Aide Says Trump Asked About ‘Investigation’: Impeachment Update

Steven T. Dennis
Aide Says Trump Asked About ‘Investigation’: Impeachment Update

(Bloomberg) -- The House Intelligence Committee held its second public hearing on Friday to hear testimony by former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was removed from that post in May by President Donald Trump.

The impeachment committees separately met in a closed session with David Holmes, a staff member at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, about this week’s revelation that Trump on July 26 asked Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, about the status of “investigations” he sought from Ukraine.

Here are the latest developments:

Aide Says Trump Asked About ‘Investigations’ (7:20 p.m.)

Holmes testified that Sondland told him in July that Trump “did not give a s--- about Ukraine” and that the president only cares about the “big stuff” that benefits Trump “like the Biden investigation that Giuliani was pushing,” according to a copy of his opening statement posted online by CNN.

Holmes told the impeachment inquiry behind closed doors that Sondland called Trump on July 26 on his cell phone, which Holmes could overhear because Sondland held the phone away from his head apparently because Trump’s voice was so loud, according to the statement.

Sondland told Trump that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “loves your ass.”

“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘so he’s gonna do the investigation’?” Holmes testified, according to CNN. Sondland said “he’s gonna do it,” adding that Zelenskiy will do “anything you ask him to.”

The call occurred one day after Trump spoke with Zelenskiy and asked for investigations, including into Joe Biden.

Holmes said he came forward after reading news reports that senior diplomats may have been acting on Ukraine without Trump’s knowledge.

“I came to realize I had firsthand knowledge” about “the question of whether the president did, in fact, have knowledge that those officials were using the levers of our diplomatic power to induce the new Ukrainian president to announce the opening of a particular criminal investigation,” Holmes’ opening statement said.

Aide Testimony Said to Confirm Envoy Account (5:54 p.m.)

While Holmes testified behind closed doors, Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters outside that “everything he says will confirm that what ambassador Taylor said was true.”

Earlier this week, top U.S. envoy to Ukraine William Taylor testified in public that his aide -- later identified by an official as Holmes -- overheard Trump asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about “the investigations” when the ambassador used his cell phone to call the president.

Lieu said Holmes “has some specific quotes that leave no doubt of what the president of the United States was thinking” when he said “investigations.” He meant investigations of Joe Biden and the 2016 election, Lieu said.

Lieu also criticized the State Department should release notes taken by embassy officials. “If any of those notes exonerated the president, we would have them right now,” he said.

Republican Mark Meadows questioned whether someone overhearing a phone call can really have firsthand knowledge.

“We know it’s not a firsthand account because this witness, to my knowledge, has never talked to the president. That would be firsthand,” Meadows said. ”Overhearing a phone call of someone else can be very dangerous if you try to draw too many conclusions from it.”

Embassy Aide Questioned About Trump Call (4:54 p.m.)

Democrats on the three committees leading the inquiry are questioning Holmes about the phone call he overheard between Trump and Sondland that took place in a restaurant “on what looks like a totally unsecured cell phone,” said Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Cell phones can be hacked by any foreign government,” Lieu said. “It’s very disturbing that maybe it wasn’t just Holmes that heard this but the Russians and other foreign governments as well.”

North Carolina Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican on the Oversight Committee, said he didn’t expect to learn much from Holmes’s testimony “other than a phone call was overheard.” He said Democrats still must address what he described as a “fundamental question: why was the aid withheld?”

Envoy Was An ‘Obstacle’ to Trump (3:50 p.m.)

In closing the hearing after about six hours of testimony, Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said the entire episode began with an effort to get Yovanovitch out of the way because she was an impediment to the investigation of Joe Biden that Trump and Rudy Giuliani wanted.

“The fact that they failed in this solicitation of bribery doesn’t make it any less bribery,” Schiff said. “It doesn’t make it any less immoral and corrupt. It just means that it was unsuccessful.”

“You were viewed as an obstacle that had to go,” Schiff said. If people read the transcript of testimony, they’ll see “that the president praises the corrupt, Lutsenko,” referring to former prosecutor general of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko, who resigned under pressure in August.

“He condemns the just, you,” Schiff said to Yovanovitch. “And then he asks for an investigation of the Bidens. There is no camouflaging that corrupt intent.”

After the hearing, Republican panel member Elise Stefanik of New York called the session “day two of an abject failure” by Schiff. She said Republicans will keep asking about Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s membership on the board of Ukraine energy company Burisma Holdings.

Stefanik called impeachment “wishful political thinking” by the Democrats and said no impeachable offenses were discussed at Friday’s hearing.

Envoy Says Ukraine Didn’t Try to Aid Clinton (3:09 p.m.)

Yovanovitch said that in her view, there was no Ukrainian strategy to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio suggested Trump faced opposition from Ukrainian officials during his 2016 campaign, including in an op-ed article in a Washington publication by the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.

Most clearly wanted Democrat Hillary Clinton to win, he said. Jordan asked Yovanovitch if Trump’s concern was justified.

She said she couldn’t say, but that in her view there wasn’t a Ukrainian strategy to interfere in the U.S. election. Politicians sometimes criticize the policies of other foreign leaders or candidates, but that’s not election meddling, she said.

“This happens in politics, and it doesn’t necessarily” constitute interference, Yovanovitch said.

Embassy Official Arrives for Closed Hearing (2:56 p.m.)

Holmes, the political counselor for the embassy in Ukraine who overheard a phone call between Trump and another diplomat, arrived on Capitol Hill for a private deposition behind closed doors.

Including his testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry became especially important after William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, said during his public hearing Wednesday that one of his staff members overheard Trump ask Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, about “the investigations.”

Taylor didn’t identify Holmes during the hearing, but officials familiar with the inquiry later confirmed that he was the aide with Sondland at the time.

Trump Ally Told Envoy to ‘Go Big or Go Home’ (2:49 p.m.)

Yovanovitch said she reached out to U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland when she realized that Rudy Giuliani was maneuvering against her. She said Sondland told her “I needed to

. The best thing to do was to send out a tweet, praising the president, that sort of thing.”

She said she thought that wasn’t in keeping with her role as an ambassador and didn’t do so.

Asked by Democrat Denny Heck of Washington to assess the impact of the situation on Ukraine, she said, “When we engage in questionable activities that raises a question.”

”It emboldens those who are corrupt, who don’t want to see Ukraine become a democracy, free market economy, a part of Europe, but want Ukraine to stay under Russia’s thrall, and that’s not in our national security interests,” Yovanovitch said.

Envoy Cites ‘Chilling Effect’ of Ouster (1:39 p.m.)

Yovanovitch said her ouster as ambassador has had a “chilling effect” within the State Department because officials there can’t be sure if the government will support their efforts.

“That is a dangerous place to be,” she said while being questioned by Democrat Terri Sewellof Alabama.

“It’s been a very, very difficult time,” Yovanovitch said. “There’s a question as to why the kind of campaign to get me out of Ukraine happened, because all the president has to do is to say he wants a different ambassador.”

Republican Mike Conaway of Texas sought to show that Yovanovitch hasn’t been harmed by her dismissal from the ambassadorship. He asked if she continues to get respect from her colleagues at the State Department.

“I’ve actually received an outpouring of support,” she said.

Later, she said that she agrees that presidents “can remove an ambassador at any time for any reason, but what I do wonder is why it was necessary to smear my reputation.”

Envoy Aware of Hunter Biden Role on Board (1:16 p.m.)

Under questioning by a Republican staff lawyer, Yovanovitch said she arrived several months before the 2016 elections, and that Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma Holdings energy company wasn’t something she focused on. She said she never spoke with him.

She was “aware” of the perception problem with Vice President Joe Biden’s son being on the board.

Republican staff attorney Steve Castor asked whether Yovanovitch knew that Trump thought that elements in Ukraine’s government were “out to get him” during the 2016 campaign. She said that wasn’t an area of focus while she was ambassador and that she didn’t perceive any such effort during the election.

“People are critical, but that doesn’t mean” that a government is trying toundermine a campaign, she said. “Our own U.S. intelligence community has conclusively determined that those who interfered in the election were in Russia.”

Nunes Says Envoy Lacks First-Hand Knowledge (12:35 p.m.)

Top committee Republican Devin Nunes said, “I’m not exactly sure what the ambassador is doing here today,” adding that Yovanovitch “is not a material fact witness to any of the accusations being hurled at the president.”

Under questioning by Nunes, she affirmed that she wasn’t involved in Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy or Vice President Mike Pence’s later meeting with Zelenskiy. She also said she hasn’t spoken to Trump or acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney this year.

Envoy Calls Trump Tweet ‘Intimidating’ (10:36 a.m.)

Yovanovitch said that it is “intimidating” that Trump tweeted an attack on her while she is testifying to the Intelligence Committee.

Told by Chairman Adam Schiff that Trump had just written that everywhere she went “turned bad,” she said, ”I don’t think I have such powers.”

”I actually think that where I’ve served over the years I and others have made things demonstrably better, both for the U.S. and the countries I served in,” she said.

Schiff asked, “Now the president in real time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses’ willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?”“It’s very intimidating,” Yovanovitch said.

“Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,“ Schiff responded.

Yovanovitch also said she had asked the State Department for a public statement of support while false stories were being spread about her work in Ukraine.

She said State Department official David Hale told her that the department wouldn’t issue a statement because “the president might issue a tweet contradicting that.”

“They were concerned about a tweet by the president of the United States?” asked Democratic committee lawyer Dan Goldman, who was conducting the questioning.

“That’s my understanding,” Yovanovitch said.

Envoy Says Trump Comment Sounded Like Threat (10:15 a.m.)

Yovanovitch said she was “shocked, appalled, devastated” when she learned that Trump called her “bad news” and said she would “go through some things” during his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president.

“It didn’t sound good. It sounded like a threat,” she said. “I wondered what that meant. It concerned me.”

Yovanovitch also said she felt “terrible” when she was recalled to the U.S.

“No real reason was offered as to why I had to leave and why it was being done in such a manner,” she said. “It’s not the way I wanted my career to end.”

She said she had been told return to Washington at once. She was told “there were concerns up the street,” which she believed referred to the White House. Yovanovitch said she argued against the return, but eventually did go to Washington.

Trump Attacks Yovanovitch During Testimony (10:06 a.m.)

During Yovanovitch’s testimony, Trump wrote on Twitter: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”

Yovanovitch Says Ukraine Policy in Disarray (9:49 a.m.)

Yovanovitch said corrupt forces in Ukraine sought to remove her, and said she was “amazed” they found allies among Americans.

“Our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want,” she said.

“Such conduct undermines the U.S., exposes our friends, and widens the playing field for autocrats like President Putin,” she said.

“I remain disappointed that the department’s leadership and others have declined to acknowledge that the attacks against me and others are dangerously wrong,” she said, in a clear swipe at Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

“This is about far, far more than me or a couple of individuals. As Foreign Service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is also being degraded. This will soon cause real harm, if it hasn’t already,” she said.

Yovanovitch Says Claims About Her Untrue (9:40 a.m.)

Yovanovitch called “untrue” the allegations that she “told unidentified embassy employees or Ukrainian officials that President Trump’s orders should be ignored because ‘he was going to be impeached’ -- or for any other reason.”

She also said the Obama administration “did not ask me to help the Clinton campaign or harm the Trump campaign, nor would I have taken any such steps if they had.”

Regarding Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, she said that she had “minimal” contact with him.

“I do not understand Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me, nor can I offer an opinion on whether he believed the allegations he spread about me,” she said.

Envoy Describes Service Regardless of Party (9:32 a.m.)

Yovanovitch opened her testimony by describing herself as an American citizen “who has devoted the majority of my life, 33 years, to service to the country that all of us love.“

She said her job in the foreign service is to carry out the policies of the president “regardless of which person or party was in power.”

“I had no other agenda other than to pursue our stated foreign policy goals,” Yovanovitch said.

Before she began her testimony, Schiff called on the administration to release a number of withheld documents, including notes kept by Bill Taylor, current envoy to Ukraine. He also said he hopes Trump will explain why he told Vice President Mike Pence not to attend Zelenskiy’s inauguration.

Nunes Reads Transcript of Initial Trump Call (9:26 a.m.)

Top committee Republican Devin Nunes, during his opening remarks, read the newly released transcript of Trump’s April phone call with Volodymyr Zelenskiy congratulating him on his election as Ukraine’s president.

Zelenskiy called Trump a “great example” and invited him to attend the inauguration. Trump responded that at the least, a “great representative” would attend.

Nunes also said the witnesses being brought before the impeachment hearings are giving second-hand accounts. “In other words, rumor,” he said.

“I’ll note that House Democrats vowed they would not put the American people through a wrenching impeachment process without bipartisan support -- and they have none,” Nunes said. “Add that to their ever-growing list of broken promises and destructive deceptions.”

Trump is watching only Nunes’s remarks, said White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.

“The president will be watching Congressman Nunes’ opening statement, but therest of the day he will be working hard for the American people,” she said in a statement.

Nunes Says Democrats Aim to ‘Topple’ Trump (9:16 a.m.)

The committee’s top Republican, Devin Nunes, opened by accusing Democrats of mounting an “operation to topple a duly elected president.“

Nunes just four years ago became the youngest-ever chairman of the Intelligence panel. He was a member of Trump’s transition team, and he’s also a fierce partisan. In the session of Congress, Nunes and other Republicans led a two-year effort alleging that the FBI and Department of Justice opened their investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign in order to hurt Trump.

Schiff Says Envoy Viewed as ‘Obstacle’ (9:13 a.m.)

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said in his opening statement that Yovanovitch was recalled from her post because “she was considered an obstacle to the furtherance of the president’s personal and political agenda. For that she was smeared and cast aside.”

Getting rid of her “helped set stage for an irregular channel that could pursue the two investigations that mattered so much to the president, the 2016 conspiracy theory, and most important, an investigation into the 2020 political opponent he apparently feared most, Joe Biden,” Schiff said.

Schiff Opens Second House Public Hearing (9:08 a.m.)

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff opened the hearing by describing Yovanovitch’s recall to Washington in April “because she did not have the confidence of the president.”

The hearings have vaulted Schiff to the national stage, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi picked him over House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler to take the leading role. In Wednesday’s hearing, he and other Democrats got what they wanted from the testimony of two career, nonpartisan diplomats who helped frame the impeachment inquiry.

House Committee Opens Second Public Hearing (9:06 a.m.)

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gaveled in the panel’s second hearing, with Yovanovitch’s testimony to begin shortly.

Yovanovitch to Testify About Her Ouster (6 a.m.)

The public will hear for the first time from Yovanovitch about what she experienced as Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, maneuvered for her ouster.

Yovanovitch testified in private on Oct. 11 that she was called back to Washington after a “concerted campaign” by Trump and his allies, including Giuliani, according to a transcript released later.

Because she left Ukraine in May, she lacks direct knowledge of Trump’s effort during a July 25 phone call to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for an investigation of Joe Biden and his son.

Yovanovitch testified that she felt threatened by the way Trump spoke about her on that call, which was documented by a White House memo later made public. Trump called her “bad news” and said “she’s going to go through some things.”

Catch Up on Impeachment Coverage

Key Events

Trump showed a group of Republican senators a transcript of his April 21 call congratulating Zelenskiy on his election as the president of Ukraine. Trump had said Wednesday he planned to release a summary of the call as soon as Thursday, though he hasn’t yet done so.The Gordon Sondland transcript is here and here; former special envoy Kurt Volker’s transcript is here and here. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s transcript is here and here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of State, is here. The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here and here. State Department official George Kent’s testimony is here and here. Testimony by Alexander Vindman can be found here, and the Fiona Hill transcript is here. Laura Cooper’s transcript is here; Christopher Anderson’s is here and Catherine Croft’s is here.Taylor’s opening statement is here; Kent’s statement is here. Yovanovitch’s opening statement is here.

--With assistance from Daniel Flatley, Laura Litvan, Billy House and Evan Sully.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo

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