Impeachment Hearing Day 5 Transcript – Fiona Hill and David Holmes Testimony
Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill and Ukrainian Embassy US Department of State official David Holmes testified before the House of Representatives as a part of the Donal Trump Impeachment Hearings. Read the full transcript of Hill and Holmes’ testimonies right here on Rev.com.
Adam Schiff: (00:00)
Ask for your respect as we proceed with today’s hearing. It’s the intention of the committee to proceed without disruptions. As chairman, I’ll take all necessary and appropriate steps to maintain order and ensure that the committee is run in accordance with House rules and House Resolution 660. With that, I now recognize myself to give an opening statement in the impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States.
Adam Schiff: (00:23)
Yesterday morning, the Committee heard from Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the American Ambassador to the European Union, the de facto leader of the three amigos, who had regular access to President Donald Trump and pressed the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, for two investigations, Trump believed would help his reelection campaign. The first investigation was of a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine and not Russia was responsible for interfering in our 2016 election. The second investigation was into the political rival Trump apparently feared most, Joe Biden. Trump sought to weaken Biden, and to refute the fact that his own election had been helped by a Russian hacking and dumping operation and Russian social media campaign directed by Vladimir Putin.
Adam Schiff: (01:12)
Trump’s scheme stood in contrast to the longstanding bipartisan foreign policy of the United States by undermining military and diplomatic support for a key ally, and set back US anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. In conditioning a meeting with Zelensky and then military aid on securing an investigation of his rival, Trump put his personal and political interests above those of the United States. Ambassador Sondland would later tell career Foreign Service Officer, David Holmes, immediately after speaking to the president, Trump did not give a expletive about Ukraine. He cares about big stuff that benefits him, like the Biden investigation that Giuliani was pushing.
Adam Schiff: (01:54)
David Holmes is here with us today. He is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving as the Political Counselor at the US Embassy in Kyiv. Also with us is Dr. Fiona Hill, whose job as the National Security Council’s Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs encompassed the coordination of US policy towards Ukraine. Dr. Hill left the NSC in July, after more than two years in that position. Dr. Hill and Mr. Holmes each provide a unique perspective on issues relating to Ukraine, Dr. Hill from Washington, DC, and Mr. Holmes from on the ground in Kyiv.
Adam Schiff: (02:29)
In early 2019, Dr. Hill became concerned by the increasing prominence of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, who was, as she has testified, asserting quite frequently on television in public appearances that he had been given some authority over matters related to Ukraine. Hill was not alone in her concerns. Her boss, National Security Advisor, John Bolton, was also paying attention, as were other NSC and State Department officials, including Holmes at the US Embassy in Kyiv. Bolton viewed Giuliani as a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up, and was powerless to prevent the former mayor from engineering former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch’s firing in late April or the recall. Holmes was stunned by the intensity and consistency of the media attacks on Yovanovitch, by name as a US Ambassador and the scope of the allegations that were leveled against her.
Adam Schiff: (03:28)
Yovanovitch’s dismissal as a result of Giuliani’s smear campaign was one of several things that unsettled Dr. Hill. Another was the role of Gordon Sondland, who emerged as a key player in Ukraine policy in May when he was named as part of the US delegation led by Secretary, Rick Perry, to President Zelensky’s inauguration. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, also attended the inauguration, and as Holmes recalls, during a meeting with President Zelensky, took the opportunity to advise the new Ukrainian leader to stay out of US domestic politics.
Adam Schiff: (04:05)
Another concern that arose for Dr. Hill around this time was her discovery of a potential NSC back channel on Ukraine. Hill learned that an NSC staff member who did not work on Ukraine and for her may have been providing Ukraine-related information to President Trump that Dr. Hill was not made aware of. According to Holmes, following the Zelensky inauguration, Sondland and Perry took a very active and unconventional role in formulating our priorities for the new Zelensky administration and personally reaching out to President Zelensky and his senior team. Sondland’s newfound assertiveness also concerned Dr. Hill, who previously had enjoyed a cordial working relationship with the ambassador.
Adam Schiff: (04:47)
On June 18, 2019, Hill had a blow-up with Sondland when he told her that he was in charge of Ukraine policy. Dr. Hill testified that Sondland got testy with me. And I said, “Who has put you in charge of it?” He said, “The President.” On July 10th, Dr. Hill was part of a meeting at the White House with a group of US and Ukrainian officials, including Bolton, Sondland and Energy Secretary, Perry, another of the three amigos. The meeting was intended, among other things, to give the Ukrainians an opportunity to convey that they were very anxious to set up a meeting, a first meeting between their new president and President Trump. Sondland interjected to inform the group that according to White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, the White House meeting sought by the Ukrainian president with Trump would happen if Ukraine undertook certain investigations. Hearing this, Bolton abruptly ended the meeting.
Adam Schiff: (05:43)
Undeterred, Sondland brought the Ukrainian delegation and the NSC Director for Ukraine, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman downstairs to another part of the White House, where they were later joined by Dr. Hill. In this second meeting, Sondland was more explicit. Ukraine needed to conduct investigations if they were to get a meeting at all. Bolton directed Dr. Hill to report this to NSC legal advisor, John Eisenberg, telling her, “You go and tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go ahead and tell him what you’ve heard and what I’ve said.” Dr. Hill did so, as did Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, who separately approached the same lawyers with his concerns.
Adam Schiff: (06:26)
On July 18, the day before Dr. Hill left her post at the NSC, Holmes participated in a secure interagency videoconference on Ukraine. Towards the end of the meeting, a representative from the Office of Management and Budget announced that the flow of nearly $400 million in security assistance for Ukraine was being held up. The order had come from the president and had been conveyed to OMB by acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, without further explanation. Holmes, unaware of the hold prior to the call, was shocked. He thought the suspension of aid was extremely significant, undermining what he had understood to be longstanding US national security goals in Ukraine.
Adam Schiff: (07:12)
One week later, on July 25th, President Trump spoke with President Zelensky by phone. When President Zelensky brought up US military support and noted that Ukraine would like to buy more Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States, Trump responded by saying, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.” Trump then requested that Zelensky investigate the discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US election. Even more ominously, Trump asked Zelensky to look into the Bidens. Neither request had been included in the official talking points for the call prepared by the NSC staff, but both were in Donald Trump’s personal interest, and in the interests of his 2020 re-election campaign. And the Ukrainian president knew about both in advance, in part because of efforts by Ambassadors Sondland and Volker to make him aware of President Trump’s demands.
Adam Schiff: (08:06)
The next day, July 26, in Kyiv, Holmes served as a note-taker during a meeting between acting Ambassador Bill Taylor, Volker and Sondland, with President Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian officials. Zelensky said that on the previous day’s call, President Trump had “three times” raised some very sensitive issues that he would have to follow up on those issues when they met in person. Although he did not realize it at the time, Holmes came to understand that the sensitive issues were the investigations that President Trump demanded on the July 25th call.
Adam Schiff: (08:52)
Following the meeting with Zelensky, Holmes accompanied Sondland to a separate meeting with one of the Ukrainian president’s top advisors, Andriy Yermak. But Holmes was not allowed into the meeting and waited for thirty minutes while Sondland and the Ukrainian met alone without any note-takers to record what they said. After the meeting, Sondland, Holmes and two other State Department staff went to lunch at a nearby restaurant and sat on an outdoor terrace. At some point during the meal, Sondland pulled out his cell phone, placed a call to the White House, and asked to be connected to the President.
Adam Schiff: (09:29)
When Trump came on the line, Holmes could hear the President’s voice clearly. Holmes recalled that “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.” Sondland said he was calling from Kyiv. He told the President that President Zelensky loves your ass. Holmes then heard President Trump ask, “So he’s going to do the investigation?” Ambassador Sondland replied, ” He’s going to do it,” adding that, “President Zelensky will do anything you ask him.”
Adam Schiff: (10:07)
After the call ended, Holmes took the opportunity to ask Sondland for his candid impression of the President’s views on Ukraine. It was at this point that Sondland revealed that President Trump doesn’t give a expletive about Ukraine. The President only cares about big stuff, that benefits the president, like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing. A month later, National Security Advisor, Bolton, traveled to Kyiv. Between meetings with Ukrainian government officials, Holmes heard Bolton express to Ambassador Bill Taylor his frustration about Mr. Giuliani’s influence with the President. Bolton made clear, however, there was nothing he could do about it. Bolton further stated that the hold on security assistance would not be lifted prior to the upcoming meeting between President Trump and Zelensky in Warsaw, where it would hang on whether Zelensky was able to favorably impress President Trump.
Adam Schiff: (11:03)
Trump canceled his trip to Warsaw, but Sondland, Volker and others continued to press for a public announcement of the opening of investigations by Zelensky. On September 8, Taylor told Holmes that, “Now they’re insisting Zelensky commit to the investigation in an interview with CNN.” Holmes was surprised the requirement was so specific and concrete, since it amounted to nothing less than a ” demand that President Zelensky personally commit to a specific investigation of President Trump’s political rival on a cable news channel.”
Adam Schiff: (11:41)
On September 9, this Committee along with the Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees, launched our investigation of this corrupt scheme. President Trump released the hold on aid two days later. As CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has revealed, the Ukrainians canceled the CNN interview shortly thereafter. Two weeks later, on September 25, the transcript of the July 25th call was released by the White House, and the details of the President’s scheme started coming into view.
Adam Schiff: (12:10)
In the coming days, Congress will determine what response is appropriate. If the President abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe a vulnerable ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts, a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid, it will be for us to decide whether those acts are compatible with the Office of the Presidency. I now recognize ranking member Nunes for any remarks he would like to make.
Devin Nunes: (12:46)
Thank you. Throughout these bizarre hearings, the Democrats have struggled to make the case that President Trump committed some impeachable offense on his phone call with Ukrainian president Zelensky. The offense itself changes depending on the day ranging from quid pro quo to extortion, to bribery, to obstruction of justice, then back to quid pro quo. It’s clear why the Democrats have been forced onto this carousel of accusations. President Trump had good reason to be wary of Ukrainian election meddling against his campaign and of widespread corruption in that country. President Zelensky, who didn’t even know aid to Ukraine had been paused at the time of the call, has repeatedly said there was nothing wrong with the conversation. The aid was resumed without the Ukrainians taking the actions they were supposedly being coerced into doing.
Devin Nunes: (13:47)
Aid to Ukraine under President Trump has been much more robust than it was under President Obama. Thanks to the provision of Javelin anti-tank weapons. As numerous witnesses have testified, temporary holds on foreign aid occur fairly frequently for many different reasons. So how do we have an impeachable offense here when there’s no actual misdeed and no one even claiming to be a victim? The Democrats have tried to solve this dilemma with a simple slogan, “he got caught.” President Trump, we are to believe, was just about to do something wrong and getting caught was the only reason he backed down from whatever nefarious thought crime the Democrats are accusing him of almost committing.
Devin Nunes: (14:44)
I once again urge Americans to continue to consider the credibility of the Democrats on this Committee, who are now hurling these charges for the last three years. It’s not president Trump who got caught, it’s the Democrats who got caught. They got caught falsely claiming they had more than circumstantial evidence that Trump colluded with Russians to hack the 2016 election. They got caught orchestrating this entire farce with the whistleblower and lying about their secret meetings with him. They got caught defending the false allegations of the Steele dossier, which was paid for by them. They got caught breaking their promise that impeachment would only go forward with bipartisan support because of how damaging it is to the American people.
Devin Nunes: (15:52)
They got caught running a sham impeachment process between secret depositions, hidden transcripts, and an unending flood of Democrat leaks to the media. They got caught trying to obtain nude photos of President Trump from Russian pranksters pretending to be Ukrainians, and they got caught covering up for Alexandra Chalupa, a Democratic National Committee operative, who colluded with Ukrainian officials to smear the Trump campaign by improperly redacting her name from deposition transcripts, and refusing to let Americans hear her testimony as a witness in these proceedings. That is the Democrats pitiful legacy in recent years. They got caught.
Devin Nunes: (16:53)
Meanwhile, their supposed star witness testified that he was guessing that President Trump was tying Ukrainian aid to investigations despite no one telling him that was true, and the president himself explicitly telling him the opposite, that he wanted nothing from Ukraine. Ladies and gentlemen, unless the Democrats once again scramble their kangaroo court rules, today’s hearing marks the merciful end of this spectacle in the Impeachment Committee, formerly known as the Intelligence Committee. Whether the Democrats reap the political benefit they want from this impeachment remains to be seen, but the damage they have done to this country will be long lasting. Will this wrenching attempt to overthrow the president? They have pitted Americans against one another and poison the mind of fanatics who actually believe the entire galaxy of bizarre accusations. They have level against the president since the day the American people elected him.
Devin Nunes: (18:06)
I sincerely hope the Democrats in this affair as quickly as possible so our nation can begin to heal the many wounds it has inflicted on us. The people’s faith in government and their belief that their vote counts for something has been shaken. From the Russia hoax to this shotty Ukrainian sequel, the Democrats got caught. Let’s hope they finally learn a lesson, give their conspiracy theories a rest, and focus on governing for a change. In addition, Mr. Chairman, pursuant to House Rule XI, clause 2(j)(1), the Republican members transmit a request to convene a minority day of hearings. Today you have blocked key witnesses that we have requested from testifying in this partisan impeachment inquiry. This rule was not displaced by H.Res.660, and therefore under House Rule 11 clause 1(a), it applies to the Democrats impeachment inquiry. We look forward to the chair promptly scheduling an agreed upon time for the minority day of hearings so that we can hear from key witnesses that you have continually blocked from testifying.
Devin Nunes: (19:26)
I’d also like to take a quick moment on an assertion Ms. Hill made in the statement that she submitted to this Committee, in which she claimed that some Committee members deny that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. As I noted in my opening statement on Wednesday, but in March, 2018, Intelligence Committee Republicans published the results of a year long investigation into Russian meddling. The 240 page report analyzed 2016 Russian meddling campaign, the US government reaction to it, Russian campaigns in other countries and provided specific recommendations to improve American election security. I would asked my staff to hand these reports to our two witnesses today just so I can have a recollection of their memory. As America may or may not know, Democrats refused to sign on to the Republican report. Instead, they decided to adopt minority views, filled with collusion conspiracy theories. Needless to say, it is entirely possible for two separate nations to engage in election meddling at the same time, and Republicans believe we should take meddling seriously by all foreign countries regardless of which campaign is the target. I’d like to submit for the record, a copy of our report titled Report on Russian Active Measures. I yield back.
Adam Schiff: (21:22)
Today we are joined by Dr. Fiona Hill and David Holmes. Dr Fiona Hill is a former deputy assistant to the president and senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council. Before returning to government, she was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution where she directed the center on the United States in Europe. She previously worked at the National Intelligence Council, the Eurasia Foundation, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government. David Holmes is the Political Counselor at the US Embassy in Kyiv, where he serves as the Senior Policy and Political Advisor to Ambassador Taylor, who testified earlier in these hearings. He is a career Foreign Service Officer. He has previously served in Moscow, New Delhi, Kabul, Bogota and Pristina. He has also served on the staff of the National Security Council as special assistant to the United States Secretary of State.
Adam Schiff: (22:19)
Two final points before our witnesses are sworn. First witness depositions as part of this inquiry were unclassified in nature, and all open hearings will also be held at the unclassified level. Any information that may touch on classified information will be addressed separately. Second, Congress will not tolerate any reprisal, threat of reprisal or attempt to retaliate against any US government official for testifying before Congress, including you or any of your colleagues. If you would please rise, raise your right hand, I will begin by swearing you in. Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God. Let the record show that the witness has answered in the affirmative. Thank you and you may be seated.
Adam Schiff: (23:11)
The microphones are sensitive, so you’ll need to speak directly into them. Without objection, your written statements will be made part of the record. With that Mr. Holmes, you are now recognized for your opening statement and when you conclude, Dr. Hill, you’ll be immediately recognized thereafter for your opening statement.
David Holmes: (23:34)
Thank you. Good morning Mr. chairman, Ranking Member Nunes, and members of the Committee. My name is David Holmes, and I’m a career Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State. Since August 2017, I have been a political counselor at the US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. While it is an honor to appear before you today, I want to make clear that I did not seek this opportunity to testify today. Since you determined that I may have something of value to these proceedings and issued a subpoena, it is my obligation…
David Holmes: (24:03)
… something of value to these proceedings and issued a subpoena. It is my obligation to appear and to tell you what I know. Indeed, as secretary Pompeo has stated, I hope everyone who testifies will do so truthfully and accurately. When they do, the oversight role will have been performed, and I think America will come to see what took place here. That is my only goal, to testify truthfully and accurately to enable you to perform that role. To that end, I have put together this statement to lay out as best I can, my recollection of events that may be relevant to this matter.
David Holmes: (24:35)
By way of background, I have spent my entire professional career as a foreign service officer. Like many of the dedicated public servants who have testified in these proceedings, my entire career has been in the service of my country. I’m a graduate of Pomona College in Claremont, California and received degrees in international affairs from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
David Holmes: (25:02)
I joined the foreign service in 2002 through an apolitical merit-based process under the George W. Bush administration, and I have proudly served administrations of both parties and worked for their appointees, both political and career. Prior to my current post in Kiev, Ukraine, I served in the political and economic sections at the US embassy in Moscow, Russia. In Washington, I served on the national security council staff as director for Afghanistan and as a special assistant to the Under Secretary of State.
David Holmes: (25:33)
My prior overseas assignments include New Delhi, India, Kabul, Afghanistan, Bogota, Colombia, and Pristina, Kosovo. As the political counselor at the US NBC Embassy in Kiev, I lead the political section covering Ukraine’s internal politics, foreign relations and security policies. I serve as the senior policy and political ambassador to the advisor to the ambassador.
David Holmes: (25:57)
The job of an embassy political counselor is to gather information about the host country’s political landscape, to report back to Washington, to represent US policies to foreign contacts, and to advise the ambassador on policy development and implementation. In this role, I’m a senior member of the embassy’s country team and continually involved in addressing issues as they arise. I’m also often called upon to take notes in meetings involving the ambassador or visiting senior US officials with Ukrainian counterparts.
David Holmes: (26:29)
For this reason, I’ve been present in many of the meetings with President Zelensky and his administration, some of which may be germane to this inquiry. While I’m a political counselor at the embassy, it is important to note that I am not a political appointee or engage in US politics in any way. It is not my job to cover or advise on US politics. On the contrary, I’m an apolitical foreign policy professional, and my job is to focus on the politics of the country in which I serve, so that we can better understand the local landscape and better advance US national interests there.
David Holmes: (27:06)
In fact, during the period that we’ll cover today, my colleagues and I followed direct guidance from Ambassador Yovanovitch and Ambassador Taylor to focus on doing our jobs as foreign policy professionals and to stay clear of Washington politics. I arrived in Kiev to take up my assignment as political counselor in August, 2017, a year after Ambassador Yovanovitch received her appointment. From August, 2017 until her removal from post in May, 2019, I was Ambassador Yovanovitch’s chief policy advisor and developed a deep respect for her dedication, determination, decency and professionalism.
David Holmes: (27:44)
During this time, we worked together closely, speaking multiple times per day, and I accompanied Ambassador Yovanovitch to many of her meetings with senior Ukrainian counterparts. Our work in Ukraine focused on three policy priorities: peace and security, economic growth and reform, and anticorruption and rule of law. These policies match the three consistent priorities of the Ukrainian peoples since 2014, as measured in public opinion polling, namely an end to the conflict with Russia that restores national unity and territorial integrity, responsible economic policies that deliver European standards of growth and opportunity, and effective and impartial rule of law institutions that deliver justice in cases of high level official corruption.
David Holmes: (28:32)
Our efforts on this third policy priority merit special mention because it was during Ambassador Yovanovitch’s tenure that we achieved the hard-fought passage of a law establishing an independent court to try corruption cases. These efforts strained Ambassador Yovanovitch’s relationship with former president Poroshenko and some of his allies, including Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, who resisted fully empowering truly independent anti-corruption institutions that would help ensure that no Ukrainians, however powerful, were above the law. Despite this resistance, the ambassador in the embassy kept pushing anticorruption and other priorities of our policy towards Ukraine.
David Holmes: (29:15)
Beginning in March, 2019 the situation at the embassy and in Ukraine changed dramatically. Specifically, the three priorities of security, economy and justice, and our support for Ukrainian democratic resistance to Russian aggression became overshadowed by a political agenda promoted by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and a cadre of officials operating with a direct channel to the White House.
David Holmes: (29:42)
That change began with the emergence of press reports, critical of Ambassador Yovanovitch and machinations by then-Prosecutor General Lutsenko and others to discredit her. In mid-March, 2019, an embassy colleague learned from a Ukrainian contact that Mr. Lutsenko had complained that Ambassador Yovanovitch had “destroyed him” with her refusal to support him until he followed through with his reform commitments and ceased using his position for personal gain.
David Holmes: (30:10)
In retaliation. Mr. Lutsenko made a series of unsupported allegations against Ambassador Yovanovitch, mostly suggesting that Ambassador Yovanovitch improperly used the embassy to advance the political interests of the democratic party. Among Mr. Lutsenko’s allegations were that the embassy had ordered the investigation of a former Ukrainian official solely because that former official was allegedly the main Ukrainian contact of the Republican Party and of president Trump personally, and that the embassy had allegedly pressured Lutsenko’s predecessor to close a case against a different former Ukrainian official solely because of an alleged connection between that official’s company Burisma and former Vice President Biden’s son.
David Holmes: (30:51)
Mr. Lutsenko also claimed that he had never received $4.4 million in US funds intended for his office, and that there was a tape of a Ukrainian official saying that he was trying to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election. Finally, Mr. Lutsenko publicly claimed that Ambassador Yovanovitch had given him a “do not prosecute” list containing the names of her supposed allies, an allegation the State Department called an outright fabrication and that Mr. Lutsenko later retracted.
David Holmes: (31:21)
Mr. Lutsenko said that as a result of these allegations, Ambassador Yovanovitch would face serious problems in the United States. Public opinion polls indicated that Ukrainians generally did not believe Mr. Lutsenko’s allegations, and on March 22nd, President Poroshenko issued a statement in support of Ambassador Yovanovitch. Following Mr. Lutsenko’s allegations, Mr. Giuliani and others made a number of public statements critical of Ambassador Yovanovitch, questioning her integrity and calling for her removal from office. Mr Giuliani was also making frequent public statements pushing for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 election and issues related to Burisma and the Bidens.
David Holmes: (32:04)
For example, on May 1st, 2019 The New York times reported that Mr. Giuliani had discussed the Burisma investigation and its intersection with the Bidens with the ousted Ukrainian Prosecutor General and the current prosecutor. On May 9th, The New York times reported that Mr. Giuliani said he planned to travel to Ukraine to pursue investigations into the 2016 election interference and into the involvement of former Vice President Biden’s son in a Ukrainian gas company.
David Holmes: (32:33)
Over the next few months, Mr. Giuliani also issued a series of tweets asking “why Biden shouldn’t be investigated, attacking “the new president of Ukraine Zelensky for being silent on the 2016 election and Biden investigations and complaining about The New York times attacking him for “exposing the Biden family history of making millions from Ukrainian criminals.”
David Holmes: (32:57)
Around this time, the Ukrainian presidential election was approaching, and political newcomer and entertainer Volodymyr Zelensky, who had played a president on television, was surging in the polls, ahead of Mr. Lutsenko’s political ally, President Poroshenko. On April 20th, I was present for Ambassador Yovanovitch’s third and final meeting with then-candidate Zelensky ahead of his landslide victory in the runoff election the next day. As in her two prior meetings that I also attended, they had an entirely cordial, pleasant conversation and signaled their mutual desire to work together.
David Holmes: (33:31)
However, the negative narratives about Ambassador Yovanovitch had gained currency in certain segments of the United States press. On April 26th, Ambassador Yovanovitch departed for Washington DC, where she learned that she would be recalled early. The barrage of allegations directed at Ambassador Yovanovitch, a career ambassador, is unlike anything I’ve seen in my professional career. Following President Elect Zelensky’s victory, our attention in the embassy focused on getting to know the incoming Zelensky administration and on preparations for the inauguration scheduled for May 20th, the same day that Ambassador Yovanovitch departed post permanently.
David Holmes: (34:10)
It quickly became clear that the White House was not prepared to show the level of support for the Zelensky administration that we had originally anticipated. In early May, Mr. Giuliani publicly alleged that Mr. Zelensky was “surrounded by enemies of the US president” and canceled a visit to Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, we learned that Vice President Pence no longer planned to lead the presidential delegation to the inauguration.
David Holmes: (34:35)
The White House then whittled down an initial proposed list for the official presidential delegation to the inauguration from over a dozen individuals to just five. Secretary Perry as its head, Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, representing the State Department. National Security Council Director Alex Vindman, representing the White House, temporary acting Charge d’Affaires, Joseph Pennington, representing the embassy, and ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.
David Holmes: (35:04)
While Ambassador Sondland’s mandate as the accredited ambassador to the European Union did not cover individual member states, let alone non-member countries like Ukraine, he made clear that he had direct and frequent access to President Trump and Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, and portrayed himself as the conduit to the President and Mr. Mulvaney for this group. Secretary Perry, Ambassador Sondland and Ambassador Volker later styled themselves the Three Amigos and made clear they would take the lead on coordinating our policy and engagement with the Zelensky administration.
David Holmes: (35:37)
Around the same time, I became aware that Mr. Giuliani, a private lawyer, was taking a direct role in Ukrainian diplomacy. On April 25th, Ivan Bakanov, who was Mr. Zelensky’s childhood friend and campaign chair, and was ultimately appointed as the head of the security services of Ukraine, indicated to me privately that he had been contacted by “someone named Giuliani who said he was an advisor to the Vice President.” I reported Mr. Bakanov’s message to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent.
David Holmes: (36:08)
Over the following months, it became apparent that Mr. Giuliani was having a direct influence on the foreign policy agenda that the Three Amigos were executing on the ground in Ukraine. In fact, at one point during a preliminary meeting of the inaugural delegation, someone wondered aloud why Mr. Giuliani was so active in the media with respect to Ukraine. My recollection is that Ambassador Sondland stated, “Dammit, Rudy. Every time Rudy gets involved, he goes and F’s everything up.”
David Holmes: (36:38)
The inauguration took place on May 20th, and I took notes in the delegations meeting with President Zelensky. During the meeting, Secretary Perry passed President Zelensky a list that Perry described as “people he trusts.” Secretary Perry told President Zelensky that he could seek advice from the people on this list on issues of energy sector reform, which was the topic of subsequent meetings between Secretary Perry and key Ukrainian energy sector contacts. Embassy personnel were excluded from some of these later meetings by Secretary Perry’s staff.
David Holmes: (37:09)
On May 23rd, Ambassador Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary Perry, and Senator Ron Johnson, who had also attended the inauguration, though not on the official delegation, returned to the United States and briefed President Trump. On May 29th, President Trump signed a congratulatory letter to President Zelensky, which included an invitation to visit the White House at an unspecified date. It is important to understand that a White House visit was critical to President Zelensky. President Zelensky needed to show US support at the highest levels in order to demonstrate to Russian President Putin that he had United States backing, as well as to advance his ambitious anticorruption reform agenda at home.
David Holmes: (37:54)
President Zelensky’s team immediately began pressing to set a date for that visit. President Zelensky and senior members of his team made clear that they wanted President Zelensky’s first overseas trip to be to Washington to send a strong signal of American support and requested a call with President Trump as soon as possible. We at the embassy also believed that a meeting was critical to the success of President Zelensky’s administration and its reform agenda, and we worked hard to get it arranged.
David Holmes: (38:23)
When President Zelensky’s team did not receive a confirmed date for a White House visit, they made alternative plans for President Zelensky’s first overseas trip to be to Brussels instead, in part two attend an American Independence Day event Ambassador Sondland hosted on June 4th. Ambassador Sondland hosted a dinner in President Zelensky’s honor following the reception, which included President Zelensky, Jared Kushner, Secretary Pompeo’s counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl, senior European Union officials, and comedian Jay Leno, among others.
David Holmes: (38:57)
Ambassador Bill Taylor arrived in Kiev as Chargé d’Affaires on June 17th. For the next month, a focus of our activities along with those of the Three Amigos, was to coordinate a White House visit. To that end, we were working with Ukrainians to deliver things that we thought President Trump might care about, such as commercial deals that would benefit the United States, which might convince President Trump to agree to a meeting with President Zelensky.
David Holmes: (39:22)
The Ukrainian policy community was unanimous in its recommendation in recognizing the importance of securing the meeting and President Trump’s support. Ambassador Taylor reported that Secretary Pompeo had told him prior to his arrival in Kiev, “We need to work on turning The President around on Ukraine.” Ambassador Volker told us that the next five years could hang on what could be accomplished in the next three months. I took that to mean that if we did not earn President Trump’s support in the next three months, we could lose the opportunity to make progress during President’s Zelensky’s five year term.
David Holmes: (39:58)
Within a week or two, it became apparent that the energy sector reforms, the commercial deals, and the anticorruption efforts on which we were making progress were not making a dent in terms of persuading the White House to schedule a meeting between the presidents. On June 27th, Ambassador Sondland told Ambassador Taylor in a phone conversation, the gist of which Ambassador Taylor shared with me at the time, that President Zelensky needed to make clear to President Trump that President Zelensky was not standing in the way of “investigations.” I understood that this meant the Biden Burisma investigations that Mr. Giuliani and his associates had been speaking about in the media since March.
David Holmes: (40:39)
While Ambassador Taylor did not brief me on every detail of his communications with the Three Amigos, he did tell me that on a June 28th call with President Zelensky, Ambassador Taylor, and the Three Amigos, it was made clear that some action on Burisma by an investigation was a precondition for an Oval Office visit. Also on June 28th, while President Trump was still not moving forward on a meeting with President Zelensky, we met with … He met with Russian President Putin at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, sending a further signal of lack of support to Ukraine.
David Holmes: (41:15)
We became concerned that even if a meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky could occur, it would not go well, and I discussed with embassy colleagues whether we should stop seeking a meeting altogether. While the White House visit was critical to the Zelensky administration, a visit that failed to send a clear and strong signal of support likely would be worse for President Zelensky than no visit at all.
David Holmes: (41:41)
Congress has appropriated $1.5 billion in security assistance for Ukraine since 2014. This assistance has provided crucial material and moral support to Ukraine in its defensive war with Russia and has helped Ukraine build its armed forces virtually from scratch into arguably the most capable and battle-hardened land force in Europe. I’ve had the honor of visiting the main training facility in Western Ukraine with members of Congress and members of this very committee, Ms. Stefanik, where we witnessed firsthand US National Guard troops, along with allies, conducting training for Ukrainian soldiers.
David Holmes: (42:22)
Since 2014, National Guard units from California, Oklahoma, New York, Tennessee, and Wisconsin have trained shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainian counterparts. Given the history of US security assistance to Ukraine and the bipartisan recognition of its importance, I was shocked when on July 18th, an office of management and budget staff members surprisingly announced the hold on Ukraine’s security assistance. The announcement came toward the end of a nearly two hour National Security Council secure video conference call, which I participated in from the embassy conference room.
David Holmes: (42:59)
The official said that the order had come from the president and had been conveyed to OMB by Mr. Mulvaney with no further explanation. This began a week or so of efforts by various agencies to identify the rationale for the freeze, to conduct a review of the assistance, and to reaffirm the unanimous view of Ukraine policy community of its important. NSC counterparts confirmed to us that there had been no change in our Ukraine policy but could not determine the cause of the hold or how to lift it.
David Holmes: (43:33)
On July 25th, President Trump made a congratulatory phone phone call to President Zelensky after his party won a commanding majority in Ukraine’s parliamentary election. Contrary to standard procedure, the embassy received no readout of that call, and I was unaware of what was discussed until the transcript was released on September 25th. Upon reading the transcript, I was deeply disappointed to see that the President raised none of what I understood to be our inner agency agreed-upon foreign policy priorities in Ukraine and instead raised the Biden Burisma investigation and referred to the theory about CrowdStrike and its supposed connection to Ukraine in the 2016 election.
David Holmes: (44:13)
The next day, July 26th, 2019, I attended meetings at the presidential administration building in Kiev with Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Volker, and Ambassador Sondland, and I took notes during those meetings. Our first meeting was with President Zelensky’s chief of staff. It was brief, as he had already been summoned by President Zelensky to prepare for a subsequent broader meeting. But he did say that President Trump had expressed interest during the previous day’s phone call and President Zelensky’s personnel decisions related to the Prosecutor General’s office.
David Holmes: (44:45)
The delegation then met with President Zelensky and several other senior officials. During the meeting, President Zelensky stated that during the July 25th call, President Trump had “three times, raised some very sensitive issues” and that he would have to follow up. He, Zelensky, would have to follow up on those issues when he and President Trump met in person. Not having received a readout of the July 25th call, I did not know at the time what those sensitive issues were. After the meeting with President Zelensky, Ambassador Volker and Ambassador Taylor quickly left the presidential administration building for a trip to the front lines. Ambassador Sondland, who was to fly out that afternoon, stayed behind to have a meeting with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to President Zelensky.
David Holmes: (45:29)
As I was leaving the meeting with President Zelensky, I was told to join the meeting with Ambassador Sondland and Mr. Yermak to take notes. I had not expected to join that meeting and it was a flight of stairs behind Ambassador Sondland as he headed to meet with Mr. Yermak. When I reached Mr. Yermak’s office, Ambassador Sondland had already gone into the meeting. I explained to Mr. Yermak’s assistant that I was supposed to join the meeting as the embassy’s representative and strongly urge her to let me in, but she told me that Ambassador Sondland and Mr. Yermak had insisted that the meeting be one-on-one with no note-taker.
David Holmes: (46:02)
I then waited in the ante room until the meeting ended, along with a member of Ambassador Sondland’s staff and a member of the US embassy Kiev staff. When the meeting ended, the two staffers and I accompanied Ambassador Sondland out of the presidential administration building. Ambassador Sondland said that he wanted to go to lunch, and I told him that I’d be happy to join him and the two staffers for lunch if he wanted to brief me out on his meeting with Mr. Yermak or discuss other issues, and Ambassador Sondland said that I should join.
David Holmes: (46:29)
The four of us went to a nearby restaurant and sat on an outdoor terrace. I sat directly across from Ambassador Sondland, and the two staffers sat off to our sides. At first, the lunch was largely social. Ambassador Sondland selected a bottle of wine that he shared among the four of us, and we discussed topics such as marketing strategies for his hotel business. During the lunch, Ambassador Sondland said that he was going to call President Trump to give him an update.
David Holmes: (46:56)
Ambassador Sondland placed a call on his mobile phone, and I heard him announce himself several times along the lines of Gordon Sondland holding for the President. It appeared that he was being transferred through several layers of switchboards and assistance, and I then noticed Ambassador Sondland’s demeanor changed and understood that he had been connected to President Trump. While Ambassador Sondland’s phone was not on speaker phone, I could hear the president’s voice through the ear piece of the phone.
David Holmes: (47:23)
The President’s voice was loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume. I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the President and explained he was calling from Kiev. I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine and went on to state that President Zelensky “loves your ass.” I then heard President Trump ask, “So he’s going to do the investigation?”
David Holmes: (47:52)
Ambassador Sondland replied that, “He’s going to do it,” adding that “President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to do.” Even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection.
David Holmes: (48:03)
Even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection that these statements were made. I believe that my colleagues who were sitting at the table also knew that Ambassador Sondland was speaking with the president.
David Holmes: (48:13)
The conversation then shifted to Ambassador Sondland’s efforts on behalf of the president to assist a rapper who was jailed in Sweden. I can only hear Ambassador Sondland’s side of the conversation. Ambassador Sondland told the president that the rapper was quote, “Kind of eff’d there and should have pled guilty.” He recommended that the president, “Wait until after the sentencing or it will only make it worse.” He added that the president should, “Let him get sentenced, play the racism card, give him a ticker tape when he comes home.” Ambassador Sondland further told the president that Sweden, “Should have released him on your word, but that you can tell the Kardashians you tried.”
David Holmes: (48:54)
After the call ended, Ambassador Sondland remarked that the president was in a bad mood as Ambassador Sondland stated was often the case early in the morning. I then took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Sondland for his candid impression of the president’s views on Ukraine. In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the president did not give a expletive about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland agreed that the president did not give an expletive about Ukraine.
David Holmes: (49:20)
I asked, “Why not?” Ambassador Sondland stated that the president only cares about big stuff. I noted there was big stuff going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia. Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant big stuff that benefits the president like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing. The conversation then moved on to other topics.
David Holmes: (49:43)
Upon returning to the embassy, I immediately briefed my direct supervisor, the deputy chief of mission about Ambassador Sondland’s call with President Trump and my subsequent conversation with Ambassador Sondland. I told others at the embassy about the call as well. I also emailed an embassy official in Sweden regarding the issue with the US rapper that was discussed on the call.
David Holmes: (50:04)
July 26th was my last day in the office ahead of a long planned vacation that ended on August 6th. After returning to the embassy, I told Ambassador Taylor about the July 26th call. I also repeated repeatedly referred to the call and the conversation with Ambassador Sondland in meetings and conversations where the issue of the president’s interest in Ukraine was potentially relevant.
David Holmes: (50:26)
At that time, Ambassador Sondland’s statement of the president’s lack of interest in Ukraine was of particular focus. We understood that in order to secure a meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky, we would have to work hard to find a way to explain Ukraine’s importance to President Trump in terms that he found compelling.
David Holmes: (50:47)
Over the ensuing weeks, we continued to try to identify ways to frame the importance of Ukraine in ways that would appeal to the president, to determine how to lift the hold on security assistance and to move forward on the scheduling of the White House by President Zelensky.
David Holmes: (51:01)
Ukrainian Independence Day, August 24th, presented another good opportunity to show support for Ukraine. Secretary Pompeo had considered attending as National Security Advisor Bolton had attended in 2018 and Defense Secretary Mattis had attended in 2017. But in the end, nobody senior to Ambassador Volker attended.
David Holmes: (51:21)
Shortly thereafter on August 27th, Ambassador Bolton visited Ukraine and brought welcome news that President Trump had agreed to meet President Zelensky on September 1st in Warsaw. Ambassador Bolton further indicated that the hold on security assistance would not be lifted prior to the Warsaw meeting where it would hang on whether President Zelensky was able to “Favorably impress President Trump.”
David Holmes: (51:45)
I took notes in Ambassador Bolton’s meetings that day with President Zelensky and his chief of staff. Ambassador Bolton told Zelensky’s chief of staff that the meeting between the president and Warsaw would be, “Crucial to cementing their relationship.” However, President Trump ultimately pulled out of the Warsaw trip, so the hold remained in place with no clear means to get it lifted.
David Holmes: (52:05)
Between the meetings on August 27th, I heard Ambassador Bolton express to Ambassador Taylor and National Security Council Senior Director Tim Morrison his frustration about Mr. Giuliani’s influence with the president, making clear there was nothing he could do about it. He recommended that Mr. Lutsenko’s replacement as prosecutor general open a channel with his counterpart, Attorney General Barr, in place of the informal channel between Mr. Yermak and Mr. Giuliani. Ambassador Bolton also expressed frustration about Ambassador Sondland’s expansive interpretation of his mandate.
David Holmes: (52:41)
After President Trump canceled his visit to Warsaw, we continued to try to appeal to the president in foreign policy and national security terms. To that end, Ambassador Taylor told me that Ambassador Bolton recommended that he, Ambassador Taylor, send a first-person cable to Secretary Pompeo articulating the importance of the security assistance. At Ambassador Taylor’s direction, I drafted and transmitted the cable on Ambassador Taylor’s behalf on August 29th, which further attempted to explain the importance of Ukraine and the security assistance to US national security.
David Holmes: (53:13)
By this point however, my clear impression was that the security assistance hold was likely intended by the president either as an expression of dissatisfaction with Ukrainians, who were not yet agreed to the Burisma-Biden investigation, or as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so. On September 5th, I took notes at Senator Johnson and Senator Chris Murphy’s meetings with President Zelensky in Kyiv where president Zelensky asked about the security assistance. Although both senators stressed strong bipartisan congressional support for Ukraine, Senator Johnson cautioned President Zelensky that President Trump has a negative view of Ukraine and that President Zelensky would have a difficult time overcoming it.
David Holmes: (53:56)
Senator Johnson further explained that he had been, “Shocked by President Trump’s negative reaction during an oval office meeting on May 23rd when he and the three amigos proposed that President Trump meet President Zelensky and show support for Ukraine.” On September 8th, Ambassador Taylor told me, “Now they’re insisting Zelensky commit to the investigation in an interview with CNN,” which I took to refer to this three amigos. I was shocked the requirement was so specific and concrete.
David Holmes: (54:25)
While we had advised our Ukranian counterparts to voice a commitment to following the rule of law in generally investigating credible corruption allegations, this was a demand that President Zelensky personally commit on a cable news channel to a specific investigation of President Trump’s political rival.
David Holmes: (54:46)
On September 11th, the hold was finally lifted after significant press coverage and bipartisan congressional expressions of concern about the withholding of security assistance. Although we knew the hold was lifted, we were still concerned that President Zelensky had committed in exchange for the lifting, to give the requested CNN interview. We had several indications that the interview would occur.
David Holmes: (55:07)
First, the YES conference in Kyiv was held from September 12th to 14th and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria was one of the moderators. Second on September 13th, an embassy colleague received a phone call from another colleague who worked for Ambassador Sondland. My colleague texted me regarding that call, that, “Sondland said the Zelensky interview was supposed to be today or Monday. They plan to announce that a certain investigation that was on hold will progress.” Sondland’s aid did not know if this was decided or if Sondland was advocating for it. Apparently he’s been discussing this with Yermak.
David Holmes: (55:46)
Finally also on September 13th, Ambassador Taylor and I ran into Mr. Yermak on our way out to a meeting with President Zelensky in his private office. Ambassador Taylor again stressed the importance of staying out of US politics and said he hoped no interview was planned. Mr. Yermak did not answer, but shrugged in resignation as if to indicate that he had no choice.
David Holmes: (56:06)
In short, everybody thought there was going to be an interview and that the Ukrainians believed they had to do it. The interview ultimately did not occur. On September 21st, Ambassador Taylor and I collaborated on input he sent to Mr. Morrison to brief President Trump ahead of a September 25th meeting that had been scheduled with President Zelensky in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly. The transcript of the July 25th call was released the same day. As of today, I have still not seen a readout of the September 25th meeting.
David Holmes: (56:39)
As the impeachment inquiry has progressed, I’ve followed press reports and reviewed the statements of Ambassadors Taylor and Yovanovitch. Based on my experiences in Ukraine, my recollection is generally consistent with their testimony. I believe the relevant facts were therefore being laid out for the American people. However in the last couple of weeks, I read press reports expressing for the first time that certain senior officials may have been acting without the presence, knowledge or freelancing in their dealings with Ukraine. At the same time, I also read reports noting that the lack of first-hand evidence in the investigation and suggesting that the only evidence being elicited at the hearings was hearsay.
David Holmes: (57:20)
I came to realize that I had first-hand knowledge regarding certain events on July 26 that had not otherwise been reported and that those events potentially bore on the question of whether the president did in fact have knowledge that those senior officials were using the levers of diplomatic power to influence the new Ukrainian president to announce the opening of a criminal investigation against President Trump’s political opponent. It is at that point that I made the observation to Ambassador Taylor that the incident I had witnessed on July 26th had acquired greater significance, which is what he reported in his testimony last week and is what led to the subpoena for me to appear here today.
David Holmes: (58:03)
In conclusion, I’d like to take a moment to turn back to Ukraine. Today, this very day marks exactly six years since throngs of pro-Western Ukrainians spontaneously gathered on Kyiv’s Independence Square to launch what became known as the Revolution of Dignity. While the protest began in opposition to a turn towards Russia and away from the West, they expanded over three months to reject the entire corrupt repressive system that had been sustained by Russian influence in the country. Those events were followed by Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and invasion of Ukraine’s Eastern Donbass region, and an ensuing war that to date has cost almost 14,000 lives.
David Holmes: (58:53)
Despite the Russian aggression over the past five years, Ukrainians have rebuilt a shattered economy, adhered to a peace process and moved economically and socially closer to the West, toward our way of life. Earlier this year, large majorities of Ukrainians again chose a fresh start by voting for a political newcomer as president, replacing 80% of their parliament and endorsing a platform consistent with our democratic values, our foreign priorities and our strategic interests.
David Holmes: (59:27)
This year’s revolution at the ballot box underscores that despite its imperfections, Ukraine is a genuine and vibrant democracy and an example to other post-Soviet countries and beyond from Moscow to Hong Kong. How we respond to this historic opportunity will set the trajectory of our relationship with Ukraine and will define our willingness to defend our bedrock international principles and our leadership role in the world.
David Holmes: (59:57)
Ukrainians wants to hear a clear and unambiguous reaffirmation that our long-standing bipartisan policy of strong support for Ukraine remains unchanged and that we fully back it at the highest levels. Now is not the time to retreat from our relationship with Ukraine, but rather to double down on it. As we sit here today, Ukrainians are fighting a hot war on Ukrainian territory against Russian aggression. This week alone since I have been here in Washington, two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two injured by Russian-led forces in Eastern Ukraine despite a declared ceasefire. I learned overnight that seven more were injured yesterday.
David Holmes: (01:00:42)
As Vice President Pence said after his meeting with President Zelensky in Warsaw, the US-Ukraine relationship has never been stronger. Ukrainians and their new government earnestly want to believe that. Ukrainians cherish their bipartisan American support that has sustained their Euro-Atlantic aspirations. They recoil at the thought of playing a role in US domestic politics or elections.
David Holmes: (01:01:08)
At a time of shifting allegiances and rising competitors in the world, we have no better friends than Ukraine, a scrappy, unbowed, determined and above all dignified people who are standing up against Russian authoritarianism and aggression. They deserve better. We’re now at an inflection point in Ukraine and it is critical to our national security that we stand in strong support of our Ukrainian partners. Ukrainians and freedom loving people everywhere are watching the example we set here of democracy and the rule of law. Thank you.
Adam Schiff: (01:01:48)
Thank you, Mr. Holmes. Dr. Hill.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:01:51)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Do I need to adjust the microphone?
Adam Schiff: (01:01:56)
Is the microphone on?
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:01:59)
I believe it is now. Is that right?
Adam Schiff: (01:02:01)
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:02:04)
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, ranking member Nunes and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify before you today. I have a short opening statement. I appreciate the importance of Congress’s impeachment inquiry. I’m appearing today as a fact witness as I did during my deposition on October 14th in order to answer your questions about what I saw, what I did, what I knew and what I know with regard to the subjects of your inquiry.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:02:33)
I believe that those who have information that the Congress deems relevant have a legal and a moral obligation to provide it. I take great pride in the fact that I’m a nonpartisan foreign policy expert who was served under three Republican and Democratic presidents. I have no interest in advancing the outcome of your inquiry in any particular direction except toward the truth. I will not provide a long narrative statement because I believe that the interest of Congress and the American people is best served by allowing you to ask me your questions. I’m happy to expand upon my October 14th deposition testimony and respond to your questions today.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:03:13)
But before I do so, I’d like to communicate two things. First, I’d like to show a little bit about who I am. I’m an American by choice having become a citizen in 2002. I was born in the Northeast of England in the same region that George Washington’s ancestors came from. Both my region and my family have deep ties to the United States. My paternal grandfather fought through World War I in the Royal Field Artillery surviving being shot, shelled and gassed before American troops intervened to end the war in 1918.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:03:47)
During the second World War, other members of my family fought to defend the free world from fascism alongside American soldiers, sailors and airmen. The men in my father’s family were coal miners whose family has always struggled with poverty. When my father Alfred was 14, he joined his father, brothers, brother, uncles and cousins in the coal mines to help put food on the table. When the last of the local mines closed in the 1960s, my father wanted to emigrate to the United States to work in the coal mines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. But his mother, my grandmother, had been crippled from hard labor and my father couldn’t leave. He stayed in Northern England until he died in 2012. My mother still lives in my hometown today.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:04:32)
While his dream of emigrating to America was thwarted, my father loved America, its culture, its history, and its role as a beacon of hope for the world. He always wanted someone in the family to make it to the United States. I began my university studies in 1984. I just learned that I went to the same university as my colleague here, Mr. Holmes in St. Andrews in Scotland. Just thought I would add that. In 1987, I won a place on an academic exchange to the Soviet Union. I was there for the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces INF Treaty and when president Ronald Reagan met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:05:07)
This was a turning point for me. An American professor who I met there told me about graduate students scholarships to the United States. The very next year thanks to his advice, I arrived in America to start my advanced studies at Harvard. Years later, I can say with confidence that this country has offered me opportunities I never would have had in England. I grew up poor with a very distinctive working class accent. In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement. This background has never sent me back in America.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:05:38)
For the best part of three decades, I’ve built a career as a nonpartisan, nonpolitical, national security professional focusing on Europe and Eurasia and especially the former Soviet Union. I’ve served our country under three presidents. My most recent capacity under President Trump, as well as in my former position as national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In that role, I was the intelligence community senior expert on Russia and the former Soviet Republics including Ukraine.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:06:11)
It was because of my background and experience that I was asked to join the National Security Council in 2017. At the NSC, Russia was part of my portfolio, but I was also responsible for coordinating US policy for all of Western Europe, all of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine and Turkey, along with NATO and the European Union. I was hired initially by General Michael Flynn, K.T. McFarland and General Keith Kellogg. But then I started working April 2017 when General McMaster was the national security advisor.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:06:43)
I, and they, thought that I could help them with President Trump’s stated goal of improving relations with Russia while still implementing policies designed to deter Russian conduct that threatens the United States, including the unprecedented and successful Russian operation to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. This relates to the second thing I want to communicate.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:07:04)
Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its Security Services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps, somehow for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian Security Services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies confirmed in bipartisan congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:07:45)
The impacts of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being turned apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career Foreign Service is being undermined. US support for Ukraine, which continues to face armed Russian aggression has been politicized. The Russian government’s goal is to weaken our country, to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived US threat to Russian interests. President Putin and the Russian Security Services aim to counter US foreign policy objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political economic dominance.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:08:24)
I say this not as an alarmist, but as a realist. I do not think long-term conflict with Russia is either desirable or inevitable. I continue to believe that we need to seek ways of stabilizing our relationship with Moscow even as we come to their efforts to harm us. Right now, Russia’s Security Services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We’re running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interest.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:08:57)
As Republicans and Democrats have agreed for decades, Ukraine is a valued partner of the United States. It plays an important role in our national security. As I told the committee last month, I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary and that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked us in 2016. These fictions are harmful even if they’re deployed for purely domestic political purposes.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:09:22)
President Putin and the Russian Security Services operate like a super PAC. They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives. When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:09:47)
I respect the work that this Congress does in carrying out its constitutional responsibilities, including this inquiry. I’m here to help you to the best of my ability. If the president or anyone else impedes or subverts the national security of the United States in order to further domestic, political, or personal interests, that’s more than worthy of your attention. But we must not let domestic politics stop us from defending ourselves against the foreign powers who truly wish us harm.
Dr. Fiona Hill: (01:10:14)
I’m ready to answer your questions. Thank you.
Adam Schiff: (00:01)
Thank you, Dr. Hill. I will now proceed to the first round of questions. As detailed in the memo provided the Committee members, there’ll be 45 minutes of questions conducted by the Chairman or Majority Counsel, followed by 45 minutes for the ranking member or Minority Counsel. Following that, unless I specify additional equal time for extended questioning, we will proceed under the five minute rule and every member will have a chance to ask questions. I now recognize myself or Majority Counsel for the first round of questions.
Adam Schiff: (00:28)
First of all, thank you both for being here. Thank you for testifying. Dr. Hill, your story reminds me a great deal of what we heard from Alexander Vindman. The few immigrant stories that we’ve heard just in the course of these hearings are among the most powerful I think I’ve ever heard. You and Colonel Vindman and others are the best of this country, and you came here by choice, and we are so blessed that you did. So, welcome.
Adam Schiff: (01:07)
My colleagues took some umbrage with your opening statement, but I think the American people can be forgiven if they have the same impression listening to some of the statements of my colleagues during this hearing; that Russia didn’t intervene in our election, it was all the Ukrainians. There’s an effort to take a tweet here, and an op-ed there, and a newspaper story here, and somehow equate it with the systemic intervention that our intelligence agencies found that Russia perpetrated in 2016 through an extensive social media campaign, and a hacking and dumping operation. Indeed, the report my colleagues gave you that they produced during the investigation calls into question the accuracy of the Intelligence Committee’s finding that Russia intervened to help one side, to help Donald Trump at the expense of Hillary Clinton. No one in the Intelligence community questions that finding, nor does the FBI, nor does the Senate bipartisan Intelligence Committee report, nor does the Minority Committee report of this Committee. The house Republican report is an outlier.
Adam Schiff: (02:09)
But let me ask you, Dr. Hill, about your concern with that Russian narrative; that it wasn’t the Russians that engaged in interfering in our election in 2016; and of course this was given a boost when President Trump in Helsinki, in the presence of Putin, said that he questioned his own intelligence agencies. But why are the Russians pushing that narrative, that it was Ukraine? How does that serve Russian interests?
Fiona Hill: (02:36)
The Russians’ interests, frankly, to de-legitimized our entire Presidency. So I want an issue that I do want to raise, and I think that this would resonate with our colleagues on the Committee from the Republican party, is that the goal of the Russians was really to put whoever became the President by trying to tip their hands on one side of the scale under a cloud. So if Secretary, former First Lady, former Senator Clinton, had been elected as President, as indeed many expected in the run up to the election in 2016, she, too would have had major questions about her legitimacy. And I think that what we’re seeing here as a result of all of these narratives is this is exactly what the Russian government was hoping for. If they seed misinformation, they see doubt. They have everybody questioning the legitimacy of a Presidential candidate, be it President Trump or potentially a President Clinton; that they would pit one side of our electorate against the other; that they would pit one party against the other.
Fiona Hill: (03:42)
And that’s why I wanted to make such a strong point at the very beginning, because there was certainly individuals in many other countries who had harsh words for both of the candidates; who had harsh words for many of the candidates during the primaries. We had a lot of people who were running for President on the Republican side. There were many people who are trying themselves to game the outcome. As you know, in the United Kingdom, the bookies take bets. You can go to Logbrooks or William Hill and lay a bet on who you think is going to be the candidate. So the Russian government were trying to land their own bets, but what they wanted to do was give a spread. They wanted to make sure that whoever they had bet on or whoever they’d tried to tip the scales, would also experience some discomfort; that they were beholden to them in some way; that they would create just the kind of chaos that we have seen in our politics. So I just want to again emphasize that we need to be very careful as we discuss all of these issues, not to give them more fodder that they can use against us in 2020.
Adam Schiff: (04:40)
And I quite agree. There’s an additional benefit, and I think you’re absolutely right, the Russians are equal opportunity meddlers. They will not only help one side, but they’ll also just seek to sow discord in the United States along ethnic lines, religious lines, geographic lines. But there’s also a benefit now, isn’t there, for Russia to put the blame on Ukraine; to cast doubt on whether they intervened at all in our election and blame it on a U.S.ally as a way of driving a wedge between the U.S. and Ukraine? Isn’t that true?
Fiona Hill: (05:12)
Well, that’s absolutely the case, and in fact you just made the point about U.S. allies. The Russians like to put a lot of blame on U.S. allies for incidents that they have perpetrated. We saw that recently with the United Kingdom in the Russian secret services attack on a former spy, Mr. Scripholland, his daughter in Salisbury in England. Well, you may recall that the Russians actually accused the British government of perpetrating this themselves. So this falls into a long pattern of deflection, and of the Russian government trying to pin the blame on someone else. And as my colleague, Mr. Holmes, here has laid out, the Russians have a particular vested interest in putting Ukraine and Ukrainians and Ukrainian leaders in a very bad light.
Fiona Hill: (05:52)
All of the issues that we started to discuss today, and that you on the Committee have been deeply involved in, began with Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014; in response in 2015, and all of the different acts of aggression that Russia’s engaged in since starting a war in the Donbas; shooting down Russian operatives, a plane MH-17 over the Donbas at a later period. There is a great deal of hostility and malign intent towards the Ukraine, and it suits the Russian government very much if we are also looking at Ukraine as somehow a perpetrator of malign acts against us.
Adam Schiff: (06:33)
Thank you. Mr. Holmes, I want to ask you a quick couple of questions, and I think as often is the case for people … You know, I was obviously at your deposition, I’ve read your opening testimony; but as you learn more facts, you start to see things in different light, even though your opening statement is very much consistent with your opening statement during the deposition. And I was struck in particular by something you said on page 10 of your opening statement. “While we had advised our Ukrainian counterparts to voice a commitment to following the rule of law and generally investigating credible corruption allegations, this was a demand that President Zelensky personally commit on a cable news channel to a specific investigation of President Trump’s political rival.”
Adam Schiff: (07:18)
This gets to a point I made at the close of our hearing yesterday about hypocrisy. Here we are, and we are urging Ukrainians to commit to following the rule of law as you said, and only investigate genuine and credible allegations. And what are we doing? We’re asking them to investigate the President’s political rival. Ukrainians are pretty sophisticated actors, aren’t they? They can recognize hypocrisy when they see it. What does that do to our anti-corruption efforts when the Ukrainians perceive that we’re engaging in corruption ourselves?
David Holmes: (07:57)
Yes sir. So our long standing policy is to encourage them to establish and build a rule of law institutions that are capable, and they’re independent, and that can actually pursue credible allegations. That’s our policy and we’ve been doing that for quite some time with some success. So focusing on particular cases, including particular cases where there is an interest of the President’s, is just not part of what we’ve done. It’s hard to explain why we would do that.
Adam Schiff: (08:25)
And it hearkens back to that conversation Ambassador Volker testified about when he urged Ukraine not to investigate or prosecute Poroschenko, and the reply from Mr. Yermack was, “Oh, you mean like you want us to do with the Bidens and the Clintons?” They’re sophisticated enough actors to recognize when we’re saying ‘do as we say, not as we do,’ are they not?
David Holmes: (08:48)
Adam Schiff: (08:50)
You also in your testimony, and I was struck by this anew today, when even after the aid is lifted, Ukraine still felt pressured to make these statements, and you and Ambassador Taylor were worried that they were going to do it on CNN. And you said that, “Ambassador Taylor again stressed the importance of staying out of U.S. politics, and said he hoped no interviews, no interview was planned. Mr. Yermack did not answer, but shrugged in resignation as if to indicate that they had no choice. In short, everyone thought there was going to be an interview and that the Ukrainians believed they had to do it.” So you’re acknowledging, I think Mr. Holmes, are you not that Ukraine very much felt pressured to undertake these investigations that the President, Rudy Giuliani, and Ambassador Sondland and others were demanding?
David Holmes: (09:45)
Yes, sir. And although the hold on the security assistance may have been lifted, there were still things they wanted that they weren’t getting, including a meeting with the President in the Oval Office. Whether the hold, the security assistance hold continued or not, the Ukrainians understood that that’s something the President wanted and they still wanted important things from the President. So, and I think that continues to this day. I think they’re being very careful. They still need us now going forward.
David Holmes: (10:09)
In fact, right now President Zelensky is trying to arrange a summit meeting with President Putin in the coming weeks; his first face-to-face meeting with him to try to advance the peace process. He needs our support. He needs President Putin to understand that America supports Zelensky at the highest levels. So this is, this doesn’t end with the lifting of the security assistance hold. Ukraine still needs us, and as I said, still fighting this war this very day.
Adam Schiff: (10:35)
Well, and I would underscore again as my colleague did so eloquently, they got caught. That’s the reason the aid was finally lifted. Mr Goldman.
Daniel Goldman: (10:45)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning to both of you. Yesterday we heard testimony from Ambassador Gordon Sondland from the European Union, who testified that President Trump wanted Ukraine to announce the investigations into Biden, the Bidens of Barisma and the 2016 elections because they would benefit him politically, and that he used the leverage of that White House meeting and the security assistance to pressure President Zelensky to do so. Dr. Hill, you testified I believe that in mid-June Ambassador Sondland told you that he was in charge of Ukraine policy. Is that right?
Fiona Hill: (11:22)
That’s correct, sir. Yes.
Daniel Goldman: (11:23)
Who did he tell you had put him in charge of Ukraine policy?
Fiona Hill: (11:28)
He told me it was the President.
Daniel Goldman: (11:30)
Mr. Holmes, did you also understand that Ambassador Sondland had been given some authority over Ukraine policy from the President?
David Holmes: (11:40)
We understood that he had been told to work with Mr. Giuliani.
Daniel Goldman: (11:45)
And did he hold himself out as having direct contact and knowledge of the President’s priorities and interests?
David Holmes: (11:53)
Daniel Goldman: (11:55)
Now Mr. Holmes, I’m going to go to that July 26th date when you overheard the conversation between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump, and I’m going to ask you a little bit about the lead up to that conversation. Before the lunch that you described, you said that you accompanied Ambassadors Sondland, Volker, and Taylor to a meeting with President Zelensky. Is that right?
David Holmes: (12:22)
Daniel Goldman: (12:24)
And you took notes at that meeting?
David Holmes: (12:25)
Daniel Goldman: (12:26)
And you reviewed those notes before you came here to testify today?
David Holmes: (12:30)
Daniel Goldman: (12:30)
And they were helpful to refresh your recollection as to what happened, is that right?
David Holmes: (12:34)
Daniel Goldman: (12:35)
During that meeting, President Zelensky said that on his phone call with President Trump the previous day, that three times President Trump had mentioned ‘sensitive issues.’ Did you understand what President Zelensky was referring to when he said the ‘sensitive issues?’
David Holmes: (12:55)
I couldn’t be sure what he was referring to until I later read the transcript of the July 25th call, but I was aware of various contacts between the Three Amigos and his government about this set of issues.
Daniel Goldman: (13:09)
And after you read the call, what did you determine to be the sensitive issues that President Zelensky referenced?
David Holmes: (13:14)
The Barisma-Biden investigation.
Daniel Goldman: (13:16)
After this meeting with President Zelensky, you testified that Ambassador Sondland had a one-on-one meeting with Andre Yermack, a top aide to Zelensky, and that you were prohibited from going into that meeting to take notes. Is that right?
David Holmes: (13:30)
Daniel Goldman: (13:32)
And yesterday, Ambassador Sondland testified that he probably discussed the investigations with Mr. Yermack. Did Ambassador Sondland tell you at all what they discussed?
David Holmes: (13:43)
He did not.
Daniel Goldman: (13:45)
Now after this meeting with Mr. Yermack, you went to lunch; and can you just describe where you were sitting at the restaurant?
David Holmes: (13:53)
Yes, sir. The restaurant has sort of glass doors that open onto a terrace, and we were at the first tables on the terrace; so immediately outside of the interior of the restaurant. The doors were all wide open. There were, there was tables, a table for four, although I recall it being two tables for two pushed together. In any case, it was quite a wide table, and the table was set with sort of a table runner down in the middle. I was directly across from Ambassador Sondland. We were close enough that we could, you know, share an appetizer between us. And then the two staffers were off to our right at this next table.
Daniel Goldman: (14:33)
Now you said that at some point Ambassador Sondland pulled out his cell phone and called President Trump. This was an unsecure cell phone, is that right?
David Holmes: (14:44)
Daniel Goldman: (14:45)
In the middle of a restaurant in Kiev?
David Holmes: (14:47)
Daniel Goldman: (14:49)
Now you said that you were able to hear President Trump’s voice through the receiver. How were you able to hear if it was not on speaker phone?
David Holmes: (15:01)
It was, there’s several things. It was quite loud when the President came on, quite distinctive. I believe Ambassador Sondland also said yesterday he often speaks very loudly over the phone, and I certainly experienced that. When the President came on, he sort of winced and held the phone away from his ear like this, and he did that for the first couple exchanges. I don’t know if he then turned the volume down, if he got used to it, if the President moderated his volume. I don’t know, but that’s how I was able to hear it.
Daniel Goldman: (15:31)
And so you were able to hear some of what President Trump said to President Zelensky, is that right?
David Holmes: (15:38)
The first portion of the conversation, yes.
Daniel Goldman: (15:39)
And what did you hear President Trump say to … I’m sorry, not President Zelensky, to Ambassador Sondland?
David Holmes: (15:47)
What did I hear the-
Daniel Goldman: (15:47)
The President say to Ambassador Sondland?
David Holmes: (15:50)
Yeah, he clarified whether he was in Ukraine or not, and he said yes, I’m here in Ukraine. And then Ambassador Sondland said, said “He loves your ass. He’ll do anything you want.” He said, “Is he going to do the investigation?”
Daniel Goldman: (16:02)
So you heard President Trump
David Holmes: (16:03)
… He said, “Is he going to do the investigation?”
Daniel Goldman: (16:03)
So you heard President Trump ask Ambassador Sondland, “Is he going to do the investigation?”
David Holmes: (16:08)
Daniel Goldman: (16:11)
What was Ambassador Sondland’s response?
David Holmes: (16:14)
He said, “Oh, yeah. He’s going to do it. He’ll do anything you ask.”
Daniel Goldman: (16:20)
And was that the end of the Ukraine portion of the conversation?
David Holmes: (16:24)
Daniel Goldman: (16:26)
Afterwards, you described a follow on conversation that you had with Ambassador Sondland where you asked him, I think, generally what did President Trump think of Ukraine. Is that right?
David Holmes: (16:38)
Daniel Goldman: (16:39)
What did Ambassador Sondland say to you?
David Holmes: (16:42)
He said he doesn’t really care about Ukraine.
Daniel Goldman: (16:44)
Did he use slightly more colorful language than that?
David Holmes: (16:47)
Daniel Goldman: (16:48)
What did he say that he does care about?
David Holmes: (16:50)
He said he cares about big stuff.
Daniel Goldman: (16:52)
Did he explain what he meant by “big stuff?”
David Holmes: (16:55)
I asked him, “What kind of big stuff? We have big stuff going on here, like a war with Russia,” and he said, “No, big stuff like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani is pushing.”
Daniel Goldman: (17:07)
Now, were you familiar with the Biden investigation that he referenced at that point?
David Holmes: (17:15)
Daniel Goldman: (17:18)
And how do you have such a specific and clear recollection of this conversation with the President and your conversation with Ambassador Sondland.
David Holmes: (17:30)
Yeah. So this was a very distinctive experience. I’ve never seen anything like this in my foreign service career. Someone at a lunch in a restaurant making a call on a cell phone to the President of the United States. Being able to hear his voice, his very distinctive personality, as we’ve all seen on television. Very colorful language was used. They were directly addressing something that I had been wondering about working on for weeks and even months. A topic that had led to the recall of my former boss, the former Ambassador. And so here was a person who said he had direct contact with the President, and had said that over the course of time. Here he is actually having that contact with the President, hearing the President’s voice, and them talking about this issue of the Biden investigation that I had been hearing about.
Daniel Goldman: (18:28)
So just to summarize, during the phone call that you overheard Ambassador Sondland have with President Trump, you heard President Trump himself ask the only question you really heard him ask, I believe, is whether he was going to do the investigation, to which Ambassador Sondland responded that he would, and he would, in fact, do anything that President Zelensky wants. Is that an accurate recitation of what happened?
David Holmes: (18:57)
Daniel Goldman: (18:59)
And then after that call, you had a subsequent conversation with Ambassador Sondland where he, in sum and substance, told you that the President doesn’t care about Ukraine, he only cares about big stuff related to himself, and particularly the Biden investigation that Giuliani was pushing?
David Holmes: (19:15)
Daniel Goldman: (19:18)
Now, a day before your lunch with Ambassador Sondland, President Trump did speak with President Zelensky, as you referred, and certainly the President made it clear to President Zelensky that he cared about the Biden investments. Now, neither of you did listen to this call, but as you testified, you both read it subsequent to its publication.
Daniel Goldman: (19:42)
Dr. Hill, you, during your time, two and a half years in the White House, listened to a number of presidential phone calls. Is that right?
Fiona Hill: (19:50)
Daniel Goldman: (19:51)
Can you estimate approximately how many?
Fiona Hill: (19:53)
I can’t actually. Sometimes there would be multiple calls during a week. I was there for more than two years, so it’s a fair number.
Daniel Goldman: (20:01)
Have you ever heard a call like this one that you read?
Fiona Hill: (20:05)
I don’t want to comment on this call because this is, in my view, executive privilege. In terms of the testimony … Yes.
Speaker 1: (20:14)
Yeah, I think that as a threshold matter, I think that there are issues of classification regarding head of state communications that we do want to be sensitive to in this forum, among other issues.
Daniel Goldman: (20:26)
Understood. I’m really just focused on this one call that has been declassified and published, and just asking you whether you’d ever heard any presidential phone call along these lines.
Fiona Hill: (20:36)
Well, again, I’d like to just focus in this testimony on this particular call, and I will just say that I found this particular call subject matter and the way that it was conducted surprising.
Daniel Goldman: (20:50)
You said in your deposition testimony that you were very shocked and very saddened to read it.
Fiona Hill: (20:54)
Daniel Goldman: (20:55)
Why was that?
Fiona Hill: (20:56)
Because of the nature of the discussion, the juxtaposition of the issues in which they were raised, and also given the fact that I, myself, had actually imposed, along with Ambassador Bolton for some period, having a call unless it was very well prepared, and we were confident that the issues that Ukraine and the United States were most generally together interested in were going to be raised. And I saw in this call that this was not the case.
Daniel Goldman: (21:25)
You also testified that you were concerned that this call was turning a White House meeting into some kind of asset. Do you recall that testimony?
Fiona Hill: (21:38)
I don’t think it was specifically about that call, but I recall the testimony because this was clearly the discussion preceding the call. Remember, I left on July 19th, and the call took place the following week. In the months leading up to that, from May onwards, it became very clear that the White House meeting itself was being predicated on other issues, namely investigations and the questions about the election interference in 2016.
Daniel Goldman: (22:06)
Mr. Holmes, you indicate in your opening statement that the Chief of Staff to President Zelensky had indicated to you that in this phone call on July 25th, there was a discussion about personnel issues related to the Prosecutor General’s office. After you read the call, did you understand who and what that was referring to?
David Holmes: (22:30)
Yes, sir. In that brief meeting with the Chief of Staff, it was very confusing to me why, in only the few minutes we had, that would’ve been the issue he raised. So it wasn’t until I read the transcript of the call on the 25th that I understood that the President had specifically mentioned Prosecutor General Lutsenko, who the Zelensky administration was in the process of replacing and carving out all his underlings who had been collaborating with him on some of the corruption we saw there.
Daniel Goldman: (23:00)
And I believe you also said that President Lutsenko was the source of some of Mr. Giuliani’s public views and allegations, is that right?
David Holmes: (23:09)
Yes, sir. About two weeks before the press wave that we saw targeting Ambassador Yovanovitch became public, an embassy contact had reported to us privately that Mr. Lutsenko was sending these messages, and had met with an American journalist to try to get those messages out.
Daniel Goldman: (23:31)
What was the US embassy, in Ukraine’s view, of Prosecutor General Lutsenko?
David Holmes: (23:39)
He was not a good partner. He had failed to deliver on the promised reforms that he had committed to when he took office, and he was using his office to insulate and protect political allies while presumably enriching himself.
Daniel Goldman: (24:00)
Is another way to describe that “corrupt?”
David Holmes: (24:02)
Daniel Goldman: (24:04)
Now, I’m going to take a look at a couple of excerpts from this July 25th call with you, and the first one occurs right after President Zelensky thanked President Trump for the United States’ support in the area of defense. And President Trump immediately then says, “I would like you to do us a favor though, because our country has been through a lot, and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike. I guess you have one of your wealthy people, the server, they say Ukraine has it.”
Daniel Goldman: (24:39)
Now, Dr. Hill, is this a reference to this debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine interference in the 2016 election that you discussed in your opening statement as well as with Chairman Schiff?
Fiona Hill: (24:54)
The reference to Crowdstrike and the server, yes, that’s correct.
Daniel Goldman: (24:57)
And it is your understanding that there is no basis for these allegations, is that correct?
Fiona Hill: (25:04)
Daniel Goldman: (25:06)
Now, isn’t it also true that some of President Trump’s most senior advisors had informed him that this theory of Ukraine interference in the 2016 election was false?
Fiona Hill: (25:18)
Daniel Goldman: (25:20)
So is it your understanding then that President Trump disregarded the advice of his senior officials about this theory, and instead listened to Rudy Giuliani’s views?
Fiona Hill: (25:30)
That appears to be the case, yes.
Daniel Goldman: (25:35)
And I also then want to just show one other exhibit that goes back to what you were testifying earlier, Dr. Hill, about Russia’s interest in promoting this theory. This is an excerpt from a February 2nd, 2017, news conference with President Putin and Prime Minister Orban of Hungary, where Putin says, “Second, as we all know, during the presidential campaign in the United States, the Ukrainian government adopted a unilateral position in favor of one candidate. More than that, certain oligarchs, certainly with the approval of the political leadership, funded this candidate, or female candidate, to be more precise.”
Daniel Goldman: (26:17)
Mr. Holmes, you spent three years as well in the US embassy in Russia. Why would it be to Vladimir Putin’s advantage to promote this theory of Ukraine interference?
David Holmes: (26:27)
First of all, to deflect from the allegations of Russian interference. Second of all, to drive a wedge between the United States and Ukraine, which Russia wants to essentially get back into its sphere of influence. Thirdly, to besmirch Ukraine and its political leadership, to degrade and erode support for Ukraine from other key partners in Europe and elsewhere.
Daniel Goldman: (26:49)
And, Dr. Hill, by promoting this theory of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, was President Trump adopting Vladimir Putin’s view over his own senior advisors and intelligence officials?
Fiona Hill: (27:03)
I think we have to be very careful about the way that we phrase that. This is a view that President Putin and the Russian Security Services and many [inaudible 00:27:13] in Russia have promoted, but I think that this view has also got some traction, perhaps in parallel and separately here in the United States, and those two things have, over time, started to fuse together.
Daniel Goldman: (27:28)
Well, back in May of this year, do you recall that President Trump had a phone conversation in early May with President Putin?
Fiona Hill: (27:38)
Daniel Goldman: (27:39)
And that he also then met in mid May with Prime Minister Orban, who had joined President Putin at this press conference?
Fiona Hill: (27:45)
Daniel Goldman: (27:46)
Now, that happened in between the time when President Zelensky was elected on April 21st and his inauguration on May 20th, is that right?
Fiona Hill: (28:00)
Daniel Goldman: (28:01)
And in fact, isn’t it true that President Trump had asked Vice President Pence to attend the inauguration after his phone call with President Zelensky on April 21st?
Fiona Hill: (28:14)
I’m not sure that I can say that President Trump had asked the Vice President Pence. I was not in any meeting in which that took place. I can say that I, myself, and many others at the NSC and in the State Department were quite keen, very eager to have Vice President Pence go to Ukraine to represent the United States government and the President.
Daniel Goldman: (28:35)
And is that also your recollection, Mr. Holmes, that you wanted Vice President Pence to attend?
David Holmes: (28:39)
Yes, sir, and we understood that that was the plan.
Daniel Goldman: (28:43)
Now, Jennifer Williams from the Office of the Vice President testified here that on May 13th, which is the same day that President Trump met with Prime Minister Orban, that the President called off Vice President Pence’s trip for unknown reasons, but before the inauguration date had been scheduled. And, Dr. Hill, were you aware also that during that period, there was a lot of publicity, and I think, Mr. Holmes, you referenced this in your opening statement as well, about Rudy Giuliani’s interest in these investigations in Ukraine?
Fiona Hill: (29:23)
I was certainly aware, yes.
Daniel Goldman: (29:26)
And around this time, Dr. Hill, you also, I believe, testified that Ambassador Bolton had expressed some views to you about Mr. Giuliani’s interest in Ukraine. Do you recall what you said?
Fiona Hill: (29:46)
That’s correct. Yes.
Daniel Goldman: (29:47)
What he said to you, rather?
Fiona Hill: (29:49)
I do recall, yes. It was part of a conversation about the things that Mr. Giuliani was saying very frequently in public. We saw him often on television making these statements, and I had already brought to Ambassador Bolton’s attention the attacks, the smear campaign against Ambassador Yovanovitch, and expressed great regret about how this was unfolding. And, in fact, the shameful way in which Ambassador Yovanovitch was being smeared and attacked, and I’d asked if there was anything that we could do about it. And Ambassador Bolton had looked pained, basically indicated with body language that there was nothing much that we could do about it, and he then, in the course of that discussion, said that Rudy Giuliani was a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up.
Daniel Goldman: (30:40)
Did you understand what he meant by that?
Fiona Hill: (30:42)
I did, actually.
Daniel Goldman: (30:43)
What did he mean?
Fiona Hill: (30:44)
Well, I think that he meant that obviously what Mr. Giuliani was saying was pretty explosive in any case. He was frequently on television making quite incendiary remarks about everyone involved in this, and that he was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would probably come back to haunt us. And in fact, I think that that’s where we are today.
Daniel Goldman: (31:04)
Now, Mr. Holmes, did the Ukrainians understand that Rudy Giuliani represented the President’s views?
David Holmes: (31:12)
I believe they did. First, he was reaching out to them directly. Ambassador Yovanovitch’s removal, I think, is relevant to this portion of the inquiry because she was removed following this media campaign in which Rudy Giuliani and his associates were very prominent, and criticizing her for not taking seriously some of the theories and issues that later came up. And so when she was removed, commentators in Ukraine believed that Lutsenko, working with Giuliani, had succeeded in getting her removed.
David Holmes: (31:50)
So they were already aware of Mr. Giuliani and his influence, the issues that he was promoting, and, ultimately, that he was able to get an Ambassador removed partly because of that. So he was-
David Holmes: (32:03)
… ambassador removed, partly because of that, so he was someone to contend with. Then in addition, immediately after the inauguration, he began reaching out to this Zelensky administration, key figures in the Zelensky administration, and continue to do that.
Daniel Goldman: (32:16)
Let’s focus on the inauguration for a minute. You had escorted, for lack of a better word, the US delegation around?
David Holmes: (32:25)
I joined them in in some of their meetings, but not for the entire day.
Daniel Goldman: (32:29)
Who was on the official delegation?
David Holmes: (32:32)
Yes, sir. It was five people. It was: The head of the delegation was Secretary Perry, and then it was Ambassador Volker representing the State Department, Ambassador Sondland, our temporary [sharjay 00:32:43], Joseph Pennington and Alex Vindman representing the White House.
Daniel Goldman: (32:48)
Did the delegation have a meeting with President Zelensky that you attended?
David Holmes: (32:51)
Daniel Goldman: (32:53)
You testified previously that Secretary Perry gave a list of some sort to President Zelensky at that meeting. Do you recall that?
David Holmes: (33:03)
Yes. In the meeting with the president, Secretary Perry as the head of the delegation opened the meeting for the American side and had a number of points he made, and during that period he handed over a piece of paper. I did not see what was on the paper, but Secretary Perry described what was on the paper as a list of trusted individuals and recommended that President Zelensky could draw from that list for advice on energy sector reform issues.
Daniel Goldman: (33:33)
Do you know who was on that list?
David Holmes: (33:36)
I didn’t see the list. I don’t know. There are other other people who have been in the mix for awhile on that set of issues, other people Secretary Perry has mentioned as being people to consult on reform.
Daniel Goldman: (33:52)
Are they Americans?
David Holmes: (33:53)
Daniel Goldman: (33:55)
Now, do you also recall that Colonel Vindman spoke to Presidents Zelensky in that meeting?
David Holmes: (34:00)
Daniel Goldman: (34:02)
What did he say to President Zelensky in terms of some of the issues that we’re addressing here in this investigation?
David Holmes: (34:09)
Yes, sir. He was the last to speak. He made a general point about the importance of Ukraine, joint national security, and he said it’s very important that the Zelensky administration stay out of us domestic politics.
Daniel Goldman: (34:24)
Was it your understanding that President Zelensky and the Ukrainians were already starting to feel some pressure to conduct these political investigations?
David Holmes: (34:32)
Daniel Goldman: (34:33)
Those were the ones related to Biden and Burisma and the 2016 election?
David Holmes: (34:38)
Daniel Goldman: (34:39)
Now, Dr. Hill, you also testified that around this same time in May, you learned that President Trump was receiving information from someone else at the National Security Council. Is that right?
Fiona Hill: (34:50)
That’s not quite right. I was told in passing that someone else at the National Security Council, that president may want to speak to them because of some materials related to Ukraine.
Daniel Goldman: (35:06)
Did that person indicate that the president thought that was the director of Ukraine?
Fiona Hill: (35:09)
That was correct. It was a very brief conversation, just to be clear.
Daniel Goldman: (35:12)
Who is the director of Ukraine?
Fiona Hill: (35:13)
The director for Ukraine is Alex Vindman, Colonel Vindman.
Daniel Goldman: (35:20)
Who did this individual in the Executive secretary’s office refer to?
Fiona Hill: (35:25)
The individual just said the name Kash.
Daniel Goldman: (35:31)
Did you know who that was?
Fiona Hill: (35:31)
Initially, when I was thinking about it, I had to search my mind, and the only Kash that I knew at the National security council was Kash Patel.
Daniel Goldman: (35:36)
Kasha Patel did not work on Ukraine matters that you oversaw, is that right?
Fiona Hill: (35:40)
Not that I oversaw. No.
Daniel Goldman: (35:43)
The indication is that Kash Patel had provided some information directly to the president without your knowledge?
Fiona Hill: (35:49)
That seemed to be the indication.
Daniel Goldman: (35:52)
Now, I want to go back to the July 25th call right now where President Trump, in another excerpt, asked President Zelensky about his potential political opponent, Vice President Joe Biden. In this excerpt, the president said “The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that. So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution. So if you can look into it, it sounds horrible to me.”
Daniel Goldman: (36:27)
Now, Dr. Hill, this was, of course, one of the allegations that Rudy Giuliani was pushing, is that right?
Fiona Hill: (36:34)
Daniel Goldman: (36:34)
Now confirmed in this July 25th call that the president was also interested in it?
Fiona Hill: (36:40)
Daniel Goldman: (36:41)
Ambassadors Volker and Sondland have tried to draw a distinction between their understanding of the connection between Burisma and the Bidens. But Dr. Hill, was it apparent to you that when President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, or anyone else was pushing for an investigation into Burisma that the reason why they wanted that investigation related to what President Trump said here, the Bidens.
Fiona Hill: (37:06)
It was very apparent to me that that was what Rudy Giuliani intended. Yes. Intended to confer that Burisma was linked to the Bidens, and he said this publicly, repeatedly.
Daniel Goldman: (37:15)
Mr. Holmes, you also understood that Burisma was code for Bidens?
David Holmes: (37:19)
Daniel Goldman: (37:21)
Do you think that anyone involved in Ukraine matters in the spring and the summer would understand that as well?
David Holmes: (37:25)
Daniel Goldman: (37:30)
Dr. Hill, are you aware of any evidence to support the allegations against Vice President Biden?
Fiona Hill: (37:35)
I am not. No.
Daniel Goldman: (37:38)
In fact, Mr. Holmes, the former Prosecutor General of Ukraine, who Vice President Biden encouraged to fire was actually corrupt, is that right?
David Holmes: (37:54)
Daniel Goldman: (37:55)
And was not pursuing corruption investigations and prosecutions, right?
David Holmes: (38:01)
My understanding is the prosecutor general at the time, Shokin, was not at that time pursuing investigations of Burisma or the Bidens.
Daniel Goldman: (38:11)
In fact, removing that corrupt prosecutor general was part of the United States anti-corruption policy. Isn’t that correct?
David Holmes: (38:20)
That’s correct, and not just us, but all of our allies and other institutions that were involved in Ukraine at the time.
Daniel Goldman: (38:24)
Daniel Goldman: (38:26)
Now, Dr. Hill, you indicated earlier that you had understood that a White House meeting was conditioned on the pursuit by Ukraine of these investigations, and I want to focus on the July 10th meeting in the White House where that came to light. You indicated that, in your testimony, that there was a large meeting that Ambassador Bolton ran where Ambassadors Sondland, Volcker and Secretary Perry also attended. Is that right?
Fiona Hill: (38:54)
That’s correct. Yes.
Daniel Goldman: (38:55)
Why were they included in that meeting with two Ukrainian officials about national security matters?
Fiona Hill: (39:03)
Well, the initial intent had not been to include them. We’d anticipated that the two Ukrainian officials would have a number of meetings, as is usually the procedure, and that there would be meetings at the State Department, potentially also at the Energy Department. Then there was a request to have Ambassadors Sondland and Volker included, coming directly from their offices. As a result of that, clearly given the important role that Secretary Perry was playing in the energy sector reform in Ukraine and the fact that he’d also been in the delegation to the presidential inauguration in Ukraine, we decided that it would be better than to include all three of them.
Daniel Goldman: (39:43)
Now, toward the end of this meeting, the Ukrainians raised their ongoing desire for an Oval Office meeting. Is that right?
Fiona Hill: (39:51)
Daniel Goldman: (39:52)
What happened after they did that?
Fiona Hill: (39:55)
Well, I listen very carefully to Ambassador Sondland’s testimony yesterday, so I want to actually point out something where I think it’s easy to explain why he had a different interpretation of how this came into being.
Fiona Hill: (40:08)
The meeting had initially been scheduled for about 45-minutes to an hour, and it was definitely in the wrap-up phase of the meeting when this occurred. We’d gone through a series of discussions, Alexander Daniluk, who is at this point the designated National Security Advisor of Ukraine, really wanted to get into the weeds of how he might reform a national security council. He talked to me about this prior to the meeting. He was hoping and had had this opportunity with the National Security Advisor of the United States to get his firsthand opinions and thoughts on what might happen.
Fiona Hill: (40:45)
We’d also wanted to go through a discussion about how important it was for Ukraine to get its energy sector reform underway, and clearly Secretary Perry had some talking points to this. This is an issue that Ambassador Bolton was also interested in.
Fiona Hill: (40:58)
And then we knew that the Ukrainians would have on their agenda, inevitably, the question about a meeting. As we get through the main discussion, we are going into that wrap-up phase. The Ukrainians, Mr. Daniluk, starts to ask about a White House meeting and Ambassador Bolton was trying to parry this back. Although he’s the National Security Advisor, he’s not in charge of scheduling the meeting. We have input recommending the meetings, and this goes through a whole process. It’s not Ambassador Bolton’s role to start pulling out the schedule and start saying, ” Right, well, we’re going to look and see if this Tuesday in this month is going to work with this.” He does not as a matter of course like to discuss the details of these meetings, he likes to leave them to the appropriate staff for this. So this was already going to be an uncomfortable issue.
Fiona Hill: (41:45)
As Ambassador Bolton was trying to move that part of the discussion away, I think he was going to try to deflect it onto another wrap-up topic, Ambassador Sondland leaned in basically to say, “Well, we have an agreement that there will be a meeting if specific investigations are put underway.” That’s when I saw Ambassador Bolton stiffen. I was sitting behind him in the chair, and I saw him sit back slightly like this. He’d been more moving forward, like I am, to the table. For me, that was an unmistakable body language, and it caught my attention. Then he looked up to the clock and at his watch, or towards his wrist in any case … Again, I was sitting behind him … and basically said, “Well, it’s been really great to see you. I’m afraid I’ve got another meeting.”
Daniel Goldman: (42:34)
Did Ambassador Sondland say who his agreement on this White House meeting was with?
Fiona Hill: (42:39)
In that particular juncture, I don’t believe so. It was later, which I’m sure you’ll want to talk about, that he did say more specifically.
Daniel Goldman: (42:46)
What did he say later?
Fiona Hill: (42:48)
Later he said that he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney that in return for investigations this meeting would get scheduled.
Daniel Goldman: (42:57)
Was he specific at that point, later about the investigations that he was referring to?
Fiona Hill: (43:03)
He said the investigations in Burisma.
Daniel Goldman: (43:04)
Now, did you have a conversation with Ambassador Bolton after this subsequent meeting with Ambassador Sondland?
Fiona Hill: (43:09)
I had a discussion with Ambassador Bolton both after the meeting in his office, a very brief one, and then one immediately afterwards, the subsequent meeting.
Daniel Goldman: (43:18)
The subsequent meeting, or after both meetings when you spoke to him and relayed to him what Ambassador Sondland said, what did Ambassador Bolton say to you?
Fiona Hill: (43:28)
Well, I just want to highlight first of all that Ambassador Bolton wanted me to hold back in the room immediately after the meeting. Again, I was sitting on the sofa with colleague and everybody else was at the table.
Daniel Goldman: (43:41)
Right. But just in that second meeting, what did he say?
Fiona Hill: (43:41)
Yes, but he was making a very strong point that he wanted to know exactly what was being said. When I came back and relayed to it to him, he had some very specific instruction for me. I’m presuming that that’s the question that you’re asking.
Daniel Goldman: (43:53)
What was that specific instruction?
Fiona Hill: (43:54)
The specific instruction was that I had to go to the lawyers, to John Eisenberg, our senior counsel for the National Security Council, to basically say, “You tell Eisenberg Ambassador Bolton told me that I am not part of this, whatever drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up.”
Daniel Goldman: (44:12)
What did you understand him to mean by the “drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland were cooking up?”
Fiona Hill: (44:17)
I took it to mean investigations for a meeting.
Daniel Goldman: (44:22)
Did you go speak to the lawyers?
Fiona Hill: (44:24)
I certainly did.
Daniel Goldman: (44:27)
You relayed everything that you just told us and more?
Fiona Hill: (44:30)
I relayed it precisely, and then more of the details of how the meeting had unfolded as well, which I gave a full description of this in my October 14 deposition.
Daniel Goldman: (44:40)
Mr. Holmes, you have testified that by late August you had a clear impression that the security assistance hold was somehow connected to the investigations that President Trump wanted. How did you reach that clear conclusion?
David Holmes: (45:00)
We’d been hearing about the investigation since March, months before. President Zelensky had received a letter, a congratulatory letter, from the president saying he’d be pleased to meet him following his inauguration in May. We hadn’t been able to get that meeting, and then the security hold came up with no explanation. I’d be surprised if any of the Ukrainians … you said earlier, we discussed earlier, sophisticated people … when they received no explanation for why that hold was in place, they wouldn’t have drawn that conclusion.
Daniel Goldman: (45:41)
Because the investigations were still being pursued?
David Holmes: (45:44)
Daniel Goldman: (45:44)
And the hold was still remaining without explanation?
David Holmes: (45:47)
Daniel Goldman: (45:48)
This to you was the only logical conclusion that you could reach?
David Holmes: (45:51)
Daniel Goldman: (45:52)
Sort of like two plus two equals four?
David Holmes: (45:55)
Daniel Goldman: (45:56)
Chairman. I yield.
Adam Schiff: (45:58)
That concludes the majority questioning. We are expected to have votes, I think fairly soon. This would be a appropriate time to break and we’ll resume with the minority 45-minutes. If people before they leave could allow the witnesses to leave first, and if committee members could come back promptly after votes.
The rest of the hearing is currently being transcribed, thank you for your patience