State Department Aide Had ‘Specific Quotes’ From Trump, Democratic Congressman Says

Updated 11:34 pm ET

A State Department aide testifying Friday behind closed doors had firsthand knowledge of a U.S. ambassador’s conversation with President Trump, a Democratic congressman said.

“He has some pretty specific quotes from the phone call by the president,” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said of the aide, David Holmes, who was testifying in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump. Lieu attended a portion of the deposition.

Holmes is the aide mentioned Wednesday by William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, as having overheard a phone call between Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, and Trump. According to Taylor’s testimony, a member of his staff — who sources later identified as Holmes — was with Sondland in Kiev when he overheard Sondland speaking to Trump on July 26, a day after the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that sparked the impeachment inquiry. Holmes, according to Taylor, could hear Trump on the phone asking Sondland “about the investigations,” and Sondland told the president the Ukrainians “were ready to move forward.”

Following the call, according to Taylor, Holmes asked Sondland what Trump thought about Ukraine, and Sondland said that Trump cared more about the investigations of Biden.

CNN obtained a copy of Holmes’ opening statement to the lawmakers. Holmes’ lawyer, Kenneth Wainstein, confirmed to NPR that the statement is an accurate copy of his client’s opening statement.

The statement appears to be in line with some of the other statements and transcripts released during the impeachment inquiry. Democrats are trying to determine whether Trump sought an investigation into the Bidens from Zelenskiy in exchange for a commitment to a White House visit and the release of U.S. defense aid to Ukraine. Trump says no such offer was made.

In his statement, Holmes said that Sondland told Trump that Zelenskiy would do “anything you ask him to,” and that the Ukrainian leader committed to “do the investigation.”

Holmes said he overheard the conversation between the president and Sondland in a restaurant in Kyiv and said the call was loud enough to hear through the phone earpiece, and that Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time and the president’s voice was “very loud and recognizable.” He said two other staffers were present at the time.

Holmes told the committee Sondland told the president that Zelenskiy “loves your a**.” Holmes also acknowledged that he didn’t take contemporaneous notes, but said he has “a clear recollection that these statements were made.”

Holmes said the call ended and Sondland said the president “was in a bad mood.” Holmes said he then asked Sondland if it was true that the president didn’t “give a sh** about Ukraine. Sondland agreed, repeating the president did not “give a sh** about Ukraine.” After Holmes asked why that was the case, Sondland responded that the president only cares about “big stuff.” Holmes said he noted there was “big stuff” related to Ukraine like the war with Russia, but Sondland explained that the “big stuff” related to the benefits of being president and cited the “Biden investigation” that Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, was pushing.

According to the statement, the conversation at the restaurant followed a meeting that Sondland had with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelenskiy. Holmes had been attending other meetings with Sondland, Special Envoy Kurt Volker and the acting Ambassador William Taylor. He was asked to join the Yermak meeting as a “note-taker,” but when he arrived later than Sondland, he was told by Yermak’s assistant that Sondland and Yermak had insisted the meeting be one-on-one.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who attended Holmes’ deposition Friday, told reporters that Holmes “certainly overheard the call.”

“I think it adds more color to what we know about how the president looks at Ukraine, and it’s very disheartening, actually,” she said.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.