Holmes’ account corroborates testimony this week by William Taylor, the top American diplomat in the eastern European country, who relayed details of the July 26 episode to lawmakers during the first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday.
Holmes’ account also represents another data point connecting Trump directly to what Democrats have argued is a scheme to withhold critical Ukrainian military aid and refuse a White House meeting between the two presidents until Ukraine committed to the investigations Trump was seeking — namely, one targeting former Vice President Joe Biden.
Ambassador Gordon Sondland. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Sondland was at a restaurant in the Ukrainian capital when he placed the call to Trump, sitting at an outdoor table with Holmes, another embassy official, and an aide to Sondland. Holmes told investigators that he could clearly hear what Trump and Sondland were saying, and has a “clear recollection” of it despite not having taken notes.
“While Ambassador Sondland’s phone was not on speakerphone, I could hear the president’s voice through the earpiece of the phone,” Holmes said in his opening statement. “The president’s voice was very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume.”
Holmes’ testimony also backs up Taylor’s testimony about Trump’s personal views on Ukraine. Holmes said he asked Sondland “if it was true that the president did not ‘give a shit’ about Ukraine.” According to Holmes, Sondland agreed, and said Trump only cares about “‘big stuff’ that benefits the president, like the ‘Biden investigation’ that [Rudy] Giuliani was pushing.”
Trump on Wednesday denied that the call with Sondland occurred, saying he knows “nothing about that.”
The Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to Holmes on Friday, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry. The official said the State Department sought to block him from appearing for his scheduled deposition.
CNN first reported on Holmes’ opening statement. The phone call in question occurred just a day after Trump spoke by phone with Zelensky, on July 25. That conversation is central to the impeachment inquiry because, according to a record released by the White House, Trump appeared to ask Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, who sat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
Sondland is slated to testify in public before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday as part of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the president. His lawyer previously told POLITICO that Sondland planned to address the phone call — which was first revealed by Taylor — when he appears for testimony next week.
Taylor told investigators that Holmes relayed to him the details of the conversation between Trump and Sondland. He said Trump asked Sondland about “the investigations,” and Sondland replied that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. According to Taylor, Holmes asked Sondland what the president thinks of Ukraine, to which Sondland “responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
Holmes also told investigators that he was present for a video conference on July 18 during which an official from the Office of Management and Budget announced that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had placed a hold on critical military assistance to Ukraine at the president’s direction. His account confirms that of several other witnesses who have testified — including officials from the State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council.
Holmes said he and his colleagues at the embassy tried to figure out why the hold had been placed, but to no avail. He added that NSC officials “could not determine the cause of the hold or how to lift it.”