WASHINGTON (CN) – A witness who overheard President Trump’s call with Gordon Sondland, his handpicked ambassador to the European Union, described Trump as a driving force behind the push for a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens.
Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat sitting on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called that testimony “damning,” and an opening statement of the conversation since made public appears to confirm that judgment.
“Without going into details of what he said, he does confirm that what Ambassador Taylor said was true on Wednesday,” Lieu told reporters as he exited the secured facility where State Department aide David Holmes had been sharing his recollections of the call in private.
Holmes said in his opening statement: “Sondland told Trump that (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky ‘loves your ass.’”
“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’” Holmes continued, according to the network. “Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to.’”
Lieu would not reveal details about what Holmes told legislators, other than to praise him as a “career service officer” dating back to the Bush administration with a reputation for being “nonpartisan.”
On Wednesday, Taylor testified that a staffer heard Trump ask Sondland about “the investigations” and how the president felt about Ukraine. Sondland replied that Trump “cares more about the investigations of Biden, which [Trump personal attorney Rudy] Giuliani was pressing for,” according to Taylor’s testimony.
Leaked portions of the transcript indicate that this, if anything, is a polite summary.
Holmes said he asked Sondland “if it was true that the president did not ‘give a shit about Ukraine,’” receiving a reply from the ambassador that Trump only cares about “big stuff,” according to CNN.
Holmes said Sondland made clear that “big stuff” referred – not to Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression – but to the investigation pushed by Giuliani, according to the network.
Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican considered a close Trump ally, played down the testimony’s significance but he stopped short at disputing the facts.
“I would not characterize it as ‘damning,’” the Freedom Caucus congressman told reporters.
“I generally have only questions of some of Ambassador Taylor’s characterizations, not his facts,” he added.
Lieu called it likely that Holmes would make the transition, like Taylor, Kent and Yovanovich before him, from closed-door proceedings to open hearings before the U.S. public.
“Republicans keep complaining about no firsthand knowledge,” Lieu noted. “The guy has firsthand knowledge.”
The day after impeachment proceedings began on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took aim at what she called “fraudulent proposition put forth by the Republicans.”
“They obstruct everyone who they would regard as having firsthand knowledge,” she said, shooting down a query from a reporter.
Democrats also have grown frustrated by what they view as obstruction by the Trump administration and the State Department.
“Every document from these witnesses, Congress does not have,” Lieu told reporters. “For example, all of the notes Ambassador Taylor took, the State Department has withheld. Notes that David Holmes took? The State Department has withheld.”
Underlining that these were not isolated incidents, Lieu added: “This is every witness, and by the way, the State Department has told the witnesses not to come to Congress.”
Despite that that trend, several top diplomats have continued to comply with the investigation.
George Kent, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau, testified Wednesday along with Taylor.
Yovanovich poignantly described what she called a smear campaign by the highest levels of the Trump administration, including the president, on Friday.
Officials from the Pentagon, National Security Council and Foggy Bottom are lined up for next week, among them: Jennifer Williams, Vice President Mike Pence’s adviser for Europe and Russia; Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, director of European affairs at the National Security Council; Laura Cooper, a Department of Defense official overseeing military assistance; Fiona Hill, a former senior Russia policy official for the National Security Council; and Sondland.