Political News

US diplomat in Kiev said he's 'never seen anything' like Trump-Sondland call in restaurant

Posted November 18, 2019 8:18 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2019 9:00 p.m. EST

— A diplomat at the US embassy in Ukraine told lawmakers last week he'd "never seen anything" like the call Gordon Sondland placed to President Donald Trump at a restaurant in Kiev, according to a transcript of his deposition released Monday night.

David Holmes, the political adviser at the embassy, said he was taken aback both by the conversation he overheard and the woeful lack of operational security demonstrated by Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union.

"This was an extremely distinctive experience in my foreign service career," Holmes said. "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."

As CNN first reported last week, Holmes heard Trump ask Sondland on the call if the Ukrainians were going to "do the investigation," and Sondland responded, "He's gonna do it." Holmes' testimony provides Democrats with firsthand accounting that brings the push for the investigations closer to the President.

Holmes also heard Sondland tell Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "loves your ass" and that the Ukraine President would do "anything you ask him to."

House impeachment investigators on Monday evening released the deposition transcripts of Holmes and senior State Department official David Hale ahead of a full week of public testimony with nine officials appearing, including Holmes and Hale.

Holmes was added to the public schedule after House Democrats quickly released his transcript just three days after he appeared behind closed doors for a deposition on Friday. Holmes will appear alongside Fiona Hill, the former White House Russia adviser who is another key witness for the Democrats.

In his deposition, Holmes said Sondland later told at the restaurant that Trump "doesn't give a s--t about Ukraine," and that his primary focus was on "big stuff that matters to him, like this Biden investigation that Giuliani is pushing."

The episode surprised Holmes because of the high likelihood the phone conversation could have been monitored by foreign intelligence.

"It was surprising to me that he — yes. In my experience, generally, phone calls with the President are very sensitive and handled accordingly," he said. "I believe at least two of the three, if not all three of the mobile networks are owned by Russian companies, or have significant stakes in those."

"We generally assume that mobile communications in Ukraine are being monitored," Holmes said.

Holmes went on to describe the fallout in the US embassy in Kiev when he relayed the conversation to his superior there.

"I would refer back to it repeatedly in our, you know, morning staff meetings," he said. "We'd talk about what we're trying to do. We're trying to achieve this, that. Maybe it will convince the President to have the meeting. And I would say, 'Well, as we know, he doesn't really care about Ukraine. He cares about some other things.'"

Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, was the highest ranking State Department official to testify in the House's closed-door impeachment inquiry depositions when he appeared earlier this month.

House Democrats have now released transcripts for 15 of the 17 witnesses who have appeared for closed-door testimony. Twelve of the 17 officials are scheduled for public testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.

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