The Holmes Prepared Testimony Is a Way Bigger Deal Than Expected

David Holmes, a State Department official, arrives to appear in a closed-door deposition hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on November 15, 2019. - Holmes allegedly overhe... David Holmes, a State Department official, arrives to appear in a closed-door deposition hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on November 15, 2019. - Holmes allegedly overheard President Trump ask about the status of "investigations" soon after his July phone call with the Ukrainian president. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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November 16, 2019 12:55 p.m.
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Yesterday after the Yovanovitch testimony the House Intelligence Committee went into another closed door session to hear from Foreign Service Office David Holmes. This was the surprise witness referred to earlier in the week by Bill Taylor, the one who had allegedly overheard the conversation between President Trump and Gordon Sondland, the day after the July 25th Trump/Zelensky phone call. But Holmes’ opening statement, which got out to the press yesterday evening, turned out to include quite a bit more. It is a very big deal.

Let me hit the key points.

As you’ve probably heard, Trump called asked for an update about whether Zelensky would go ahead with the Biden investigations. Holmes says he clearly heard the President’s voice and Sondland made clear he was talking to the President. Sondland told Holmes the President didn’t “give a shit about Ukraine” and only cared about the “big stuff” like the “‘Biden investigations’ that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.” According to Holmes there were two other US government officials at the cafe table where the discussion was had. So two other witnesses who should be able to confirm all of this.

Also important, according to Holmes, he immediately debriefed the Deputy Chief of Mission and others at the Embassy on the details of the conversations and held meetings about it over the course of the next day. In other words, there appear to be two other witnesses to the call and conversations and numerous witnesses to Holmes’ near-contemporaneous account.

One of the most interesting parts of the prepared statement comes at the end when Holmes explains why he is only coming forward now. According to Holmes, he had reviewed other witnesses testimony and thought his recollections broadly matched Yovanovitch’s and Taylor’s testimony. So his was unneeded. It was only when he heard the “hearsay” arguments, that no one had direct information about Trump’s involvement or words, that he realized his account might be useful. In other words, the GOP’s ‘hearsay’ talking point seems to have backfired rather spectacularly.

One would expect that Republicans would say that these recollections are very convenient, for just that reason. They seem ready-made to rebut the “hearsay” talking point. But again, according to Holmes, there are multiple witnesses, both to the conversation itself and his near contemporaneous accounts of it. If that’s true, the accuracy of his account should be locked down pretty securely.

Holmes says he didn’t take notes of the conversation with Sondland because it was a lunch out with colleagues, not an official meeting. But the other key detail in Holmes’ testimony is that he was the note taker for numerous meetings over the course of the period being investigated. This comes through in an abundance of telling detail which presumably comes from those notes.

Many of the new details match what was already known. The prosecutor Lutsenko was angry with Yovanovitch because she was pushing him to make good on anti-corruption reforms, a key part of at least official US government policy. But the particular accusations have more detail – including the claim that she was working for the Democratic party, that she ordered an investigation of the former head of the Ukraine tax service “solely because the former head was the main Ukrainian contact of the [US] Republican party and of President Trump personally.” Finally he allegedly told people Yovanovitch would face “serious problems” once she returned to the US.

I had not heard of this tax chief person before. So I don’t know who that is, whether that person is actually close to the President or not. It’s hard to know quite what to make of this flurry of accusations. What seems clear is that Lutsenko was hurling all manner of attacks at Yovanovitch designed to appeal to Trump’s sensibilities.

Holmes also claims that Sondland made clear he was in regular contact with Trump and Mulvaney and was the “conduit” between the so-called ‘three amigos’ (Sondland, Volker and Secretary Rick Perry) and Trump and Mulvaney.

There are other odd moments of color. On April 25th a man named Ivan Bakanov (Zelensky’s childhood friend and campaign chair and now head of state security services) contacts Holmes and says he’s been contacted by “someone named Giuliani who said he was an advisor to the Vice President.”

Clearly something has been lost in translation here, either literally or figuratively. But it gives a sense of the ramshackle nature of the “irregular channel” and Giuliani’s MO.

There are also hints of Rick Perry’s exposure. Note here Perry’s sharing with Zelensky a list of “people he trusts” who Zelensky could seek advice on energy sector reform, a list he kept secret from Embassy personnel.

One more note of color. This broadly aligns with Taylor’s testimony. But there’s more detail. Note the staffer from the US Embassy to the EU making contact as well as Yermak’s resigned response to the necessity of Zelensky announcing a Biden investigation on CNN.

We don’t know yet what came out in the closed door deposition after Holmes read out his prepared remarks. But as I said, he had quite a lot more to say than simply confirming that one quite critical phone call.

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