For two weeks now, witnesses have been heard by Congress and the public alike explaining the context and contents of President Trump's infamous July 25 call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Now, those hearings are over, and Democrats have to figure out whether or not they have enough evidence to impeach Trump. Luckily, the officials the House heard from this week gave clear-cut and damning evidence against the President and against talking points Republicans are giving in defense of him.
The first hearing this week was arguably the most surprising. Ambassador of the E.U. Gordon Sondland has appeared before the committee three times now. After his first closed door testimony, he had his memory jogged by witnesses with conflicting testimony and appeared again to revise his previous statement. Among all of the witnesses so far, Sondland was the most jovial, making jokes and smiling, but that didn't seem to weaken the credibility of his statements.
In his written statement, Sondland made it clear that "Everyone was in the loop," naming top Whitehouse staff such as Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and even Vice President Mike Pence. He addressed the question that has been looming over the impeachment inquiry since the whistleblower report came out in September: was there a quid pro quo? Sondland's answer was a simple "yes".
Another important part of Sondland's testimony was his description of the call between the he and Trump on July 26 that was overheard by David Holmes, a member of acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor's staff. The fact that the call was made in the open and loudly was shocking to Holmes, but Sondland told Congress that in fact he had a close and informal relationship with the President and that their conversations were full of "four letter words". Sondland confirmed that Trump asked him about "the investigations", but said he was unaware at the time that an investigation into Barisma meant an investigation into the Bidens. After a strained exchange with Sen. Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, Sondland did finally admit that it was Trump who would personally benefit from these investigations.
The next witnesses called were former National Security Council member Fiona Hill and David Holmes. Holmes was a late addition to the list of witnesses, but he offered invaluable testimony to the committee. He testified that many officials felt frustration about Rudy Giuliani's involvement in U.S. foreign policy. In another example of Sondland's colorful personality, Holmes reported he said "Dammit, Rudy. Every time Rudy gets involved he goes and f---- everything up." According to Holmes, on July 27, Sondland told Bill Taylor that President Zelensky "needed to make clear" his intention to follow through with Trump's request for investigations or the announcement thereof.
Holmes also countered one of the Republican defenses. Supporters of the President argue that since no investigation was carried out and the aid was ultimately delivered, no crime took place. This hinges on the idea that nothing was affected by this "shadow foreign policy", but Holmes made it clear that Ukraine did in fact know the full import of the quid pro quo: "In short, everyone thought there was going to be an interview, and that the Ukrainians believed they had to do it," Holmes testified.
Hill had even more sobering testimony to give. She made it clear that Republican conspiracy theories surrounding Ukranian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election are "fictional" and damaging to U.S. international affairs. Spreading these conspiracies could perpetuate the damage done to U.S. election integrity by Russia at that time. Hill herself is a Russia expert and has written a book on Putin specifically. On Sondland's efforts in Ukraine, she said, "He was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things... diverged."