Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Day 5 Of Impeachment Hearings; Testimony Today From Hill And Holmes. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired November 21, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOLMES: To that end, Ambassador Taylor told me that Ambassador Bolton recommended that he and 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 -- on Ambassador Taylor's behalf on August 29th, which further attempted to explain the importance of Ukraine and the security assistance to U.S. national security.
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 the Ukrainians, who had 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.
Senator Johnson further explained that he had been, quote, "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, quote, "Now they're insisting Zelensky commit to the investigation in an interview with CNN," which I took to refer to these "three amigos."
I was shocked the requirement was so specific and concrete. 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. 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.
First, the S (ph) 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, quote, "Sondland and Zelensky interview" -- "Sondland said the Zelensky interview is supposed to be today or Monday, and they plan to announce that a certain investigation that was on hold will progress."
Sondland's aide did not know if this was decided or if Sondland was advocating for it. Apparently, he's been discussing this with Yermak.
Finally, also on September 13th, Ambassador Taylor and I ran into Mr. Yermak on a way out of a meeting with President Zelensky in his private office. Ambassador Taylor again stressed the importance of staying out of U.S. 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. 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 U.N. General Assembly. The transcript of the July 25th call was released the same day. As of today, I still -- I have still not seen a readout of the September 25th meeting.
As the impeachment inquiry has progressed, I have 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. And I believe that the relevant facts were, therefore, being laid out for the American people. However, in the last couple weeks, I read press reports expressing for the first time that certain senior officials may have been acting without the president's knowledge or freelancing in their dealings with Ukraine.
At the same time, I also read reports noting the lack of firsthand evidence in the investigation and suggesting that the only evidence being elicited at the hearings was hearsay. I came to realize that I had firsthand knowledge regarding certain events on July 26th 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.
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 protests 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 Russia's occupation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and invasion of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, and an ensuing war that, to date, has cost almost 14,000 lives. 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 percent of their parliament, and endorsing a platform consistent with our democratic values, our reform priorities, and our strategic interests. 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. Ukrainians want 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 -- 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 Russia-led forces in Eastern Ukraine, despite a declared ceasefire. I learned overnight that seven more were injured yesterday.
As Vice President Pence said after his meeting with President Zelensky in Warsaw, "The U.S.-Ukraine relationship has never been stronger." Ukrainians and their new government earnestly want to believe that.
Ukrainians cherish their bipartisan American support and sustain their Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and they recoil at the thought of playing in U.S. domestic politics or elections. 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 an 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 Ukrainian partners. Ukrainians and freedom-loving people everywhere are watching the example we set here of democracy and the rule of law.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Mr. Holmes.
HILL: (OFF-MIKE) Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Do I need to adjust the microphone?
SCHIFF: Is the microphone on?
HILL: I believe it is now. Is that -- is that right?
SCHIFF: Yes, perfect.
HILL: 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 and I am 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. 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 non-partisan foreign policy expert, who has served under three Republican and Democratic presidents. I have no interest in advancing the outcome of your inquiry in 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. And I'm happy to expand upon my October 14th deposition testimony in response to your questions today.
But before I do so, I'd like to communicate two things.
First I'd like to share a little a 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.
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 coalminers whose family has (ph) 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 1960s, my father wanted to immigrate to the United States to work in the coal mines in West Virginia, or in Pennsylvania. But his mother, my grandmother, had been crippled from hard labor. And my father couldn't leave, so he stayed in northern England until he died in 2012. My mother still lives in my hometown today.
While his dream of immigrating 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. And I just learned that I went to the same university as my colleague here, Mr. Holmes, in St. Andrews in Scotland. I just thought I would add that.
And 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, or INF treaty. And when President Ronald Reagan met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow.
This was a turning point for me. An American professor who I met there told me about graduate student scholarships to the United States, and 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 set me back in America.
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, in my most recent capacity under President Trump, as well as in my former position under -- as under my former position of national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In that role I was the intelligence community's senior expert on Russia and the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. 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 U.S. 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 adviser.
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. 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 is being 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.
The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today.
Our nation is being torn apart; truth is questioned; our highly professional expert career Foreign Service is being undermined. U.S. support for Ukraine, which continues to face armed aggression, is being politicized.
The Russian government's goal is to weaken our country, to diminish America's global role and to neutralize a perceived U.S. threat to Russian interests. President Putin and the Russian security services aim to counter U.S. foreign objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political and economic dominance.
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 counter 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 are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically derivative falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.
As Republicans and Democrats have agreed for decades, Ukraine is a valued partner of the United States, and it plays an important role in our national security.
And 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 U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked us in 2016.
These fictions are harmful, even if they're deployed for purely domestic political purposes. 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 Americans people in our democracy.
I respect the work that this Congress does in carrying out its constitutional responsibilities, including this inquiry. And 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.
I'm ready to answer your questions. Thank you.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Dr. Hill.
We'll now proceeded to the first round of questions. As detailed in the memo provided to 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'll proceed under the five-minute rule and every member will have a chance to ask questions.
I now recognize myself for majority counsel for the first round of questions.
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 Dr. -- 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.
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 been effort to take a tweet here and op-ed there and a newspaper story here and somehow equate 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.
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 -- 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?
HILL: The Russians' interests, frankly, is to delegitimize our entire presidency.
So one 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 the hands on one side of the scale, under a cloud. So if a 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. They seed disinformation. They seed doubt. They have everybody questioning the legitimacy of a presidential candidate, be it President Trump or potentially a President Clinton. But they would pit one side of our electorate against the other. They would pit one party against the other.
That's why I wanted to make such a strong point at the very beginning, because there were certainly individuals in many other countries who had harsh words for both of the candidates, who had harsh words for many other candidates during the primaries. You had a lot of people who were running for president on the Republican side. There were many people who were trying themselves to game the outcome. As you know in the United Kingdom, the bookies take bets. You can go to Ladbrokes or William Hill and lay a bet on who you think is going to be the candidate.
So the Russian government were trying to lay their own bets. But what they wanted to do is get a spread. They wanted to make sure that whoever they had bet on, whoever they 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.
SCHIFF: 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 intervene 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?
HILL: 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 and the Russian secret service's attack on a former spy, Mr. Skripal, (inaudible) in England, where you may recall that the Russians actually accuse the British government of perpetrating this themselves.
So this falls into a long pattern of deflection, of the Russian government trying to pin the blame on someone else.
And as my colleague Mr. Holmes here has lain out, the Russians have a particular vested interest in putting Ukraine and Ukrainians and Ukrainian leaders in a very bad light.
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, (inaudible) response 2015 and all of the different acts of aggression that Russia has engaged in since: starting a war in the Donbas, shooting down, Russian operatives, a plane, MH17, over Donbas at a later period.
There is a great deal of hostility and malign intent towards Ukraine, and it suits the Russian government is very much if we are also looking at Ukraine as somehow a perpetrator of malign acts against us.
SCHIFF: 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, 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."
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 -- what does that do to our anti-corruption efforts when the Ukrainians perceive that we're engaging in corruption ourselves?
HOLMES: Yes, sir.
So our long-standing policy is to encourage them to establish and build rule-of-law institutions that are capable and that are independent and that can actually pursue credible allegations. That's our policy; we 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, just not part of what we've done. It's hard to explain why we would do that.
SCHIFF: But it harkens back to the conversation Ambassador Volker testified about, when he urged Ukraine not to initiate or prosecute Poroshenko. And the reply from Mr. Yermak 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?
HOLMES: Yes, sir.
SCHIFF: 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. Yermak 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?
HOLMES: Yes, sir.
And although the hold on the security systems may have been lifted, there are 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, Ukrainians understood that that's something the president wanted and they still wanted important things from the president.
So I think that continues to this day. I think they're being very careful. They still need us now going forward.
HOLMES: 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 -- he needs President Putin to understand that America supports Zelensky at the highest levels.
So this is -- this is -- this doesn't end with a lifting of the security assistance hold. Ukraine still needs us, and as I said, still fighting this war this very day.
SCHIFF: Well, and I would underscore again, as my colleague did so eloquently, they got caught. That's the reason the aid was finally lifted.
GOLDMAN: 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 or Burisma 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?
HILL: That's correct, sir. Yes.
GOLDMAN: Who did he tell you had put him in charge of Ukraine policy?
HILL: He told me it was the president.
GOLDMAN: Mr. Holmes, did you also understand that Ambassador Sondland had been given some authority over Ukraine policy from the president?
HOLMES: We understood that -- that he had been told to work with Mr. Giuliani.
GOLDMAN: And did he hold himself out as having direct contact and knowledge of the president's priorities and interests?
HOLMES: Yes, sir.
GOLDMAN: 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 Ambassador Sondland, Volker, and Taylor to a meeting with President Zelensky. Is that right?
HOLMES: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: And you took notes at that meeting?
HOLMES: Yes, sir.
[10:30:00] GOLDMAN: And you reviewed those notes before you came here to testify today?
GOLDMAN: And they were helpful to refresh your recollection as to what happened, is that right?
HOLMES: They were, yes.
GOLDMAN: 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?
HOLMES: 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.
GOLDMAN: And after you read the call, what did you determine to be the sensitive issues that President Zelensky referenced?
HOLMES: The Burisma/Biden investigation.
GOLDMAN: After this meeting with President Zelensky, you testified that Ambassador Sondland had a one-on-one meeting with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Zelensky, and that you were prohibited from going into that meeting to take notes. Is that right?
GOLDMAN: And yesterday, Ambassador Sondland testified that he probably discussed the investigations with Mr. Yermak. Did Ambassador Sondland tell you, at all, what they discussed?
HOLMES: He did not.
GOLDMAN: Now, after this meeting with Mr. Yermak, you went to lunch. And can you just describe where you were sitting at the restaurant?
HOLMES: Yes, sir. The restaurant has glass doors that open onto a terrace and we were at the first tables on the terrace, so immediately outside of the -- 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. There was sort of a table runner down the middle.
I was directly across from Ambassador Sondland, we were close enough that we could share an appetizer between us, and then the two staffers were off to our right at this next table.
GOLDMAN: 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?
HOLMES: Yes, sir.
GOLDMAN: In the middle of a restaurant in Kyiv?
GOLDMAN: 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 speakerphone?
HOLMES: It was -- several things, he (ph) 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.
He -- 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 of 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.
GOLDMAN: And so, you were able to hear some of what President Trump said to President Zelensky, is that right?
HOLMES: The first portion of the conversation, yes.
GOLDMAN: And what did you hear President Trump say to -- I'm sorry, not President Zelensky, to Ambassador Sondland?
HOLMES: What'd I hear the...
GOLDMAN: The president say to Ambassador Sondland.
HOLMES: Yes, he clarified whether he was in Ukraine or not.
He said, yes, I'm here in Ukraine. And then, Ambassador Sondland said, he loves your ass, he'll do anything you want.
He said, is he -- is he going to do the investigation?
GOLDMAN: So you heard President Trump ask Ambassador Sondland, is he going to do the investigation?
HOLMES: Yes, sir.
GOLDMAN: What was Ambassador Sondland's response?
HOLMES: He said, oh, yes, he's going to do it. He'll do anything you ask.
GOLDMAN: And was that the end of the Ukraine portion of the conversation?
GOLDMAN: 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 -- is that right?
GOLDMAN: What did Ambassador Sondland say to you?
HOLMES: He said he doesn't really care about Ukraine.
GOLDMAN: Did he use slightly more colorful language than that?
HOLMES: He did.
GOLDMAN: What did he say that he does care about?
HOLMES: He said he cares about big stuff.
GOLDMAN: Did he explain what he meant by big stuff?
HOLMES: Well, I -- I asked him, well, 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's pushing.
GOLDMAN: Now, were you familiar with the Biden investigation that he referenced at that point?
HOLMES: Yes, sir.
[10:35:00] GOLDMAN: And, how do you have such a specific and clear recollection of this conversation with the president and your conversation with Ambassador Sondland?
HOLMES: Yes. So this was a very distinctive experience in my -- 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. He has a (ph) 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 -- and even months, a topic that had led to the -- 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'd been -- been hearing about.
GOLDMAN: So just to summarize, during this -- the phone call that you overheard Ambassador Sondland have with President Trump, you heard President Trump, himself, ask -- the only question that 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 (sic) wants. Is that an accurate recitation of what happened?
HOLMES: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: 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?
GOLDMAN: Now, a day before your lunch with Ambassador Sondland, President Trump did speak with President Zelensky as you -- as you referred. And certainly, the president made it clear to President Zelensky that he cared about the Biden investigation. Now neither of you did listen to this call but, as you testified, you both read it, subsequent to its publication.
Dr. Hill, you, during your time -- two and half years in the White House, listened to a number of presidential phone calls. Is that right?
HILL: That's right.
GOLDMAN: Can you estimate approximately how many? HILL: I can't, actually. I mean, sometimes there would be multiple calls during a week. I was there for more than two years, so it's a fair number.
GOLDMAN: Had you ever heard a call like this one that you read?
HILL: I don't want to comment on this call because this is, in my view, executive privilege.
HILL: In terms of the testimony -- yes, sir, just (ph)...
(UNKNOWN): ... Yes, I -- I -- 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.
GOLDMAN: Understood. I'm -- 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 those -- these lines.
HILL: Well, again, I'd like to just focus in this testimony on this particular call. And I will just say that I've found this particular call's subject matter and the way it was conducted surprising.
GOLDMAN: You said in your deposition testimony that you were very shocked and very saddened to read it.
HILL: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: Why was that?
HILL: Because of the nature of the discussion, the juxtaposition of the issues in which they were raised. And also, the -- given the fact that I, myself, had actually opposed -- along with Ambassador Bolton -- for some period, having a call unless it was very well prepared and that we were confident that 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.
GOLDMAN: 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?
HILL: I don't think it was specifically about that call, but I recall the testimony that -- 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.
GOLDMAN: Mr. Holmes you indicate in your opening statement that the chief of staff to President Zelensky had indicated to you that in their -- in this phone 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 -- who and what that was referring to?
HOLMES: Yes, sir. In that brief meeting with the chief of staff, it was very confusing to me why in the -- only the few minutes we had, why that would've been the issue he raised.
So it wasn't until I read the -- 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, sort of, underlings who had been, you know, collaborating with him on some of the corruption we saw there.
GOLDMAN: And I believe you also said that President (sic) Lutsenko was the source of some of Mr. Giuliani's public views and allegations, is that right?
HOLMES: Yes, sir. So about two weeks before the press, kind of, wave that we saw targeting Ambassador Yovanovitch became public, an embassy contact had reported to us privately that Mr. Lutsenko was -- was sending these messages and had met with an American journalist to try to get those messages out.
GOLDMAN: What was the U.S. embassy and Ukraine's view of Prosecutor General Lutsenko?
HOLMES: 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.
GOLDMAN: Is another way to describe that corrupt?
GOLDMAN: Now, I want 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 your wealthy people. The server, they say Ukraine has it."
Now, Dr. Hill, is this a reference to this debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine interference in the 2016 election that you discussed at the -- in your opening statement, as well as with Chairman Schiff?
HILL: The reference to CrowdStrike and the server, yes, that's correct.
GOLDMAN: And it is your understanding that there is no basis for these allegations, is that correct?
HILL: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: Now, isn't 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?
HILL: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: 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?
HILL: That appears to be the case, yes.
GOLDMAN: And I also then want to just show one other exhibit that goes back to what you we're testifying earlier, Dr. Hill, about Russia's interest in promoting this theory.
This is an excerpt from a February 2nd, 2017 news conference between -- with President Putin and Prime Minister Orban on 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."
Mr. Holmes, you spent three years, as well, in the U.S. embassy in Russia. Why would it be to Vladimir Putin's advantage to promote this theory of Ukraine interference?
HOLMES: 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.
GOLDMAN: 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?
HILL: 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 actors 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.
GOLDMAN: Well, back in May of this year, do you recall that President Trump had a phone conversation in early May with President Putin?
HILL: I do.
GOLDMAN: And that he also then met in mid-May with Prime Minister Orban, who had joined President Putin at this press conference?
HILL: That is correct.
GOLDMAN: Now that happened in between the time when President Zelensky was elected on April 21st and his inauguration on May 20th, is that right?
GOLDMAN: And in fact President -- isn't it true that President Trump has asked Vice President Pence to attend the inauguration after his phone call with President Zelensky on April 21st?
HILL: 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 of 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.
GOLDMAN: And is that also your recollection, Mr. Holmes, that you wanted Vice President Pence to attend?
HOLMES: I -- yes sir, and we (ph) understood that -- that that was the plan.
GOLDMAN: 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 trips -- Vice President Pence's trip for unknown reasons but before the inauguration date had been scheduled.
And Dr. Hill, were you aware also that -- that during that period, there was a -- 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?
HILL: I was certainly aware, yes.
GOLDMAN: And the -- 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?
HILL: (inaudible) Yes...
GOLDMAN: What he said to you, rather? HILL: I do -- I do recall, yes. It was part of a conversation about the things that Mr. Giuliani was saying very frequently in public and we saw them often -- or, saw him often on television making these statements. And I had also already (ph) 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 -- 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 and 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.
GOLDMAN: Did you understand what he meant by that?
HILL: I did, actually.
GOLDMAN: What did he mean?
HILL: Well, I think he -- he meant that obviously what Mr. Giuliani was saying was pretty explosive in any case, and he was frequently on the television making quite incendiary remarks about everyone involved in this, and that he was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would, you know, probably come back to haunt us. And in fact I think that that's where we are today.
GOLDMAN: Mr. Holmes, did the Ukrainians understand that Rudy Giuliani represented the president's views?
HOLMES: I -- I believe they did. First, as he was reaching out to them directly, he also -- Ambassador Yovanovitch's removal I think is relevant to this -- this course (ph) of 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 -- that later came up. And so when she was removed, I -- you know, commentators in Ukraine believed that Lutsenko, working with Giuliani, had succeeded in getting her removed.
So they were already aware of Mr. Giuliani and his influence, of the issues that he was promoting, and the -- and -- and ultimately that he was able to get an ambassador removed, partly because of that.
So he was someone to contend with. And then in addition, immediately after the inauguration, he began reaching out to the Zelensky administration, key figures in the Zelensky administration, and continued to do that.
GOLDMAN: Let's focus on the inauguration for a minute. You would -- you escorted, for lack of a better word, the U.S. delegation around?
HOLMES: So I joined them in -- in -- in some of their meetings, but not for the entire day.
GOLDMAN: And who was the official -- who was on the official delegation?
HOLMES: Yes sir, it was five people, so as the (ph) head of delegation was Secretary Perry, and then it was Ambassador Volker, representing the State Department, Ambassador Sondland, our temporary Charge, Joseph Pennington, and Alex Vindman representing the White House.
GOLDMAN: And did the delegation have a meeting with President Zelensky that you attended?
GOLDMAN: And you testified I think in your -- previously that Secretary Perry gave a list of some sort to President Zelensky at that meeting. Do you recall that?
HOLMES: Yes. In the meeting with the President, Secretary Perry as the head of the delegation opened the meeting of the (ph) American side, and at a (ph) number of points he made and -- 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 (inaudible) and recommended that President Zelensky could draw from that list for advice on energy sector reform issues.
GOLDMAN: Do you know who was on that list?
HOLMES: I didn't see the list. I don't know. Other colleagues -- there are other -- other people who have been in the mix for a while (ph) on that that set of issues -- other people Secretary Perry has mentioned as being people to consult on reform.
GOLDMAN: And are they Americans?
GOLDMAN: Now do you also recall that Colonel Vindman spoke to President Zelensky in that meeting?
GOLDMAN: And what did he say to President Zelensky in -- in terms of some of the issues that we're addressing here in this investigation?
HOLMES: Yes sir, he was the last to speak. He made a general point about the importance of Ukraine for (ph) our national security, and he said it's very important that the Zelensky administration stay out of U.S. domestic politics.
GOLDMAN: Was it your understanding that President Zelensky and the Ukrainians were already starting to feel some pressure to conduct these political investigations?
HOLMES: Yes. GOLDEN: And those were the ones related to Biden and Burisma and the 2016 election?
GOLDEN: 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?
HILL: That is not quite right. I was told in passing that someone else at the National Security Council, that the president may want to speak to them because of some materials related to Ukraine.
GOLDEN: And did that person indicate that the president thought that was the director of Ukraine?
HILL: That was correct.
HILL: This was a brief conversation, just to be clear.
GOLDEN: Who is the director of Ukraine?
HILL: The -- the director for Ukraine is Alex Vindman, Colonel Vindman.
GOLDEN: And who did the -- this individual in the Executive Secretary's Office refer to?
HILL: The individual just said the name Kash.
GOLDEN: And did you know who that was?
HILL: Initially, what I was thinking about it, I -- I have to search my mind, and the only Kash that I knew at the National Security Council was Kash Patel.
GOLDEN: And Kash Patel did not work on Ukraine matters that you oversaw, is that right?
HILL: Not that I oversaw, no.
GOLDEN: So the -- the indication is that Kash Patel had provided some information directly to the president without your knowledge?
HILL: That seemed to be the indication.
GOLDEN: Now, I want to go back to the July 25th call right now, where President Trump, in another excerpt, asked President Zelensky about his political -- potential political opponent, Vice President Joe Biden. In this excerpt, the -- 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."
Now Dr. Hill, this was, of course, one of the allegations that Rudy Giuliani was -- was pushing, is that right?
HILL: That's correct.
GOLDEN: And now confirmed in this July 25th call that the president was also interested in it?
GOLDEN: 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?
HILL: It was very apparent to me that that was what Rudy Giuliani intended, yes, intended to convey: that Burisma was linked to the Bidens, and he said this publicly repeatedly.
GOLDEN: And Mr. Holmes, you also understood that Burisma was code for Bidens?
GOLDEN: And do you think that anyone involved in Ukraine matters in the spring and the summer would understand that, as well?
GOLDEN: Now, are either -- Dr. Hill, are you aware of any evidence to support the allegations against Vice President Biden?
HILL: I am not, no.
GOLDEN: And in fact, Mr. Holmes, the former prosecutor general of Ukraine who Vice President Biden encouraged to fire was actually corrupt, is that right?
GOLDEN: And was not pursuing corruption investigations and prosecutions, right?
HOLMES: My understanding is the -- the prosecutor general at the time, Shokin, was not at that time pursuing investigations of Burisma or the Bidens.
GOLDEN: And in fact, removing that corrupt prosecutor general was part of the United States' anticorruption policy, isn't that correct?
HOLMES: That's correct, and not just us, but all of our allies and other institutions that were involved in Ukraine at the time.
GOLDMAN: 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 Ambassador Sondland, Volker and Secretary Perry also attended. Is that right?
HILL: That's correct, yes.
GOLDMAN: And why were they included in that meeting with two Ukrainian officials about national security matters?
HILL: Well the initial intent had not been to include them. We had anticipated that the two Ukrainian officials would have a number of meetings, as is usually the procedure. I thought there would be meetings at the State Department, potentially also at the Energy Department.
And then there was a request to have Ambassadors Sondland and Volker included, coming directly from their offices, and 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 then to include all three of them.
GOLDMAN: Now toward the end of this meeting, the Ukrainians raised the ongoing -- their ongoing desire for an Oval Office meeting. Is that right?
HILL: That's correct.
GOLDMAN: And what happened after they did that?
HILL: Well I listened 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.
The meeting had initially been scheduled for about 45, you know, 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. Oleksandr Danylyuk, who was at this point the designated National Security Advisor of Ukraine, really wanted to get into the weeds of how you might reform a National Security Council. He talked to me about this prior to the meeting and he was hoping, you know, to have this opportunity with the National Security Advisor of the United States to get his firsthand opinions and thoughts on what might happen.
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. And then we knew that the Ukrainians would have on their agenda inevitably the question about a meeting. And so as we get through the main discussion, we're going into that wrap up phase, the Ukrainians, Mr. Danylyuk 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. So 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 us. And he does not, as a matter, of course, like to discuss the details of these meetings, he likes to leave them to, you know, the appropriate staff for this. So this is already going to be an uncomfortable issue.
As Ambassador Bolton was trying to move that part of the discussion away -- I think he was going to try to deflect it on 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 -- are put underway and 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. And for me, that was an unmistakable body language and it caught my attention. And then he looked up to the clock and, you know, at his watch or I suppose his wrist, in any case -- and again, I was sitting behind him -- and basically said well, you know, it's been really great to see you, I'm afraid I've got another -- another meeting.
GOLDMAN: And did Ambassador -