WASHINGTON (CN) – After hearing Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s stunning reversal, explicitly implicating President Trump in a quid pro quo, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez’s thoughts turned to another devastating impeachment witness of yesteryear.
“To me, this was a John Dean moment,” Velázquez told Courthouse News, as she rode an elevator to a meeting inside the Rayburn House Office Building.
Though he is a prominent impeachment analyst on cable news airwaves today, Dean in the Watergate era had been best known as the former counsel to Richard Nixon. The FBI once described him as a “master manipulator” behind the affair, before a plea deal made Dean a star witness against the president.
“Devastating,” Velázquez quietly exclaimed, of Sondland’s testimony Wednesday.
“Publicly connecting the president and the White House, including [Secretary of State Michael] Pompeo, Chief of Staff Mulvaney, to a concerted effort to withhold aid and a meeting in the White House with the president,” the congresswoman added.
As Sondland testified this morning, Trump quickly tried to distance himself from the man he handpicked to serve for an EU ambassadorship after a $1 million donation to his inaugural committee.
“I don’t know him very well,” Trump said of Sondland, addressing reporters on the White House lawn. “I haven’t spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy though.”
Asked about Trump’s denials, Velázquez deadpanned: “Yeah, right, well.”
The New York Democrat expanded upon those three words of disbelief.
“Well, [Trump] has the distinction of making up lies constantly, so this is another occasion where he’s going to lie about his relationship,” Velázquez replied. “He appointed the guy. He nominated him to be ambassador.”
Sondland testified that he and Trump spoke about 20 times, and diplomat Tim Morrison testified Tuesday that he kept a record each time he suspected Sondland and Trump might be meeting.
“Give me a break,” Velázquez, whose district spans portions of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, told Trump.
Representative Jamie Raskin called Sondland’s testimony a “shattering moment” for the president’s defenders.
“At this point, it seems clear that the president masterminded and executed this Ukraine shakedown strategy,” Raskin told Courthouse News, as he headed toward a Democratic caucus meeting in the Capitol basement. “He wanted to get Zelensky to make an announcement that the Bidens were under investigation and it was not the Russians but the Ukrainians who interfered in our 2016 elections. There really is no rival, alternative factual hypothesis at this point.”
Sondland’s testimony also implicated those in the president’s inner circle, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary Pompeo and Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
“He said everybody was in the loop,” Raskin noted.
Republicans had been expecting friendlier reception from Sondland, who previously denied the White House held up military assistance to Ukraine in exchange for political investigations into the Bidens and another sowing doubt about the guilty party in 2016 election interference.
“He was supposed to be a lifeline for the president, but he has increasingly told the truth,” Raskin noted.
Sondland’s testimony had been so damaging to the White House that even Trump’s legal team conceded Republicans did not win, calling the bout “a draw.”
Despite the White House spin, House Republican leaders opted to attack the proceedings rather than highlight portions of Sondland’s testimony that they found helpful to their narrative.
“This process has been so unfair,” Representative Jim Jordan complained to reporters at a press conference. “What Adam Schiff has done.”
Jordan found Tuesday’s testimony by Ambassador Kurt Volker more helpful than that of Sondland.
“He is the definitive narrative on the whole thing, and you saw how good he did,” the Ohio Republican said of Volker.
Called by House Republicans, Volker was hardly a party-line witness.
“I have known Vice President Biden for 24 years,” Volker testified Tuesday, eviscerating a Republican talking point baselessly accusing him of corruption in Ukraine. “He is an honorable man and I hold him in the highest regard.”
Like Sondland, Volker reversed his previous denial that there was a connection between Trump pushing for political investigations of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma that would have damaged his rival Joe Biden, whose son sat on that corporation's board.
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