Impeachment inquiry hearing with former US Ambassador to Ukraine
A US diplomat told lawmakers behind closed doors that he did overhear the July 26 phone conversation between President Trump and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and that on the call Trump asked Sondland if Ukraine was going to do the investigation, according to two sources familiar with the testimony.
Sondland replied that they were going to do it, the sources said.
David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the US Embassy in Ukraine, was able to hear the call because Sondland held the phone away from his ear due to how loud Trump was talking, the sources said.
Holmes also confirmed there were others at the table at the restaurant where he heard the call, according to the sources.
Asked about Holmes' testimony, Rep. Gerry Connolly told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he was going to be "careful about what I just heard in closed session, but... I would say that the adverb used 'allegedly' is not accurate. It is not alleged. It happened. And it is a matter public record that Mr. Holmes heard this conversation and recognized the President's voice loud and clear."
Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, told reporters at least two more witnesses overheard a conversation between President Trump and US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
Lieu said the two witnesses are in addition to David Holmes, an aide to diplomat Bill Taylor who is testifying behind closed doors this evening about the conversation.
The conversation between Trump and Sondland took place the day after Trump spoke with the Ukrainian president by phone in July, Taylor testified.
Taylor did not name Holmes, but sources tell CNN that he is the member of the embassy staff Taylor was referencing.
In today's episode of "The Daily DC: Impeachment Watch" podcast, CNN National Security Analyst Sam Vinograd looks at:
- Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s “frightening warning to the American people”
- The “chilling effect” on America’s foreign service professionals
- The role Rudy Giuliani’s associates had in pushing out the former ambassador
- Whether Russia benefits from President Trump’s Ukraine dealings
Vinograd is joined today by CNN senior reporter Vicky Ward and CNN's global affairs analyst Max Boot.
Former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch's testimony today marked the second day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump
Let us catch you up on the biggest takeaways:
- Ambassador said she felt threatened: Yovanovitch, who was fired by Trump, testified publicly in front of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill. During the hearing, Yovanovitch said she felt threatened by the President, who said on a July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president that she was "bad news" and was going to have a "tough time." She told lawmakers that she was "shocked and devastated" by the call.
- Trump tweets attack at Yovanovitch during testimony: In a stunning occurrence, the President — who had earlier claimed he wasn't going to watch the hearings — sent a tweet attacking Yovanovitch while she was testifying. Asked later if that constituted witness intimidation, Trump said he had a "right to speak."
- House Democrats hint at possible witness intimidation by Trump: Democrats responded to Trump's real-time attack of a witness during their testimony by suggesting that it could result in an article of impeachment, accusing the President of witness intimidation. Some of the Republican side criticized this move by Trump as well. GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik, a member of House intel committee, said she "disagreed with the tone of the tweet." A Trump campaign source called it "idiotic."
- Republicans questioned why Yovanovitch was testifying at all: "This seems more appropriate for the subcommittee on human resources at the Foreign Affairs Committee," said California Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. Republicans also continued to paint the impeachment process as unfair to them and the President.
Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee said "it's possible" that the House will include witness intimidation in the articles of impeachment.
Earlier today, while ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, President Trump tweeted attacks against her. Committee Chairman Adam Schiff suggested it was witness intimidation, and when he asked Yovanovitch about the tweets, she said they were "very intimidating."
"The President is clearly engaged in a number of activities to try to obstruct this investigation, including now potentially intimidating a witness," Kildee said
"So I think he ought to think carefully about how he behaves. Of course it's almost a joke to say that anymore. But no — in no real world, except the world that Donald Trump has created and that the Republicans seem to be endorsing, in no real world is any of this OK. It's not OK to ask a foreign government to investigate your opponent. It's not OK to intimidate witnesses even while they're sitting in the witness chair. It's not OK to try to out a whistleblower because you don't like the underlying information that he has revealed. This is, this is painful. And it's sad."
Before heading into diplomat David Holmes' closed-door deposition, Rep. Mark Meadows said he wants specifics about a call Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in the country, mentioned during his testimony.
According to Taylor's testimony, Holmes overheard President Trump ask the US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about the status of "investigations" during a cellphone conversation in a Kiev restaurant. Taylor did not name Holmes, but sources tell CNN that he is the member of the embassy staff Taylor was referencing.
Meadows said he specifically wants to learn more about how much others were actually able to hear on call.
Meadows said he wasn’t opposed to Holmes testifying publicly but didn’t know what the deposition would entail.
He also defended Trump on his call to Sondland.
GOP lawmakers dodged the question when asked whether it was OK for Rudy Giuliani to mount a smear campaign against former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Rep. Jim Jordan, who has been an active participant in the impeachment hearings, went silent at one point when asked.
Some context: Yovanovitch, who was unexpectedly removed from her position as ambassador to Ukraine by President Trump, testified that she was accused, without evidence, by Rudy Giuliani and others of trying to undermine the President and blocking efforts to investigate Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden.
During the hearing today, ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and at least one congressman referred to the death of a prominent anti-corruption Kateryna Handziuk, who died in 2018 following an acid attack.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York, asked Yovanovitch, "Why would somebody attack her with acid? There are easier ways to kill people. Why did they do it with acid?"
"I think they wanted her out of the way, but I think the message was this could happen to you, too, if you continue her work."
"That's what happens when you go up against corrupt people in Ukraine?" Maloney asked.
"It is something that can happen," Yovanovitch said.
What we know about Handziuk's death: According to the prosecutors in the case, in late July 2018, the perpetrator poured over a liter of sulfuric acid on Handziuk next to her house. She suffered severe chemical burns to 30% of her body and had to undergo over ten surgeries. Initially, a criminal case was launched under “hooliganism” offense but reclassified as “assault with the intent of intimidation” due to public pressure, Ukrainian news agencies reported at the time.
A few weeks prior to her death, Handziuk recorded an anti-corruption message from hospital bed saying “I know I look bad now… but I’m sure that I look much better than fairness and justice in Ukraine."
Earlier this year, then-prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko said in a televised statement that the main suspect who ordered the acid attack is a local political in a Ukrainian town of Kherson Vladislav Manger. The possible motive was a TV story accusing him of large scale corruption and other investigations into corruption in Kherson that Handziuk worked on along with others.
Manger was arrested but eventually was released on bail. He denies any involvement but is still a suspect in the case. In June 2019, a court in Dnepropetrovsk convicted five men who participated in obtaining acid and carrying out the attack.
Why they talked about this today: On April 25, 2019 — when Yovanovitch got the call telling her to leave Kiev — Yovanovitch was awarding her the "Woman of Courage” award postmortem. Handziuk’s father received it on her behalf.
Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley defended President Trump's release of rough transcripts of his calls with the Ukrainian president, saying he did it "so that every American can see he did nothing wrong."
Here's what Gidley said:
“The President continues to push for transparency in light of these baseless accusations and has taken the unprecedented steps to release the transcripts of both phone calls with President [Volodymyr] Zelensky so that every American can see he did nothing wrong. It is standard operating procedure for the National Security Council to provide readouts of the President’s phone calls with foreign leaders. This one was prepared by the [National Security Council’s] Ukraine expert.”