, though he said “yes” when asked if he likes him. 

This exchange is also worth watching, Jonathan Swan notes.

  • Rep. Mike Turner to Sondland: "So you really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations."
  • Sondland: "Other than my own presumption."
  • Turner: "Which is nothing!"

The bottom line: Unless former national security adviser John Bolton does a last-minute reversal and voluntarily testifies — a scenario that appears implausible — Sondland will be the witness who serves as the test case of the White House’s theory of impeachment, Swan reports.

  • The theory goes that nothing that happens in these hearings could convince 20 Republican senators to convict Trump.

What's next: The White House will deny categorically that Trump told anyone to condition anything on anything — and that if Rudy Giuliani told Sondland that the White House meeting was conditioned on a statement about investigations, then that was Giuliani freelancing.

Go deeper: Full highlights from today's hearing