President Donald Trump’s call to the cell phone of a U.S. ambassador — a call that included a discussion of “investigations” Trump was asking Ukraine to launch into his Democratic rivals — was at risk of being monitored by Russia, a State Department official told House impeachment investigators.
David Holmes was in a restaurant in Kyiv with U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland on July 26, when Sondland called Trump to discuss the probes. Holmes told members of the House Intelligence Committee that he “vividly” recalled the conversation because Trump’s voice was so loud and discernible, and the two spoke so openly about the investigations.
Holmes, the political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, said it immediately made him nervous because two of the three mobile networks in Ukraine are Russian-owned.
“We generally assume that mobile communications in Ukraine are being monitored,” Holmes said, according to a transcript of his Nov. 15 closed-door testimony, released late Monday.
In fact, Holmes said former Ambassador Victoria Nuland, a senior envoy to Ukraine under President Barack Obama, had seen her communications monitored and disseminated “for political effect,” Holmes recalled.
Holmes said Trump’s voice was so loud that it caused Sondland to wince and hold the phone away from his ear. He said heard Trump say “So he’s going to do the investigation.” And Sondland replied, “Oh yeah, he’s going to do it.”
“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,” Holmes recalled.
The exchange is a crucial piece of firsthand evidence of Trump’s effort — aided by a shadow diplomacy campaign led by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats. That effort is at the center of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, along with questions about whether Trump withheld $400 million in military assistance and a White House visit from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in order to force Ukraine to do his bidding.
Holmes said after the exchange he reported the call to his supervisor, Kristina Kvien.
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