The 12 craziest moments in the Sondland and Volker impeachment transcripts

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, has long been considered one of President Trump's closest allies. But in a 375-page bombshell transcript of his Oct. 17 closed-door testimony to Congress, released Tuesday afternoon by House impeachment investigators — including a significant "update" sent to the House on Monday — the diplomat acknowledged his role in what he called a "likely" quid pro quo between the Trump administration and Ukraine.

Trump, for his part, has insisted publicly that there was no such arrangement, despite multiple witnesses seeming to confirm that the administration was withholding aid from Ukraine unless its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, opened an investigation into Trump's potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Described by The New York Times as "a wealthy Oregon hotelier who donated to the president's campaign and was rewarded with the plum diplomatic post," Sondland's about-face was unexpected. As such, his testimony marks a startling new chapter in the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Trump.

It also happens to be a totally bonkers read. Here are nine of its biggest can't-miss moments, as well as three from the transcript of Kurt Volker, the former NATO ambassador, whose testimony was also released Tuesday.

1. Memory is a pesky thing

After giving a 10-hour testimony to Congress on Oct. 17, Sondland added an additional four pages of sworn testimony clarifying that he did have knowledge of a possible quid pro quo between the United States and Ukraine. The admission was made in what reads as a remarkable return of memory, in which Sondland is suddenly able to recall "a conversation on Sept. 1, 2019, in Warsaw" with Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. "I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said that the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks." Remarkable!

2. Good guess

Sondland admitted to Congress that the attempt to push Ukraine into investigating Biden and his son was "improper." But when asked if it was also illegal, Sondland agreed the whole thing didn't sound so great. "I'm not a lawyer, but I assume so," he told investigators. That ... seems like a safe guess.

3. The Steele dossier makes an unexpected return

Remember the Steele dossier? The intelligence report, which alleged that Trump and his campaign staff worked with Russia to win the 2016 election (as well as coined the term "pee tape"), got a mention during Sondland's hearing by California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes. "Are you aware of who paid for the dossier?" Nunes pushed Sondland who, confused, replied, "I'm not." Nunes went on: "Would it surprise you to learn that the Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee paid for the dossier?" Again, Sondland expressed confusion: "I don't know anything about it." Nevertheless, Nunes continued to press Sondland about the dossier for several more questions ... to no avail.

4. 'Something President Trump would obviously see'

In one of the more amusing turns the conversation between Sondland and Congress took, the E.U. ambassador admitted that at one point he and Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, conspired to have President Zelensky announce the investigation into the Bidens "to a TV station," in lieu of a press statement. "And do you know where that interview would have occurred?" Sondland was pressed. He answered: "I don't know, but something President Trump would obviously see ... Fox. On Tucker [Carlson]." Of course.

5. Just a refresher

Sondland also told Congress that "I have spoken with [Energy] Secretary [Rick] Perry on several occasions," including to "refresh my memory about a couple of meetings." But when asked if Sondland and Perry, who is another witness, discussed "your testimony or potential testimony," Sondland claimed "no." Congress seemed unimpressed: "Do you understand that that may have the appearance of trying to line up your testimony with Secretary Perry?" Sondland's reply: "I wanted to refresh my memory."

6. Connecting the dots

Just to be clear about what Sondland is saying here, in no uncertain terms: The president of the United States told Rudy Giuliani that he wanted President Zelensky to publicly announce an investigation into the debunked Crowdstrike conspiracy theory and the Bidens. Giuliani himself apparently confirmed the order came directly from the Oval Office.

7. An interlude for Jay Leno

Also: This happened.

8. Binge watch

Later, Sondland argued to Congress that he didn't see any of Guiliani's Fox News interviews because he was busy catching up on HBO shows — which honestly sounds like a lot more fun.

9. Not a baseball fan

I'm just gonna go ahead and say it: This is a lie.

10. 'Tony' Morrison

Volker: I don't remember when Fiona left and when Tim Morrison started.Q: Tony [sic] Morrison?Volker: No, Tim.Q: Tim Morrison. I'm sorry.

The transcript for former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker, released Tuesday, also had some gems, including this bit where it seems a member of Congress confused Tim Morrison, the top presidential advisor on Russia, with Toni Morrison, the late Nobel Prize-winning author.

11. Stick to the script

In addition to answering Congress' questions, Volker gave the investigating body text messages, including an exchange he had with Yermak, Zelensky's aide. Incredibly, the text message was basically the script that the White House hoped Zelensky would follow when he announced Kyiv's intentions to look into the gas company Burisma — linked to Hunter Biden — for corruption.

12. Drip ... drip ... drip ...

The craziest bit of all might be the realization that in spite of all this, we still don't even know the juiciest bits yet.

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