WASHINGTON ― The career foreign service official who overheard President Donald Trump speaking with his donor-turned-ambassador about investigations that would benefit Trump’s political campaign said Thursday that the Trump administration’s effort to pull the Ukrainian government into American politics made United States government officials look like hypocrites.
David Holmes, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, pointed out the irony in the U.S. government pushing the Ukrainians to operate with integrity while the president of the United States and his personal attorney pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to take actions to damage former Vice President Joe Biden, who Trump considered his chief political rival.
“While we had advised our Ukrainian counterparts to voice a commitment to following the rule of law and generally investigating credible corruption allegations, this was a demand that President Zelensky personally commit, on a cable news channel, to a specific investigation of President Trump’s political rival,” Holmes testified Thursday.
“They can recognize hypocrisy when they see it?” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Thursday.
“It’s hard to explain why we would do that,” said Holmes.
It was Holmes who recalled hearing a phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the Trump donor turned diplomat who others placed at the center of the impeachment scandal. This conversation came a day after Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, in which Trump pressed his counterpart to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of Trump’s 2020 presidential rival.
Holmes told impeachment investigators on Thursday that Trump was talking so loudly on the call that Sondland had to hold the phone away from his ear. During the conversation, which took place at a restaurant in Ukraine, according to Holmes, Sondland told Trump that Zelensky “loves your ass,” and the U.S. president responded, “So, he’s going to do the investigation?”
“He’s going to do it,” Sondland responded, according to Holmes.
The phone call is yet more evidence that Trump was directly involved in pressuring the Ukrainian government to open investigations into the Bidens. During Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, Sondland said that “we followed the president’s orders” on Ukraine.
Trump reacted in real time on Thursday morning as Holmes delivered a lengthy opening statement on Capitol Hill. The president argued on Twitter that it would be difficult to overhear a conversation while someone was not on speakerphone, at least from his personal experience.
“Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail,” 73-year-old Trump, who is known for talking loudly, wrote in a tweet, urging his followers to try for themselves.
Holmes, meanwhile, testified that it was difficult to forget such a “distinctive experience.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my foreign service career,” he said Thursday, referring to hearing the president’s conversation with Sondland. “Very colorful language was used. They were directly addressing something I had been working on for weeks, months.”
Sondland did not recall the details of the conversation when asked about it on Wednesday, but he also didn’t dispute Holmes’ account. When asked about the “loves your ass” remark recalled by Holmes, Sondland said it sounded “like something I would say... That’s how President Trump and I communicate — a lot of four-letter words.”
In her testimony before the committee, former Senior Director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council Fiona Hill asserted that any talk that Russia did not target the U.S. during the 2016 elections “is a fictional narrative” promoted by Russian forces. Trump and his Republican defenders have repeatedly pushed the baseless theory that Ukraine was to blame instead.
Thursday’s proceedings capped off the second week of public impeachment hearings that featured bombshell testimony from nine witnesses who shed new light on Trump’s attempted quid pro quo with Ukraine. Their accounts dismantled nearly every argument Republicans had mounted in defense of the president, implicating him and other senior Trump administration officials in the scheme. Despite this, Trump and GOP lawmakers continue to insist the president did nothing wrong by seeking dirt on a political rival by holding up financial assistance to Ukraine.
The impeachment inquiry is expected to pause next week as Congress leaves town for the Thanksgiving holiday, and pick up again next month in the House Judiciary Committee.