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Gordon Sondland flipped on President Donald Trump — and all the president’s men.

“We followed the president’s orders,” Sondland told lawmakers Wednesday at the House impeachment inquiry hearing.

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union described in detail how Trump and several of his top lieutenants — including personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — were all “in the loop” on a policy that increasingly focused on securing the announcement of investigations affecting American politics.

“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland said. “Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.”

The announcement of such probes would have benefited Trump politically by casting aspersions on one of the president’s leading rivals — former Vice President Joe Biden — and on the intelligence community’s finding that Russia intervened on his behalf during the 2016 election.

Under intense questioning from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., Sondland conceded that a Biden investigation would help Trump — though he said he didn’t originally understand the effort to be aimed at the former vice president — and that the request for it would put Ukraine in a terrible position.

Sondland testified that administration officials collectively used the lure of a White House meeting, and possibly the release of $391 million in aid, to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce the investigations.

Sondland also said the group’s demands were on a “continuum of insidiousness” that grew worse over a period of months, and that there was a “quid pro quo” relationship between the meeting and the proposed probes.

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Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are pushing to gather enough evidence to justify an article of impeachment involving bribery, and they believe Sondland’s testimony moved them further in that direction.

But even short of that, he provided a mountain of fresh details about the breadth and depth of the administration’s focus on using the powers of the executive branch for what Democrats say are partisan political purposes — justification, perhaps, for articles based on “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Several of those named, including Pence, Pompeo, Mulvaney and Perry — none of whom have testified — quickly denied elements of Sondland’s story personally, or through aides.

As for the military aid, Sondland said he had come to the conclusion that the president had frozen $391 million in taxpayer dollars as leverage to win those political probes before speaking to Trump in early September. His decision to tell an aide to Zelenskiy that funds would not be unfrozen until a public announcement of the investigations was made was “based on my communications with Secretary Pompeo,” he said.

What he carefully declined to do was either condemn or exonerate Trump on the question of whether the president was actually using federal money to extort Ukraine. If someone accuses Trump of extortion or soliciting a bribe, it won’t be him.

In a moment Republicans were quick to point to in the president’s defense, Sondland testified that “President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the investigations.”

He also testified that Trump told him “no quid pro quo” when Sondland called in early September to ask what was needed to free up the money.

“I want nothing,” a cranky Trump said, Sondland testified. “I want nothing. No quid pro quo. Tell Zelenskiy to do the right thing.”

Republican staff lawyer Steve Castor noted that Sondland hadn’t mentioned in an opening statement the fact that Trump had not connected the aid to investigations in direct conversations.

“This is an exculpatory fact shedding light on the president’s state of mind,” Castor said.

But at the time, the White House was already aware that a whistleblower complaint involving a possible exchange of foreign aid for political investigations was making its way through the intelligence community’s inspector general process and the Justice Department.

At one point in October, Mulvaney said that the money was conditioned on an investigation into possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election — based on what U.S. officials have called a conspiracy theory — but he later walked that back and said his remarks had been misconstrued.

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said before reversing course.

Sondland said in his opening statement that he watched as the White House piled on more demands of the Ukrainians over the summer, and he agreed with Democratic lawyer Daniel Goldman’s formulation that he made a “two plus two equals four” calculation to arrive at the conclusion that the money wouldn’t flow without the announcement of investigations.

If you can’t get a meeting without the statement, he said, “what makes you think you’re going to get a $400 million check?”

In the end, Sondland threaded a careful needle. He pulled up short of accusing his boss of bribery.

But he also implicated the president and several of his closest advisers in putting Trump’s political interests ahead of his country’s. And he said “quid pro quo.”

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Warren goes after Buttigieg, Bloomberg in change of tactics



Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who rarely criticizes her opponents by name, went on the offensive Thursday night, directly challenging Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, two of her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.

After her speech at the Democratic National Committee’s I Will Vote event in Boston, Warren called on Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to let the news media into his private campaign events “so that anyone can come in and report on what’s being said” to big financial donors.

Warren had been asked about a New York Times editorial examining Buttigieg’s career at the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, but she chose to talk, instead, about his private fundraising events, referring to him as “Mayor Pete.”

“I think that voters want to know about possible conflicts of interests,” she said. “It is even more important that the candidates expose possible conflicts of interests right now, and that means, for example, that the mayor should be releasing who is on his finance committee, who are the bundlers who are raising big money for him.”

She added: “No one should be left to wonder what kind of promises are being made to the people who can pony up big bucks to be in the room.”

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In response, Buttigieg’s top spokeswoman, Lis Smith, tweeted: “If @ewarren wants to have a debate about transparency, she can start by opening up the doors to the decades of tax returns she’s hiding from her work as a corporate lawyer — often defending the types of corporate bad actors she now denounces.”

Warren also used the withdrawal from the race of Sen. Kamala Harris of California to go after Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, who entered the race last month.

Noting that neither Harris nor Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who failed to qualify, would be part of the next Democratic debate, Warren said: “There will not be a single person of color on that stage, and as I said, women have been forced out of this race at a time when billionaires can buy their way in.

“Michael Bloomberg just did a $37 million ad buy in one week in order to make himself a candidate while he skips the usual parts of democracy, like shaking hands with people and hearing directly about their concerns,” she said.

“If democracy is just going to be about billionaires buying their way in, then buckle up, because we’re going to have an America that just works better and better for billionaires and leaves everyone else behind,” she said.

Warren signaled the new tactic on Wednesday night, when she appeared on Bloomberg TV, which is owned by Bloomberg, and said: “What is broken in America is we’ve got a country that is working great for those at the top … and that is why I’m so concerned about Michael Bloomberg jumping into this race, dropping $37 million in one week on ad buys. I don’t think elections ought to be for sale.”

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Warren was at or near the top of Democratic polls earlier in the autumn, but in recent weeks she has started to fall behind former Vice President Joe Biden.

The most recent national poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, released last week, put Warren at 14 percent, trailing Biden, at 27.8 percent. The same poll in the first week of October had Warren leading Biden by 30 percent to 27 percent.

Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, with whom she is roughly even in recent polls, have declined to raise money at private events. Biden, unlike Buttigieg, has allowed reporters at all of his fundraising events.

Deepa Shivaram contributed.

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John Kerry endorses Joe Biden for president



WASHINGTON — John Kerry, the former senator from Massachusetts, secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, threw his support behind former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential bid on Thursday.

Kerry praised Biden in a statement released by the Biden campaign, saying that “there’s never been a time more urgent for leadership at home.”

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“I believe Joe Biden is the president our country desperately needs right now, not because I’ve known Joe so long, but because I know Joe so well,” Kerry said. “I’ve never before seen the world more in need of someone who on Day One can begin the incredibly hard work of putting back together the world Donald Trump has smashed apart.”

“Joe is uniquely the person running for president who can beat Donald Trump and get to work on Day One at home and in the world with no time to waste.”

Kerry will campaign with Biden on Friday in Iowa and in New Hampshire on Sunday.

The endorsement comes as Biden has amplified his qualifications to be commander-in-chief, given his foreign policy experience. On Wednesday, his campaign released a video saying that “the world is laughing at President Trump.”

Kerry has a long history with Biden — they served together in the Obama administration and in the Senate, where both were on the Foreign Relations Committee. When Biden left the Senate to become vice president, Kerry succeeded him as the chairman of the committee.

With his deep relationships on Capitol Hill, Biden is outpacing his Democratic peers in endorsements from sitting lawmakers, too. He’s backed by 22 House representatives, five senators and three governors — more of each category, and more endorsements in total, than any other candidate in the race.

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Pete Buttigieg talks 2020 election, diversity in Democratic party



In an exclusive interview, 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg sat down with NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard to discuss varying issues including diversity in the Democratic party, his appeal to voters and how he compares to former Vice President Joe Biden.

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