- 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)
Court Decisions Force Wisconsin to Hold Primary During Pandemic. Here’s What You Need to Know
- The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the state must hold its primary Tuesday, overruling Gov. Tony Evers executive order to postpone the election.
- Separately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a lower ruling that would have let absentee ballots be cast until April 13.
- Both decisions were the results of legal challenges from the GOP-led legislature, which refused to delay the election or allow for full mail-in voting and also objected to extending absentee voting.
- Wisconsin is now the only state to hold a major in-person election since shelter-in-place orders have been implemented all over the country.
Wisconsin’s Legal Battle
After a dizzying legal back-and-forth, Wisconsin held its primary election Tuesday despite warnings from public health experts about gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
Wisconsin is now the only state to hold a major in-person election since it and the majority of other states issued shelter in place orders. More than a dozen other states postponed their primaries in response to the outbreak, making Wisconsin the only state to hold in-person elections in April.
That, however, is not for lack of trying on the part of Gov. Tony Evers. On Monday, Evers issued an executive order delaying the election until June 9.
According to reports, Evers held off on the move until the last minute because many local offices on the ballot start their terms in April, and Wisconsin state law says only the state legislature can change the date of the election.
But the GOP-led legislature refused to change the date or allow the election to go forward with all mail-in ballots. When Evers went ahead with the executive order, the state legislature filed a legal challenge, saying the governor was exceeding his constitutional authority.
Shortly after, a conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court shot down the order, ruling that the election had to go forward on Tuesday.
In a separate ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal court decision that would have extended absentee voting until April 13. The lower court’s decision had also received a legal challenge from the state’s Republicans.
In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that extending the deadline for absentee voting “fundamentally alters the nature of the election.”
All four of the liberal justices dissented. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a scathing review of the decision.
“The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic,” she wrote.
“With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own.”
Poll Workers and Condensed Locations
Similarly, there were also many concerns about the safety of poll workers and election officials as well.
While officials said they were taking precautions to protect their health at voting precincts, many also told reporters that all the legal back-and-forth created confusion and logistical problems.
That was made worse by the fact that thousands of poll workers said they will not work, with some reportedly saying they were being asked to risk their health.
According to the New York Times, “roughly 2,400 National Guardsmen were being trained as poll workers as late as Monday, it still won’t come close to the more than 7,000 who have already said they cannot work.”
The lack of poll workers has also prompted officials to shut down hundreds of polling stations. One of the most dramatic examples was in Milwaulkee, where the number of polling locations was cut from 180 to just five, despite the fact that election workers expected more than 50,000 voters to turn out.
The move forced those who did decide to vote in-person to wait in long lines and further risk exposing themselves to more people.
Many people took to Twitter to share videos of lines wrapping around buildings or spanning whole blocks.
A number of users argued that holding in-person voting during a pandemic was undemocratic or amounted to voter suppression.
Some directly accused the state’s Republicans of endangering their people, while others also condemned the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Many of those points were echoed by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“It’s outrageous that the Republican legislative leaders and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court in Wisconsin are willing to risk the health and safety of many thousands of Wisconsin voters tomorrow for their own political gain,” he wrote on Twitter.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has not said much since the decision, but on Thursday, he took a different stance.
“There’s a lot of things that can be done; that’s for the Wisconsin courts and folks to decide,” he told reporters, adding that both in-person and mail-in voting could be done safely.
However, there were some who applauded the decision to keep in-person voting.
Others appeared to downplay the move, like one Republican county chair, Jim Miller of Sawyer County, who said the voting process would be like picking up food under Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order.
“If you can go out and get fast food, you can go vote curbside,” he said. “It’s the same procedure.”
President Donald Trump, for his part, also chimed in Tuesday morning, encouraging people to go out and vote for a conservative state Supreme Court justice who supported the Second Amendment.
Currently, it is unclear how voter turnout has been impacted. As for the election results, those are not to be expected for several more days.
The federal judge that initially allowed absentee ballots to be sent until April 13 also ruled that election officials had to hold results until that same date. According to reports, the U.S. Supreme Court decision does not seem to have changed that.
That said, Biden has been pulling out a strong lead over Sanders in Wisconsin’s polls for a while now. FiveThirtyEight predicts that the former vice president has a 90% chance of winning the most votes.
Wisconsin will likely be crucial to the future of Sanders’ campaign. In 2016, Sanders won the state, which has 84 pledged delegates up for grabs.
Wisconsin is also a key battleground state. Trump won the state in the general election in 2016, turning it red for the first time in 30 years.
Besides being an important state in both the primary and general, Wisconsin also has much bigger implications for both parties.
“The state stands as a first test case in what both national parties expect to be a protracted fight over changing voter rules to contend with the pandemic — potentially the biggest voting rights battle since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the Times explains.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The New York Times) (Fox News)
FLOTUS Calls for Public to Take Cloth Mask Advice Seriously, President Chooses to Go Without
- The CDC has recommended that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
- The advice is aimed at stopping presymptomatic and asymptomatic carriers from spreading the coronavirus to others around them.
- Officials have released DIY instructions for homemade masks that can be made at a low cost and can be washed.
- President Trump stressed that the guidance is voluntary and said he will not wear a mask himself, though the First Lady has called for people to take the advice seriously.
President Donald Trump announced Friday that the Center for Disease Control is advising everyone in the U.S. to wear face coverings in public settings to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, though he himself has chosen not to follow the voluntary measure.
“CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission,” the CDC’s memo reads.
Previous guidelines only advised healthcare workers to wear masks, as well as those who are sick or caring for a sick person who is unable to wear one. However, the CDC’s new recommendation is aimed at stopping presymptomatic and asymptomatic carriers from spreading the virus to others around them.
To avoid taking critical supplies like N95 respirators and surgical masks from healthcare workers, the CDC is advising that people use cloth face coverings which can be washed and made from household items at a low cost.
Wearing face coverings is a voluntary decision and the CDC noted that they should not be placed on “children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.”
However, it’s important to note that wearing a face-covering is just an additional public health measure that can be taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It is not a substitute for social distancing.
Since that announcement, swarms of DIY instructions and videos have surfaced showing different ways to make masks at home. The CDC themselves posted both sew and no-sew instructions using items like cotton T-shirts, or a bandana and coffee filter.
They even released a 45-second video with U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams quickly putting one together with rubber bands and folded fabric.
Their guidance says to use a covering that fits snug, can be secured with ties or ear loops, includes multiple layers of fabric, and allows for breathing without restriction. These masks don’t offer full protection, but some is better than none and they can be especially helpful when paired with other tactics like hand washing, not touching your face, and social distancing.
There is little data so far on cloth or homemade masks in general, but the material most often recommended by experts is a tight weave or quilted cotton.
Experts also warn that you should wash or dispose of your masks after each use. Don’t fidget with your masks when wearing then, be sure to remove them by the ear straps to avoid touching whatever may have landed on the front surface, and wash your hands thoroughly before and after.
Trump Says He Won’t Wear a Mask
When making the announcement, President Trump said that he himself was choosing not to wear a mask.
“With the masks, it is going to be really a voluntary thing,” he said at the daily coronavirus briefing. “You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I am choosing not to do it. But some people may want to do it, and that’s OK. It may be good. Probably will — they’re making a recommendation. It’s only a recommendation, it’s voluntary.”
“I’m feeling good. I just don’t want to be doing it…I think that wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I don’t know,” he added. “Somehow, I don’t see it for myself. I just dont, maybe I’ll change my mind.”
That was, of course, met with some backlash, but it highlighted the battle between the White House and CDC over the measures. For weeks, the White House coronavirus task force has debated whether or not to issue such a recommendation.
Senior officials pushed to limit the guidance to high-transmission areas only, fearing that the call for the wide use of masks could cause unnecessary panic and provide a false sense of security. They also argued that even with the call for cloth coverings, the guidance might prompt people to try and get their hands on medical masks that are already in high demand at hospitals.
But federal health officials and experts from the CDC said the guidance only makes sense if it is broadly applied. They argued that it is an additional way to slow the spread and prevent communities with low transmission from quickly becoming an area with a high volume of cases.
FLOTUS Supports Cloth Masks
Despite the President’s remarks, First Lady Melania Trump has stressed the importance of wearing masks. On Friday, she tweeted, “As the weekend approaches I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously. #COVID19 is a virus that can spread to anyone – we can stop this together.”
She made a similar call on Sunday, this time sharing the CDC’s information.
President Trump was asked about her tweets during a coronavirus task force press briefing on Sunday, replying, “It’s good, no, she feels that way.”
“Would you like me to wear one right now in answering your question?” He asked jokingly. “That would be a little awkward I guess. But no, I mean, I again, I would wear one if I thought it was important.”
“She likes the idea of wearing it, yeah she does,” Trump continued. “A lot of people do. Again, it’s a recommendation, and I understand that recommendation, and I’m ok with it.”
Cities like New York and Los Angeles had already called for face coverings in public, but some areas are now strictly enforcing the measures.
In Laredo, Texas, the city’s emergency mandate calls for anyone over the age of 5 to wear “some form of covering over their nose and mouth” when using public transportation, taxis, rideshares, pumping gas or when inside a building open to the public. The penalty for violating the order is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $1,000.
Other cities might soon start enforcing the measures as well, as numbers of cases and deaths continue to climb across the country.
Jared Kushner Says Federal Medical Supply Stockpile Isn’t for States to Use
- Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law, said that the federal stockpile was not intended to be used by states at a coronavirus briefing Thursday night.
- Many were quick to point out that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services described the stockpile as one to be allocated to states when in need, contradicting Kushner’s remarks.
- The language describing the stockpile was later changed on the Health Department’s site, deemphasizing the federal government’s role in giving resources to states.
- Kushner was criticized by many who also slammed his lack of government experience.
Jared Kushner drew swift criticism after he took the stage at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday night and said the federal stockpile wasn’t meant for distribution among states.
It was the first time President Donald Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law spoke at one of these briefings. Vice President Mike Pence introduced him as “someone that the white house coronavirus task force directed to work with FEMA on supply chain issues.”
“We’re grateful for his efforts and his leadership,” Pence said.
When Kushner first stepped up to the podium, he praised the efforts that his team has been making to track down supplies. The 39-year-old kept repeatedly emphasizing the importance of data — the “real data from the cities, from the states, [so] that we can make real time allocation decisions based on the data.”
Kushner seemed to suggest that local officials should be more diligent about finding resources in their own states before turning to the federal government for help.
“The notion of the federal stockpile is it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” Kushner said. “It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpile that they then use.”
He then addressed the criticism that the federal government has received from state officials about not providing enough resources, a criticism Trump has been defensive about.
“So I would just encourage you, when you have governors saying that the federal government hasn’t given them what you need, I would just urge you to ask them, ‘well have you looked within your state to make sure that you haven’t been able to find the resources?’” Kushner said.
Stockpile Description Changed
Many were quick to note that Kushner’s comments did not line up with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ description of the national stockpile.
“Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out,” the website read.
“When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency,” it initially said.
But following Kushner’s remarks on Thursday evening, the language on the site was changed to downplay the federal government’s role in giving resources to states.
“The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies,” the description now says, noting that many states have their own stockpiles as well.
“The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available,” it says.
Backlash for Kushner
Many were swift to slam Kushner for his comments about the stockpile not being intended for states’ use.
“Who the hell does the nepotist think ‘our’ refers to? It is for the American people . . . as the federal government’s OWN strategic national stockpile website assures us!” Former White House ethics director Walter Shaub wrote on Twitter.
“Dear Jared Kushner of the @realDonaldTrump Administration: We are the UNITED STATES of America. The federal stockpile is reserved for all Americans living in our states, not just federal employees. Get it?” Rep. Ted Lieu said.
Others pointed to Kushner’s background as a real estate developer and newspaper publisher, with no government experience prior to his father-in-law’s 2016 election.
“Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life,” New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote in an op-ed piece. “He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.”
More criticisms of Kushner’s lack of qualifications were thrown across social media.
“Can anyone tell me what Jared Kushner’s qualifications are besides being a white man?” one person asked.
Need for Medical Supplies Continues
Despite what Kushner says, leaders are still expressing their desperation for adequate medical supplies as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the country.
On Thursday night, Cory Gardner of Colorado, a Republican senator, was sending a letter saying he expected the federal stockpile to be available for states to use.
“The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) … includes clear expectations to ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services’ SNS procurement and maintenance decisions support the federal government’s ability to support states and localities in a public health emergency,” Gardner wrote.
“The SNS is a critical resource for states facing grave public health emergencies, and we must take every step to make sure that there is a robust supply of working medical supplies and equipment on hand,” Gardner added.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio requested more medical personnel and supplies in an interview with CNN on Friday morning.
“We can only get to Monday or Tuesday at this point. We don’t know after that. How on earth is this happening in the greatest nation in the world?” de Blasio said.