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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump only cares about the “big stuff that matters to him, like this Biden investigation that Giuliani is pushing,” State Department official David Holmes told lawmakers in a closed-door deposition as part of the impeachment inquiry.
That revelation came as Holmes was relaying a conversation he testified he had with European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland on July 26 at a restaurant in Ukraine’s capital.
The exchange is one of many found in a new release of transcripts from the House Intelligence Committee undertaking an impeachment inquiry into Trump. The committee released transcripts of Holmes’ deposition as well as that of Ambassador David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs.
The two transcripts were released prior to the deposition of nine officials slated to publicly testify this week, including Hale on Wednesday with Sondland and Defense official Laura Cooper. Holmes is scheduled to testify on Thursday along with State Department official Fiona Hill.
Here are the key takeaways from both the transcripts:
July 26th phone call: ‘I’ve never seen anything like this’
During his testimony, Holmes testified that he “vividly” recalled the conversation he overheard in a Kyiv restaurant between Sondland and Trump.
The initial revelation of the phone conversation was made during Ambassador Bill Taylor’s public testimony last week.
Holmes testified that although the phone’s speaker wasn’t on, the president’s voice was so loud and recognizable, he could overhear the conversation.
CHAIRMAN: And, you know, I think you said you have quite a clean recollection of that. It left an impression on you, did it?
MR. HOLMES: This was an extremely distinctive experience in my Foreign Service career. 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.
During this conversation, Holmes told lawmakers he overheard Sondland tell Trump that Zelensky “loves your ass” and would do “anything you ask him to” when asked about the investigations he sought.
Russia may have ‘monitored’ Trump’s phone call with Sondland
Holmes told lawmakers the phone conversation surprised him because in his “experience, generally, phone calls with the President are very sensitive and handled accordingly.”
When asked about the likelihood that Russia may have been listening, Holmes stated, “I believe at least two of the three, if not all three of the mobile networks (in Ukraine) are owned by Russian companies, or have significant stakes in those.”
“We generally assume that mobile communications in Ukraine are being monitored,” he continued.
Holmes reiterated that former Ambassador Victoria Nuland, who served as a senior envoy to Ukraine under the Obama Administration, had her calls “monitored and released for political effect.”
Hale testified that Pompeo called Fox News host Sean Hannity
Hale told lawmakers that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told him about a phone conversation with Fox News host Sean Hannity to find out about the attacks against former Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
From his conversations with Pompeo after the conversation with Hannity, according to Hale’s testimony, he “deduced… that the secretary believed that there wasn’t any evidence to back up these allegations.”
Hale additionally told lawmakers that State Department records show Pompeo calling Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who has emerged as a central figure in the Ukraine scandal, twice in late March, likely to discuss the smear campaign against Yovanovitch.
In the transcript of Yovanovitch’s closed-door deposition, the former ambassador said she was told Pompeo or “somebody around him” planned to call Hannity and ask about the basis the Fox personality had to attack her.
Hale: The decision not to issue a statement for Yovanovitch would have come from someone ‘more senior to me’
Hale testified that while he was visiting Ukraine last March, he had time to assess Yovanovitch’s performance as an ambassador and ultimately asked her if she would agree to stay longer in the post, saying he thought Yovanovitch was doing “a very good job.”
However, not long after this meeting, Hale testified that a “mass amount of information (was) churning in the public arena,” criticizing Yovanovitch’s performance. Hale said he received an emailed request from Yovanovitch asking the State Department to issue a statement in her defense.
Hale suggested to Yovanovitch that she draft a statement about her foreign service.
CHAIRMAN: Do you recall recommending to anyone within the State Department, including potentially Phil Reeker, that Ambassador Yovanovitch deny the allegations and quote, “reaffirm her loyalty, as the Ambassador and foreign service officer, to the President of the trump and the Constitution?”
MR. HALE: Yeah. We were working on—throughout this period, I was advocating for a State Department statement, a very robust full-page statement of defense and praise, actually, for the Ambassador’s work. And the concept was that simultaneously, or in coordination anyway, she would put out a statement. And they were debating in her embassy whether she should do it on camera or in a written statement. I don’t know exactly who initiated that idea. I thought it was a good idea for her to demonstrate that she—there was—because it had become so personal, that she needed to remind people what foreign services are and who we were loyal to and who we work for and that she committed to that, and that that would be backed up, of course, by the statement that she was also seeking from the State Department.
However, despite there not being any evidence to back up the claims, according to Hale, a statement from the State Department did not come to fruition, a decision that Hale said could only be made “more senior to me. The Secretary most likely would have been the person.”
CHAIRMAN: Now if you were a strong proponent of the statement and one was ultimately not issued, who made the decision not to issue the statement?
MR. HALE: I don’t remember actually being told that. I must have been, but given my position in the State Department, it could only have been someone more senior to me. The Secretary most likely would have been the person.
Holmes: Burisma was not in ‘the universe’ for investigations
One of Trump’s and the GOP’s defenses has been that there should be an investigation into Burisma, the energy company that Hunter Biden was a member of, since they believe his father, who was vice president at the time, strong-armed the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor in an effort to thwart an investigation into the company.
But sources ranging from former Obama administration officials to an anti-corruption advocate in Ukraine say the official, Viktor Shokin, was ousted for the opposite reason that Trump and his allies claim.
Holmes elaborated on this when pressed by Rep. Zeldin, R-N.Y., and testified that the U.S. embassy in Kyiv didn’t see a legitimate reason for Ukraine to open a new investigation into this theory, saying it wasn’t in “the universe” of potential investigations.
“Sir, we weren’t aware of any new reasons to open an investigation. So we were aware of the investigations previously, and we were not aware of any new reason to open an investigation,” Holmes stated. “So of the universe of possible investigations of anti-corruption-related offenses and whatnot, that wasn’t one we were focused on, because there was not anything new to that issue in our time there, it was from something that happened before.”
He continued that there was “not anything new, no new factual basis for the Embassy to weigh in on advocating for a particular investigation over all the other possible investigations that they might undertake.
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Hale: OMB received guidance to freeze aide from Trump and Mulvaney
Hale told lawmakers that the Office of Management and Budget said they got the guidance to freeze aid to Ukraine from Trump and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.
During a meeting, everyone except the OMB representative voiced support for aide for Ukraine to be continued: “Mr. Kupperman asked each agency, starting with me, as the State’s senior cabinet agency what our view was on this matter, and I advocated strongly for resuming the assistance, as did every other agency represented there with the exception of one, which was the OMB.”
He continued that:
“Well, OMB said that the — when asked why by someone, perhaps Kupperman, they said that they had guidance from the President and from Acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney to freeze the assistance. So I went back to the office and sent a note to the Secretary through his staff reporting this and saying that it seemed to me that this was going to have to be resolved at the principals level and that it was unlikely that OMB would be shifting their position at the principals level given what we just heard. And, therefore, it would have to be resolved, if he wished to have it resolved, directly with the President. So I left it at that, and time passed.”
“OMB did not really explain why they were taking the position other than that they had been directed to do so,” Hale added.
Hale never heard about desired ‘investigations’ through ‘government channels’
Hale also testified that the first time he heard about investigations into Burisma, the Bidens and the 2016 election was when he received an email from Yovanovitchin March, “where she was speculating on the motives of various actors who might or might not be behind the smear campaign.”
Referring to a former Ukranian prosecutor, Hale testified that “Lutensko and Giuliani were the ones she spoke of specifically. She mentioned that Mayor Giuliani might have been motivated to sully Vice President Biden’s reputation by reminding the world of the issue regarding his son’s activities in Ukraine,” reiterating that he had never heard of such investigations through “government channels”
Hale made it clear that he was never informed about investigations into the Bidens or Burisma being pushed during the timeline of the security assistance freeze.
“When the whistleblower reports and all that came out of that, that’s when I first saw this,” Hale said.
Holmes: Ukraine understood ‘they were being asked to do something in exchange’ for meeting and aid
When Holmes was asked if the Ukrainian government felt pressure to announce the investigations “given the campaign that Giuliani and others were doing at the behest of the President,” he answered that they understood that there was a quid pro quo.
Holmes stated, “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.”
Contributed: Nicholas Wu, Christal Hayes, Jeanine Santucci, Courtney Subramanian
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