[Catch up on key moments from Fiona Hill’s and David Holmes’s testimony on Thursday.]
Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee took turns on Thursday questioning David Holmes, a career diplomat who said he was told President Trump cared more about investigating his political rivals than about the welfare of Ukraine.
As a political counselor to the United States Embassy in Ukraine’s capital, Mr. Holmes was privy to high-level conversations between top American and Ukrainian officials, and was often expected to take detailed notes of their conversations.
One of these conversations in particular — a cellphone call between Mr. Trump and Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union — has been a focal point of the House impeachment hearings.
During the call, Mr. Sondland assured Mr. Trump that Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, would be willing to go along with his demand to investigate the business dealings of Hunter Biden, the younger son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., according to Mr. Holmes.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Mr. Holmes said last Friday in closed-door testimony to House impeachment investigators. “There’s just so much about the call that was so remarkable that I remember it vividly,” he said.
Mr. Holmes’s account shed new light on how Trump administration officials leveraged political power, including a White House meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance, to bend Ukrainian officials to Mr. Trump’s will.
“I think the Ukrainians gradually came to understand that they were being asked to do something in exchange for the meeting and the security assistance hold being lifted,” Mr. Holmes testified.
Mr. Holmes, who holds degrees from Pomona College in California, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and Princeton University, joined the State Department under President George W. Bush. Since then, he has been stationed in Russia, Afghanistan, India, Colombia and Kosovo. He also served on the National Security Council in Washington.
Throughout his service, Mr. Holmes developed a reputation for outspokenness. In 2014, after stints in Kabul and Delhi, Mr. Holmes received an award for “constructive dissent” for raising concerns about President Barack Obama’s policies toward South Asia.
He arrived in Kyiv in August 2017 and worked closely with Marie L. Yovanovitch, who has since been ousted as ambassador to Ukraine. As her chief political adviser, he said he developed a “respect for her dedication, determination and professionalism.”
But in March 2019, Mr. Holmes noted a major shift. Instead of a diplomatic policy focused on supporting Ukrainian democratic reform and resistance to Russian aggression, he said in written testimony presented on Friday, it became “overshadowed by a political agenda being promoted by Rudy Giuliani and a cadre of officials operating with a direct channel to the White House.”
The cellphone call at the center of the impeachment inquiry took place on July 26, when Mr. Holmes was having lunch at a restaurant in Kyiv with Mr. Sondland and two other American officials. His account is seen by Democrats as bolstering their claims of a quid pro quo between Ukraine’s willingness to investigate the Bidens and military aid and support from the United States.
Mr. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and political megadonor appointed by Mr. Trump, called Mr. Trump on his cellphone to tell him that Mr. Zelensky “loves your ass,” and will do “anything you ask him to.”
Mr. Trump was speaking so loudly that Mr. Sondland held the phone away from his ear, Mr. Holmes testified on Friday.
Mr. Trump then asked, “So, he’s going to do the investigation?”
Mr. Sondland replied, “He’s going to do it.”
At the same lunch, Mr. Sondland acknowledged that Mr. Trump cared only about “big stuff,” like the “Biden investigation” that his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was pushing for because it affected him personally, Mr. Holmes testified on Friday.