Two key impeachment witnesses testify
Fiona Hill, the White House's former top Russia expert, will give a warning about Russia and its continued efforts to interfere in the US elections, according to her prepared remarks.
"Right now, Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election," she testified.
"We are running out of time to stop them," Hill said.
She will urge lawmakers to "not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests" during the course of their impeachment inquiry.
"I respect the work that this Congress does in carrying out its constitutional responsibilities, including in this inquiry, and I am here to help you to the best of my ability," she testified. "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 is 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."
Former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill will tell the House Intelligence Committee that the idea that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 US presidential election is a "fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services."
Here's what she will say, according to a copy of her prepared remarks:
"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," she will say.
Hill will continue:
"This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."
US diplomat David Holmes said that after he read claims that the impeachment inquiry lacked fist-hand knowledge, he realized he "had first-hand knowledge regarding certain events on July 26."
Remember: A lack of first-hand information has been a key talking point for President Trump and other Republicans. But various witnesses who have testified in the impeachment inquiry have had firsthand knowledge of various components of the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine.
"I also read reports noting the lack of 'first-hand' evidence in the investigation and suggesting that the only evidence being elicited at the hearings was 'hearsay,'" Holmes testified.
"I came to realize 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 our diplomatic power to induce the new Ukrainian President to announce the opening of a criminal investigation against President Trump’s political opponent."
State Department aide David Holmes described his shock to learn that there was a "demand" for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into his political rival during a televised interview.
Holmes said the top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, had been notified of the issue. He said Taylor told him, "Now they’re insisting Zelenskyy commit to the investigation in an interview with CNN."
The "they," he said, are Ambassador Gordon Sondland; Kurt Volker, the onetime US special envoy to Ukraine; and Rick Perry, the Energy secretary.
"I was shocked the requirement was so specific and concrete," he said.
Holmes continued: "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."
David Holmes was kept out of a meeting between Sondland and Zelensky aide, even though Holmes was supposed to take notes during the meeting. The meeting took place with no note-taker.
That meeting, which happened in Kiev with Zelensky aide Andrey Yermak, occurred one day after Trump’s phone call with Zelensky.
Here's how Holmes described it:
“As I was leaving the meeting with President Zelenskyy, I was told to join the meeting with Ambassador Sondland and Mr. Yermak as note-taker. I had not expected to join that meeting and 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 in to the meeting. I explained to Mr. Yermak’s assistant that I was supposed to join the meeting as the Embassy’s representative and strongly urged 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.”
It's difficult to know exactly what happened at the meeting because there were no notes and no independent witnesses. Sondland said in his testimony yesterday, about the meeting: “While I do not recall the specifics of our conversation, I believe the issue of investigations was probably a part of the agenda.”
The saga is reminiscent of Trump’s controversial meeting with Putin at the G20 in 2017. He spoke for nearly an hour without a US interpreter or note-taker. There were also reports that official notes of Trump-Putin meetings have been confiscated from US interpreters and notetakers.
Watch Holmes explain:
David Holmes — the diplomat who overheard US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland's conversation with President Trump — described the July lunch where the call took place.
Holmes said he, Sondland and two other staffers went to a restaurant in Kiev, and sat on the outdoor terrance.
"I sat directly across from Ambassador Sondland and the two staffers sat off to our sides," he said, adding that at first, the lunch was mostly 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," Holmes said.
Eventually, Sondland "said he was going to call President Trump to give an update." He said that on the phone, Sondland introduced himself several times, and it seems like he was going through several layers to be connected to President Trump.
"I then noticed Ambassador Sondland's demeanor change and I understood that he had been connected to President Trump," he said.
While Ambassador Sondland's phone was not on speaker phone, I could hear the President's voice through the ear piece of the phone. 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," he added.
Sondland eventually told Trump that Ukraine's leader "quote, 'loves your ass,'" he testified.
"I then heard the President Trump ask, 'So he's going to do the investigation?' Ambassador Sondland replied that he's going to do it, adding President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to do."
David Holmes testified today that he overheard Ambassador Gordon Sondland and President Trump discuss American rapper A$AP Rocky on the infamous July 26 phone call.
The rapper was convicted of assault in Sweden in August after spending weeks in jail.
Holmes testified that, "Ambassador Sondland told the President that the rapper was 'kind of f----d there,' and 'should have pled guilty.' He recommended that the President 'wait until after the sentencing or it will make it worse,' adding that the President should 'let him get sentenced, play the racism card, give him a ticker-tape when he comes home.'”
Holmes also said that he heard Sondland tell the President that Sweden “'should have released him on your word," but that "you can tell the Kardashians you tried."
Holmes testified that he could only hear Ambassador Sondland’s side during that part of the conversation.
Watch the moment:
President Trump is watching this morning’s hearing in between calls and meetings, as he has all week, a White House official told CNN.
It is notable today as Fiona Hill appears ready to take aim at Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy theory.
Comedian Jay Leno attended a dinner held in honor of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on June 4, David Holmes told lawmakers today.
He said Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union, hosted the dinner, which was also attended by President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and senior adviser to the secretary of state Ulrich Brechbuhl.
Holmes explained a possible reason for the dinner.
"When President Zelenskyy’s team did not receive a confirmed date for a White House visit, they made alternative plans for President Zelenskyy’s first overseas trip to be to Brussels instead, in part to attend an American Independence Day event that Ambassador Sondland hosted on June 4," he said.