WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump asked a top American diplomat whether President Volodymyr Zelensky would investigate Joe Biden, Trump’s political rival, according to the Nov. 15 testimony of David Holmes, a political counselor with the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
In his prepared statement during a closed-door hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry, Holmes said he overheard a July 26 phone conversation between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. The call came after the diplomat’s meeting with Zelensky. Sondland had called Trump to brief him about the meeting and Holmes testified that he could clearly hear Trump’s voice through the phone’s speaker.
Holmes’ account corroborates evidence given already given to the House Intelligence Committee, including Nov. 13 public testimony by acting U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv William B. Taylor. Democrats believe Holmes’ testimony is important because it shows how eager Trump was to persuade Zelensky to launch the investigations he believed would damage Biden’s presidential election chances.
Holmes joined the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv in 2017, so he worked under both Taylor and his predecessor, Marie L. Yovanovitch, who testified in a public session on Nov. 15 about the smear campaign to remove her as ambassador in May following three years of service.
During the conversation that Holmes overheard, Sondland told Trump that Zelensky “loves your ass,” according to the testimony.
“I then heard President Trump ask ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’,” Holmes recalled.
“Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it’, adding that Zelensky ‘will do anything you ask him to.'”
The phone conversation took place at a Kyiv restaurant, where Sondland, Holmes and two other diplomats went for lunch, following a U.S. delegation meeting with Zelensky and his administration’s top officials.
During that meeting, the Ukrainian leader noted that Trump “three times raised some very sensitive issues” in their phone conversation the previous day. Zelensky had said that he and Trump would need to follow up on these issues during their upcoming personal meeting in Washington D.C.
At that time, Holmes said he was not aware that the “sensitive issues” raised by Trump were related to his urging Zelensky to launch a criminal investigation into the business activities of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Sondland then had a private meeting with Zelensky adviser Andriy Yermak. Though Holmes was supposed to attend the meeting as a note taker, Sondland and Yermak insisted on meeting one on one, according to the testimony.
The U.S. diplomats then went to the restaurant where Sondland made his phone call to Trump.
After the call, Holmes also asked Sondland if it was true that Trump “did not give a s–t about Ukraine.” Sondland confirmed Trump’s negative attitude towards the country.
“I asked why not,” the diplomat said. “And Ambassador Sondland stated that the president only cares about ‘big stuff.’ I noted that there was ‘big stuff’ going on in Ukraine like a war with Russia, and ambassador Sondland replied that he meant ‘big stuff’ that benefits the president like the Biden investigation that (Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy) Giuliani was pushing.”
Taylor told the members of Congress on Nov. 13 that Holmes told him about the key elements of the conversation only the previous week. Holmes was then subpoenaed to testify before the impeachment inquiry, initially in private, but with the possibility that he will be asked to appear before a public hearing.
Holmes said he only realized recently that he had important information.
“I came to realize I had firsthand knowledge regarding certain events on July 26 that had not otherwise been reported, and that those events potentially bore on the question of whether the president did, in fact, have knowledge that those officials were using the levers of our diplomatic power to induce the new Ukrainian president to announce the opening of a particular criminal investigation,” Holmes said.
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