US Diplomat Says He’s ‘Never Seen Anything Like’ Phone Call Between Trump and EU Ambassador

David Holmes, a career diplomat and the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine leaves Capitol Hill on Friday after a deposition before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

(CN) – Impeachment inquiry witness David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who overheard a phone call between President Donald Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, said during a closed-door deposition last week that he had “never seen anything” like it, according to a transcript released Monday night. 

“This was an extremely distinctive experience in my Foreign Service career,” Holmes said during the deposition. “I’ve never seen anything like this, someone calling the President from a mobile phone at a restaurant, and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language. There’s just so much about the call that was so remarkable that I remember it vividly.” 

The state department official overheard the call while at lunch with the ambassador in Kyiv on July 26 – a day after a phone call in which Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. At the time, the Trump administration was withholding millions in military aid that Congress had earmarked for Ukraine.

Holmes, who is scheduled to testify publicly Thursday, said he heard Trump ask the ambassador whether Zelensky was “going to do the investigation.” 

“Ambassador Sondland replied that, ‘He’s going to do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will quote, ‘Do anything you ask him to.’”

Asked whether he was under the impression that Ukrainian officials “felt pressure” to proceed with the investigations, Holmes replied: “I think the Ukrainians gradually came to understand that they were being asked to do something in exchange for the meeting and the security assistance hold being lifted.” 

After the call, according to the 213-page transcript, Holmes asked Sondland if it was true that the president “did not give a shit about Ukraine,” and the ambassador admitted that was the case.

“I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated, the President only cares about, quote, unquote, big stuff,” Holmes said. “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.”

In his opening statement, Holmes wrote that the U.S. diplomatic policy toward Ukraine had been focused on supporting Ukranian democratic reform and resistance to Russian aggression but that he noticed, beginning in March 2019, that policy became “overshadowed by a political agenda being promoted by Rudy Giuliani and a cadre of officials operating with a direct channel to the White House.”

“I came to believe it was the President’s political agenda,” Holmes said when asked during his deposition whose political agenda Giuliani was promoting in Ukraine.

Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Representative Eliot Engel, the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Representative Carolyn Maloney, the acting chairwomen of the Committee on Oversight reform, who released the Holmes transcript, also released the transcript of the interview with Under Secretary of State David Hale – the No. 3 official at the State Department.

“Mr. Holmes testified that he felt obligated to come forward to rebut the unfounded claim by the President and his allies that ‘certain officials may have been acting without the President’s knowledge in their dealings with Ukraine,’” the chairs said in a joint statement Monday. 

Holmes also testified that he was surprised Sondland would make a phone call to the president in a public restaurant in Kyiv, given that state department officials “generally assume that mobile communications in Ukraine are being monitored.” 

On Nov. 6, Hale was questioned about the removal of the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who testified Friday about the intimidation she faced from Trump and Giuliani. 

According to the 190-page transcript of his testimony, Hale said that he thought Yovanovitch had been “doing a very good job” and was confused by the “smear campaign” against her. 

“I found it at the beginning very – I found it very hard to understand why a President of the United States would do it that way when he can just – I mean, all Ambassadors are Presidential appointees, they serve at the pleasure of the President, so it didn’t – it didn’t add up to me. I didn’t understand why that would be.”

Hale is set to publicly testify Wednesday. 

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