Republicans have derided much of the House impeachment inquiry testimony as hearsay. But on Thursday Democrats called a witness with first-hand testimony about president Trump’s demands for dirt from Ukraine.
David Holmes, a career foreign service officer who serves as political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, told impeachment investigators about the phone call he overheard between President Trump and European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland in late July of this year, in which the president pressed Sondland for an update on Trump’s demand for political investigations by the new Ukranian president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
This phone call places president Trump at the center of the action, personally directing the abuse of power for which he’s now threatened with impeachment. The timing of the phone call is critical. It took place the day after Trump personally pressed Zelensky in July for a “favor” — investigating the Bidens and the conspiracy theory that Urkaine, rather than Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Details of the call surfaced late last week after Holmes’ closed-door testimony to members of the House intelligence committee. In that testimony, Holmes recalled that the call between Trump and Sondland took place on an unsecured cell phone at a crowded cafe in the Ukranian capital, Kyiv. Trump, in a booming voice that could be overheard without being on speaker phone, pressed Sondland for details on “the investigation,” and Sondland reassured Trump — in colorful language the ambassador referred to in his own testimony as “Trump speak” — that Zelensky was ready to play ball.
I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the President and explain that he was calling from Kyiv. I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, Yes, he was in Ukraine, and went on to state that President Zelensky, quote, unquote, “loves your ass.” I then heard President Trump ask, quote, “So he’s going to do the investigation?” unquote. Ambassador Sondland replied that, “He’s going to do it, “adding that President Zelensky wiIl, quote, “Do anything you ask him to.”
After the Trump call with Sondland finished, Holmes testified that he and Sondland continued to discuss Trump’s views on Ukraine, a conversation in which Sondland relayed that Trump didn’t “give a shit” about the country and only cared about “big stuff” like the Biden investigation.
I then took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Sondland for his candid impression of the President’s views on Ukraine. In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the President did not give a shit about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not give a shit about Ukraine. I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated, the President only cares about, quote, unquote, “big stuff. ” I noted that there was, quote, unquote, “big stuff” going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia. And Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant, quote, unquote, “big stuff” that benefits the President, like the, quote, unquote, “Biden investigation” that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.
On Thursday, under questioning by Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman, Holmes relayed this version of events again on live TV — detailing why the conversation was so memorable, even though he didn’t take notes. Holmes recalled that this was a moment where Sondland, who had been bragging about his personal relationship with the president, was proving his point, in a very public way, calling Trump on an unsecured phone in the middle of a restaurant. He testified that he found the experience of hearing Trump’s booming voice, which he’d only known from television, unforgettable. The substance of the call, he said, also was of great interest as it helped him connect the dots as to why his former boss, the ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, had recently been recalled from Kyiv.
In his own testimony Wednesday, Sondland confirmed the sweep of Holmes’ version of events, although he insisted that he’d referenced Burisma — the Ukranian energy firm where Hunter Biden served on the board — rather than the Bidens. On Twitter during Holmes’ testimony, Trump attempted to undermine the credibility of the witness by claiming claiming that cell phones aren’t loud enough to be overheard — and therefore Holmes would not have been able to “hear or understand the conversation”
I have been watching people making phone calls my entire life. My hearing is, and has been, great. Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2019
Is Holmes a credible witness? Watch the key moments from Holmes’ testimony, below, and decide for yourself: