- U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland testified in a public hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry.
- Notably, Sondland testified that requests made by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were “a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for [Ukranian] President Zelensky.”
- While Sondland said he was concerned the Trump administration’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine was a quid pro quo, he also said that Trump “never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings.”
- Sondland also implicated a number of other high-ranking officials, saying that “everyone was in the loop.”
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. and a key player in the ongoing House impeachment inquiry, testified in his first public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday.
Sondland’s testimony shed new light on the investigation into whether or not President Donald Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Burisma, a Ukrainian company Joe Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of.
The inquiry stems from a whistleblower complaint that alleged Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress on the condition that President Zelensky conduct the investigation.
The complaint also claims that Trump refused to meet with Zelensky until after he had publicly agreed to the investigations.
Sondland’s public hearing is also important to the impeachment inquiry because his testimonies have not always been consistent. In his closed-door hearing last month, Sondland testified originally that there was not a quid pro quo regarding military aid.
“I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign,” he said.
Sondland later revised his closed-door testimony after several people contradicted his deposition. Those individuals said that it was actually Sondland himself who told a Zelensky aide that the military assistance would be conditioned on the investigation.
In an amendment to his testimony, Sondland wrote that he told Zelensky’s aide “that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
In his public testimony, Sondland restated much of the content in his closed-door deposition, but he also provided some new information.
Here is some of the new information we got from Sondland’s hearing today.
Explicit Quid Pro Quo
In his opening statement, Sondland said for the first time that there was an explicit quid pro quo regarding the investigation and the meeting with Trump.
“[Trump’s personal attorney Rudy] Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” he said. “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the 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,” he added.
However, regarding the military aid and investigations, Sondland said President Trump “never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from Guiliani was that the Burisma and the 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting.”
But Sondland still said he personally had “concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid.”
Sondland Involves Key People in Trump Administration
Sondland later said that he expressed his concerns about the military aid to Vice President Mike Pence.
“I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations,” he said.
A spokesperson for Pence’s office denied that the conversation ever happened.
Sondland went on to say that many people high up in the administration, including Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, knew what was going on, saying, “Everyone was in the loop.”
During a key interaction, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) asked Sondland if: “Mulvaney was aware of this quid pro quo of this condition that the Ukrainians had to meet, that is announcing this public investigations to get the White House meeting. Is that right?”
“Yeah, a lot of people were aware of it,” Sondland responded.
“Including Mr. Mulvaney?” Schiff asked.
“Correct,” Sondland responded.
“And including the secretary of state?” the representative asked.
“Correct,” the ambassador answered.
Sondland also said that when he told Pompeo he was concerned about the military aid being withheld, Pompeo directed him to keep up the pressure campaign.
Trump Only Cares About Investigation Announcement
Sondland additionally said that Trump’s priority was always just to have the Ukranian’s announce the investigation, but he was not sure whether he actually cared about the investigation happening.
In a line of questioning, the Democrats’ lawyer, Daniel Goldman asked Sondland: “you understood that in order to get that White House meeting — that you wanted President Zelensky to have and that President Zelensky desperately wanted to have — that Ukraine would have to initiate these two investigations. Is that right?”
“Well, they would have to announce that they were going to do it,” Sondland responded.
“Right. Because Giuliani and President Trump didn’t actually care if they did them, right?” Goldman followed up.
“I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed,” Sondland said. “The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form and that form kept changing.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (The Guardian)
NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud
The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.
New York Attorney General’s Filing
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”
The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.
The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage.
The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”
James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.
That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.
In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.
While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.
Alleged Direct Involvement
The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.
The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations.
According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.”
Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.
While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.
It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.
Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.
“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”
The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”
In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”
As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”
Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win
The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.
New Maps Upheld
A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.
Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.
The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.
The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.
In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”
Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.
Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution.
The Path Ahead
While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.
There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.
A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month
The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.
New At-Home Testing Policy
The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.
Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.
The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months.
According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance.
Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.
All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased.
In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.
As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.
If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.
During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”
“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.