Ambassador William Taylor’s testimony added one “bombshell” detail not previously discussed in his earlier deposition, because he only recently learned of it. Impeachment hearings begin with new evidence of phone call implicating Trump in Ukraine controversy:
The call, overheard by one of Taylor’s aides, puts the president more squarely in the middle of the swirling Ukraine scandal … “The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations,’ ” Taylor told lawmakers, adding that he understood that they were following up on the matter a day after Trump spoke with Ukraine’s new leader, Volodymyr Zelensky. “Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.” Taylor said that at the conclusion of the call, his aide asked Sondland what Trump thought of Ukraine and Sondland responded that “President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
David Holmes, the Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and the aide referred to by Ambassador William Taylor, testified today in a closed session deposition, and confirmed Ambassador Taylor’s testimony.
David Holmes, [the Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine], told lawmakers in a closed-door impeachment inquiry Friday that US Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, had told Trump the Ukrainian President would do “anything you ask him to” and that Sondland had confirmed the Ukrainians were going to “do the investigation,” one day after Trump had asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a copy of Holmes’ opening statement obtained by CNN.
Holmes’ statement confirmed the testimony from Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, who revealed the July 26 phone call with lawmakers at his public testimony Wednesday, saying Holmes had informed Taylor about it after he first appeared on Capitol Hill behind closed doors last month. Holmes’ testimony places Trump closer to the push for Ukraine to open an investigation into his political rival, and raises additional questions about the testimony of Sondland, who is scheduled to testify publicly next week.
“Sondland told Trump that Zelensky ‘loves your ass,’ ” Holmes said, according to a copy of his opening statement. “I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to.'”
Holmes, who was subpoenaed to appear on Friday, explained that Sondland had placed the call to Trump, and he could hear Trump because the call was so loud on the terrace of a restaurant, where they dined with two others.
“While Ambassador Sondland’s phone was not on speakerphone, I could hear the President’s voice through the earpiece of the phone. The President’s voice was very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume,” Holmes testified.
“Even though I did not take notes of those statements, I have a clear recollection that these statements were made,” he added.
Holmes also confirmed Taylor’s testimony about the President’s thoughts on Ukraine, saying he had asked Sondland “if it was true that the President did not ‘give a s— about Ukraine.”
Holmes said Sondland had responded that Trump cares only about “big stuff.” When Holmes said that the Ukraine war was big, Sondland responded, ” ‘Big stuff’ that benefits the President, like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing,” Holmes said.
In the statement, Holmes also added details about the freezing of US security aid to Ukraine, though he didn’t have direct knowledge about the reason behind the hold up.
Holmes said former national security adviser John Bolton expressed frustration to Taylor and National Security Council aide Tim Morrison about Giuliani’s influence with the President. Bolton indicated at the meeting that the lifting of the aid would hang on whether Zelensky was able to “favorably impress” Trump, when they were scheduled to meet in Warsaw in September. Due to Hurricane Dorian, Trump didn’t go to Poland and Vice President Mike Pence met with Zelensky in his place.
Holmes said that he was personally aware of the episodes Taylor testified to about Sondland saying that “everything” relied on announcing an investigation. But Holmes said that Taylor told him on September 8: “Now they’re insisting Zelensky commit to the investigation in an interview with CNN.”
“I was surprised the requirement was so specific and concrete,” Holmes said.
“While we had advised our Ukrainian counterparts to voice a commitment to following the rule of law and generally to investigating credible corruption allegations, this was a demand that President Zelensky personally commit to a specific investigation of President Trump’s political rival on a cable news channel,” Holmes said.
(I will have more on this in a later post).
Holmes’ testimony also explains how he ended up with Sondland at the restaurant. He said Sondland was in meetings in Ukraine with Taylor and others, and that when Taylor was departing Kiev, Holmes offered to go to lunch with Sondland to get briefed on the July 25 call. Holmes also said that he was supposed to be included in a meeting between Sondland and Yermak. Holmes said he was supposed to be a note-taker for the meeting, but when he arrived he was told by an aide to Yermak that they wanted a one-on-one meeting with “no note-taker.”
On the call, Sondland also talked to Trump about the US rapper who had been arrested in Sweden, A$AP Rocky, telling Trump that Sweden “should have released him on your word,” and later adding that Trump could “tell the Kardashians you tried.
The AP reported that there is a Second US official in Kyiv who heard Trump call: The second diplomatic staffer also at the table was Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv. Jayanti was in Washington last month and scheduled for a closed-door interview with impeachment investigators. But the deposition was canceled because of the funeral for former House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings and has not yet been rescheduled.
This second corroborating witness will also be deposed.
Ambassador Gordon Sondland is now in a box. He cannot deny a phone call that has been corroborated by other witnesses who were present without facing perjury charges.
This is what he did last week when he supplemented his deposition testimony after later witnesses testified in order to align his testimony with those witnesses, and acknowledge delivering a quid pro quo message to Ukraine. Trump had been using Sondland’s deposition testimony to claim that there was “no quid pro quo.”
Sondland apparently is unwilling to go to prison for Donald Trump. He is going to sing.
This phone call puts Trump at the center of the scheme to extort Ukraine into conducting politically motivated investigations in exchange for President Zelensky getting a White House visit, and Ukraine getting Javelin missiles and security aid already appropriated by Congress.