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Alright, good people.

After four hours of caffeination and pacing, I am logging on to get this party started.

Live reaction to the Sondland hearings will follow below.

Mute this thread if uninterested.

Gordon Sondland has entered the building.

This dude is in no way, shape or form capable of pulling off the high-wire act it would take to evade further legal jeopardy today.

The dude is over his head and flying without a net.


Just to paint the scene so you can picture your faithful documentarian at his station...

I have donned my lucky pullover. A warm-yet-comfortable garment given to me by friends on a milestone birthday.

I have consumed 1.5 large coffees, two donuts and a fistful of candy corn.
I have also washed down half a Monster energy drink. Orange. I almost got the grape but the orange has a bit more zest.

I am so ready. Oh, how ready I am for this.

History, my friends. Today, the bright beacon of history shines down on Gordon Sondland.
Inside House chambers, spectators, the media and members of Congress are milling about waiting to get underway.

Meanwhile, MSNBC is reading out Sondland's prepared, somewhat revisionist opening remarks - in which he doesn't confirm or dispute reporting of his call to Trump.
"Was there a quid pro quo?

As I have testified previously [...] the answer is 'yes'."

Holy shit, guys.

He might be doing it... Sondland might be coming clean here.

I will suspend emotion until I see it but... buckle up, buckaroos. This might be an historic hearing.
"In preparation for [a meeting with Ukraine] I spoke with Secretary Pompeo..."

Sondland is dragging Pompeo's ass right out into the town square for his fair share of the angry crowd's eggs and tomatoes.

Oh. My. God.

Sondland is burning the boats.
As a side note, I am a pretty emotionally even-keeled person in moments of drama and crisis. Understatement.

I don't rev up or down much until the race is over.

It just isn't my nature.

Yet, what appears to be coming has me struggling to suppress excitement.

Folks, it's on.
I am *shocked* by the excerpts from Sondland's opening remarks.

I absolutely took the guy for someone just stupid enough to try to save himself by being a halfway-crook.

I absolutely did not bank on him going scorched earth on the people close to Trump. Giuliani, Pompeo, et al.
Here we gooooooooooooooo.

An historic day.


As you watch or follow along, hold onto this delicious irony:

Roger Stone, Trump's close ally, was convicted just days ago of lying to Congress... and that conviction likely changed Sondland's calculus of how wise it would be to do likewise.

Stone helping to bury Trump... Yum.
Adam Schiff calls the session to order and begins an opening statement.

"We are here today because Donald Trump sought to condition aid on [...] investigations that would help his political campaign."

Sondland is poised to corroborate that opening statement.
At the witness table, Sondland looks somewhere between at ease and pleased.

He looks like a guy who has been freed of the burden of an unsustainable lie untroubled before his confession.

He has resting Janis Joplin face. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.
This scene seriously reminds me of the pivotal moment in the John Gotti trial when Sammy "The Bull" Gravano took the stand.

Gotti went from smug, cocky and arrogant to enraged as his capo turned on him.

Trump is a bargain bin Gotti watching at home.
Schiff is continuing with his opening statement.

Like the ones before prior hearings, it is a fairly flat, information-rich recitation of the events and chronology.

Personally, I find these to be of limited impact. They set the table and introduce facts but let's go.
"Finally, I want to say a word about President Trump's and Secretary Pompeo's obstruction of this investigation..."

Goes on to explain that Pompeo has withheld documents which Sondland will testify today contain damning evidence of criminal acts.

Wowie McZowie.
Schiff just took a 2x4 to Pompeo's capacious cranium.

Set us up to walk out of today seeing Pompeo as both an integral part of the conspiracy and the leader of a felonious conspiracy to cover it up.

Today is going to be a very, very bad day for Michael Richard Pompeo.
Schiff wraps up and passes to Devin Nunes for opening remarks.

Nunes is what is known as a "post turtle".

You have no idea how he get up there but it's pretty damn clear he has no idea what to do now that he's there.
Nunes says "Mr. Sondland, you are here today to be smeared."

Apparently Nunes didn't get a heads-up about Sondy's opening statement.

If Sondy comes anywhere close to clean, which appears to be in the offing, the people smearing him will be Nunes and his colleagues.
Nunes wraps up. I won't even waste your time on more of his stupid prattle.

Schiff now introducing Sondland and his bio.

Hotelier. Owns multiple properties in the Pacific Northwest.

Schiff offers little more - since Sondy has no other real creds.
Sondland now reading his prepared opening remarks...

Reading slow with a measured cadence and tone.

There is no hint of nervousness here. This is not a man worried he might be facing jeopardy or at risk of inviting it today.

Guys, I think he is gonna spill the beans.
There is a chance he might be wholly ignorant to the mess he is in and therefore calm, cool and collected out of dopiness rather than out of the relief of having decided to sing.

That is not the impression I get.

Captain Canary is gonna hit some high notes.
After sharing a bit about his background, Sondland fires the first shots across the bow:

- He testified willingly and voluntarily - unlike others
- He was denied access to his records to help prepare by Pompeo
- He believes he is responsible for honestly accounting for his role
Holy crap.

Sondland is directly blaming Pompeo and the State Department for the *entirety* of his problems

Says he doesn't have a perfect memory and wouldn't have misspoken in earlier testimony if Pompeo and State hadn't blocked him from accessing his records.
Moves on to stating the vehement disagreement and discomfort among Sondland, Perry, et al, with the involvement of Giuliani but Trump had ordered it...

Insists he was following orders. Orders from Trump directly.

Somewhere in the White House residence, a TV screen is now broken
Gordon Sondland has gone rogue.

He has abandoned the Trumptanic and is rowing hard toward shore.

Gordon David Sondland, faced with an appointment with history, decided to make a hard pivot toward the truth... just when Trump desperately needed the opposite.
Don't get me wrong, Sondland is simultaneously defending himself.

- Repeats that he was following directives
- Insists he did not know them to be unlawful
- Reiterates that his motives for compliance were based on legitimate foreign policy goals and objectives
While Sondland runs through some minute chronological details we will likely get to later, let's just fast-forward here.

- Majority counsel Goldman is going to elicit unbelievably damning statements of fact
- R's are going to have to go scorched earth in attacking Sondland
Those attacks are incredibly dangerous though...

They create openings for Sondland to spend even more time talking about his direct interactions with Giuliani, Pompeo and Trump.

R's would be wiser to focus on the issue of whether all of this impeachable. They're Pavlovian tho.
"Let me say this again. We were not happy with the President's directive to talk with Rudy."

"Nonetheless, with the President's direction, we were faced with a choice..." to either work with Rudy or forget about being able to help an important ally.
Sondland is positioning himself, Rick Perry and Kurt Volker - "the three amigos" - as honest brokers with goodhearted motives - but who were forced into an insidious bargain by the demands of Trump himself.

He is blaming Trump for poisoning the entirety of Ukraine efforts.
No joke, they may have to rush Trump back to Walter Reed today.

If he is watching this, he is going to have a rage-stroke followed by a panic attack followed by thermonuclear explosion.

The most important and most watched witness is setting fire to his presidency.
Sondland now reading off text messages which clearly implicate Mike Pompeo as a central, orchestrating figure in driving Ukraine matters through Giuliani.

Goes on to point out that he, Volker and Taylor were excluded from the 7/25 call and kept in the dark about what was said.
Sondland, thus far, is doing a remarkable job - remarkable - of portraying himself as an unwitting "useful idiot" trying to do the right thing in a hurricane of bad actors doing illicit things.

Thus far, he reads as more credible than Volker... despite being more involved.
Sondland talks through the recently reported call he made to Trump from a restaurant in Ukraine on 7/26. Dismisses it as just something of too little importance to have been significantly memorable.

Shifts to reiterating there indeed was a quid pro quo.
Sondland talking about the internal discussions about what he now acknowledges was indeed a quid pro quo:

"Everyone was in the loop."

Pulls Mulvaney into the mix.
Specifically, "everyone was in the loop" about the expectation that Zelensky would be satisfying Trump's personal desire for investigations by assuring him he would complete them.
"Everyone was in the loop." - Gordon Sondland

This lengthy opening statement has the feeling of an allocution at trial by a cooperating defendant forced to admit their role, actions and offenses in a larger criminal conspiracy - which they plea-bargained down by selling out their co-conspirators.
Sondland on the withholding of aid in an effort to extort Ukraine and his efforts to get Trump what he wanted so aid would flow:

"I really regret they were put in that position. I do not regret trying to break that logjam."

The man actually seems believable. Color me shocked...
Sondland wraps up his opening statement.

We now move to the opening 45-minute block of counsel questions.

Schiff to open with a few questions of his own before passing to Dan Goldman.
Schiff asks Sondland to explain what he described as a "continuum" which got more insidious as it unfolded.

Sondland testifies that the original ask was pretty plain-Jane. "Corruption" and such. Nothing alarming or unusual-sounding...

...but then the ask got dirty and direct.
Sondland testifies that the longer they tried to broker the meeting between Trump and Zelensky (unsuccessfully) the more the ask became a clear shakedown.

Went from nebulous to overtly about Burisma, Biden, election help.

Reads as believable...
Schiff asks Sondland about the remark attributed to him that "Trump doesn't give a shit about Ukraine."

Sondland not only doesn't dispute that he likely said it, he goes on to essentially say "Why wouldn't I say it? Trump made that clear all the way back in May."
I truly cannot believe just how entirely without fucks to give Gordon Sondland seems to be.

The dude appears light as a feather.

He quite literally is the most relaxed and at ease witness of the myriad hearings we've seen thus far.

He is more chill than people with no jeopardy
He comes across as without guile or manipulation - unlike Volker and Morrison yesterday.

He isn't pausing to finesse his answers. He isn't choosing words artfully so as to shade his meaning.

He is speaking with the unfiltered ease of someone who seemingly sees no risk in truth.
Naturally, as soon I posted that, Sondland ran into his first sticky moment of the hearing.

Summarizing, Schiff probed on testimony from Volker and Morrison about statements Sondland made to them making clear he knew of the explicit quid pro quo.

Sondland dissembles.
Those statements likely pose some of the greatest legal jeopardy for Sondland.

They make him an agent of the conspiracy in contrast with his depiction that he was an external actor forced to brush up against the conspiracy to merely achieve lawful and appropriate ends.
Like Volker, I suspect the truth is not as friendly as Sondy would like us to believe.

They knew. They knew what was going down was illegal. It wasn't their idea. They didn't like it. But they played along while feigning ignorance.
Dan Goldman takes over the questioning.

Drills into the issue of the State Department blocking Sondland from accessing *his own documents*.

Sondland remains an Ambassador.

Pretty insane to block a staffer from accessing their own documents in preparation for testimony.
Goldman asks if Sondland if he was worried about making a call to Trump from plain ol' cellphone.

Sondy says he has unclassified convos with people from unsecured landlines all the time. Said Trump knew it was an unsecured line and had no apparent issue with it.
Goldman: (paraphrase) Did you say to Trump "Zelensky loves your ass"?

Sondland: (laughs loudly) That sounds like something I would say.

Sondland is downright happy to be walking through what everyone saw as the most damaging evidence about his involvement. This is surreal.
Sondland has what is either one of the most ingenious defenses concocted to evade federal prison or the guy is exactly as he seems: telling the truth.

His overall defense is that to help Ukraine, he and others had to grit their teeth and stomach Trump's and Giuliani's scheme.
"If we wanted to get anything done with Ukraine, it was apparent to us we needed to talk to Rudy."

Among the things adding to Sondland's believability thus far: internal cohesion.

His answers all track to the same points no matter what was asked or how he answered.
Majority Counsel Goldman is running Sondland through dates and events.

These have largely confirmed known reporting and prior testimony.

I'll spare you the replay there since it is not novel for our purposes.
Basically, if you aren't watching and are merely following along here, Sondland largely laid out the conspiracy in his opening statements, so Dan Goldman is left not even needing to pull out that information for the first time...
The sensation is kind of like this:

Sondy: (explains the robbers' entire plan to rob a bank.)

Goldman: So they were gonna wear masks?

Sondy: Yup.

Goldman: And wave guns around?

Sondy: Yup. Shotguns. Everybody knew they had them.

Goldman: And drive off?

Sondy: In a van, yes
It was such an abrupt, upfront implication of Trump, the Goldman questioning is almost anti-climactic. Boring.

Sondland blurted out the spoilers in his opening remarks.


Well, Jeez, that really takes the drama out of binge-watching "Lost".
The questioning from Minority counsel, Steve Castor, is going to be more interesting to watch.

Castor has demonstrated no particular aptitude for this and he has an unusually steep hill to climb.

Repubs need to impugn Sondland as a witness.

Will be interesting to see how...
One nugget that will likely be overlooked from Sondland’s responses to Goldman:

He and others eventually came to worry Ukraine might do what Trump wanted - announce investigations - and have Trump STILL screw them out of aid.
Goldman wraps up and the hearing adjourns for a break.

The synopsis:

Donald J. Trump was the architect, quarterback and decision-maker on a long-running conspiracy to extort an ally - and everyone even remotely close to it knew that at some point.

Doesn’t get bigger.
The White House is apparently already pivoting toward a fevered new defense that while all of this may be true, it was actually Giuliani acting independently who converted reasonable asks into unlawful extortion.

Watch the curb, Rudy. There’s a bus coming.
And on that note, I am racing to replenish my coffee.

If this is of sufficient value to merit throwing some coins in my cup via the links in my bio, I’ll be much in your debt.
I have now secured one of those delicious yet terrible 7/11 Jamaican meat patties.

I make questionable food choices.

This is well documented.
Perfect timing.

Back in my seat just as Chairman Schiff calls the meeting back to order and turns control over to Devin Nunes for the minority's 45-minute block.

Nunes' first question: Ever hear of Alexandra Chalupa?

Drink! Just need 'Steele Dossier' and 'Russia Hoax' now.
Damnit. My rickety old laptop just coughed up the blue screen of death.

Switching to phone as it takes its customary 6 hours to reboot.

Devin Nunes now trying very hard to prop up the idea that Trump had good reason to not like Ukraine (based on debunked conspiracy theories)
I am running out of colorful invective for Nunes.

The man is such an effing idiot he defies even the vast power of language to capture and relate sentiment.

He is an idiot somehow even beyond the boundaries of English description.
Nunes is ticking off the shitbird enemy-of-truth keywords:

- dossier
- Obama
- Hillary
- Biden
- Burisma

Barely asks a question. Achieves nothing.

Finally shuts up.
Minority Counsel Steve Castor takes over.

Immediately homes in on what will be Repubs recurrent theme this afternoon:

“You heard this stuff from Rudy. How do you KNOW Trump told Rudy what to say?”

Sondland: He told us to talk to him. There’s only one reasonable conclusion.
Castor and R’s really have no choice but to try to:

1) Implicate Rudy
2) Put daylight between Rudy and Trump

Only one problem there:

Rudy isn’t likely to be excited by the prospect of dying in prison for Trump’s benefit.
Castor, in a preview of what we are going to hear ennnnnnndlessly this afternoon, is now cherry-picking benign communications to/from Sondland as if they somehow prove innocence.

If you and I agree to rob a bank, it doesn’t help much to show that we also sometimes shared recipes
Castor has now moved on to reading remarks from Senator Ron Johnson alleging Trump emphatically denied he had orchestrated a shakedown.

BREAKING: Criminals tend to deny their crimes.
I know I’m a broken record re: Steve Castor and his usage of time in these minority 45-minute blocks but it’s the same thing every time:

1) No apparent focus
2) Jumps around
3) Builds to nothing
4) Seems potentially boring on purpose
5) In no way rehabs Trump
Castor introduces one of the myriad asinine alibis Repubs have served up for the delay of aid:

Soliciting more support for Ukraine from our European allies

That idea is, of course, rebutted by Sondland’s clear and direct testimony that Trump’s focus was on investigations.
This is so tedious to cover.

Every day, every hearing, Castor and Rs roll out the same slop-bucket of nonsense.

The same weak alibis. The same weak allegations.

No matter how many different times they bring them and have them debunked, they merely repeat them anyway.
It’s like this...

Robber: I was at home

Prosecutor: Here’s a video of you at the mall

Robber: Nope, at home

Prosecutor: Here are the shoes you bought

Robber: Nope, at home

Prosecutor: They arrested you IN THE MALL

Robber: That doesn’t prove anything.
Sondland: I don’t know how you can call something an ‘irregular channel’ when it includes the President of the United States, the Secretary of State and National Security Director.

Translation: this wasn’t a backchannel operation. It was Trump, Pompeo, Bolton, et al.
Sondland offers a pretty plausible explanation of why he said “I don’t recall” so many times in his initial deposition.

Super busy. Endless meetings and communications. No access to his own records. Needs to be prompted sometimes. When prompted he remembers.
Minority counsel wraps up.

Schiff announces that there will be another 30-minute round of counsel questions.

That’s new. Only did one 15-min follow-up round in these hearings so far.

Goldman must have some good stuff to drill down on.
Schiff opens with a few questions of his own.

Homes in on Sondland’s assertion that he didn’t put together the early asks about Burisma with an interest in dirt on Biden.

Schiff then reads Volker’s similar statement on that topic.
Surprisingly, Volker and Sondland now have aligned testimony and IMHO their explanations have been pretty credible.

The asks were vague and less directly corrupt early on.

As events played out, they came to appreciate the game.

Had they known earlier, they would’ve balked.
I don’t entirely buy that. It seems like a naïveté of convenience.

Nonetheless, it’s a pretty low-risk position because there is no real importance in indicting Volker or Sondland as bigger players.

This is an impeachment of Trump.

Their purpose is to testify to his role.
Goldman devoting significant time to probing on Mick Mulvaney’s role and involvement.

Based on the old attorney axiom “don’t ask a question, ya don’t know the answer to” it is safe to assume Goldman and Dems know of Mulvaney’s involvement and are just seeking testimony to that.
Side note. My effing laptop has still not rebooted.

Not my day.
Goldman walking Sondland through communications prior to the 7/25 call.

Piecing that together with his prior questions about Mulvaney, it seems to me, Dems know or suspect that Trump’s White House receives written assurances of what Zelensky would say on the 7/25 call...
Some speculation there but my read is that Goldman is pressing to establish that the White House wasn’t out of the loop on all of the machinations leading up to the 7/25 call.

Sondland doesn’t have the insight to get that all the way there though.
And I’d speculate that they know a documentation trail of some kind exists between the actors working to get Ukraine’s agreement to Trump’s asks and the people in the White House around Trump - specifically Mulvaney.

Would cement that Trump was running whole the mob syndicate.
Put a pin in that one.

Goldman doesn’t introduce danglers for no reason.

It’s like an episode of Law and Order.

If they zoom in on the paperweight on the desk in Minute 18, it’s coming back into the story in Minute 52.

We’ll likely hear more about this one.
Goldman is spending an inordinate amount of time on the area where there continues to be some murk:

Explicitly connecting the withholding of aid to the demand for investigations or announcements thereof.
While I understand that Rs will look to capitalize on that murk and the case would be sealed with a smoking gun there, the focus is risky.

If you don’t get there, you undermine something reasonable people would have believed circumstantially.
Barring documents or testimony within reach, it seems Dems would be wise to instead reiterate that the inference was clear, understood and makes logical sense.

Sondland did maximal damage with his volunteered opening statement. Its broad strokes are damning enough.
Goldman wraps up. Nunes takes over.

Within minutes, Nunes claims Ukraine is one of Germany’s neighbors.

Barring an undisclosed major revision to the European map, that is not, in fact, correct.
Nunes goes on to accuse Sondland of doing “funny math” for having said earlier...

wait for it...

Castor picks up and again tries to spin “talk to Rudy” by using a lighthearted inflection as if it was a big nothingburger akin to “Whatever. I don’t care. Maybe chat with that Rudy fellow.”

Sondland again shoots that down.
Castor then brings up Giuliani’s buddies Parnas and Fruman.

Another moment where the subtext is that Rs now see a need to throw Rudy under the bus as the fall guy freelancing beyond Trump’s direction.
Castor now trying to pick apart inconsistencies in things Sondland represented today versus what others have attributed to him.

Ironically, Pompeo’s obstruction has made Sondland bulletproof there.

Provided him cover to say “If I had my records, I’d remember more.”
Nunes interjects to complain about not getting to interrogate the whistleblower.

Go. Fuck. Yourself.
Castor picks hit back up.

So far, his and Nunes second cross-examination has done more to bolster Sondland’s believability than Goldman’s did.

Man, this is a flail.
Castor is randomly jumping around.

If I can’t follow the dude, neither can virtually any casual spectator.

The man is bad at this.

He never... and I mean *ever* establishes a clear vector of inquiry and leads the witness through questions which build to a point.
I am not an attorney nor have I attended law school but I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that somewhere in the three years there is at least a week of curricula devoted to making a damn point.

Castor was apparently out that week.
I mean, I am not entirely without intelligence and I am watching with a singular focus on summarizing and reporting out on what Castor is doing...

...and even so, I could not list even three bullet points of things he was trying to establish.
And on that note, Castor wraps up and Schiff sends the session into a recess.

We will allegedly return in 30 minutes for the five-minute member rounds.
Whew, that was a lot.

Thanks to all who threw some coins in my jar. Your kindness will be put to very good use when the opportunity arises for a beer - or to get my laptop fixed.

In the meantime, gonna cap this thread here and start a new one for the member rounds.
Thanks for following the morning’s doings.

It was a moment in history we will only fully appreciate when this chapter has closed.

The man the President of the United States said would exonerate him instead proclaimed that he was guilty.

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