David Holmes, the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, on Thursday provided some of the most devastating and detailed testimony we have heard to date. He raised a number of key facts:

  • Marie Yovanovitch was smeared by corrupt former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko, who aired outlandish allegations — allegations that apparently were swallowed whole by Rudolph W. Giuliani and, in turn, by President Trump.
  • He made clear that it was widely known that Giuliani was focusing on the Bidens, thereby shedding considerable doubt on special envoy Kurt Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s professed ignorance that Burisma was shorthand for a political investigation of Trump’s political foe:
Following Mr. Lutsenko’s allegations, Mr. Giuliani and others made a number of public statements critical of Ambassador Yovanovitch, questioning her integrity and calling for her removal from office. Mr. Giuliani was also making frequent public statements pushing for Ukraine to investigate interference in the 2016 election and issues related to Burisma and the Bidens. For example, on May 1, 2019, the New York Times reported that Mr. Giuliani had “discussed the Burisma investigation, and its intersections with the Bidens, with the ousted Ukrainian prosecutor general and the current prosecutor.” On May 9, the New York Times reported that Mr. Giuliani said he planned to travel to Ukraine to pursue investigations into 2016 election interference and into the involvement of former Vice President Biden’s son in a Ukrainian gas company. Over the next few months, Mr. Giuliani also issued a series of tweets, asking “why Biden shouldn’t be investigated,” attacking the “New Pres of Ukraine” (Zelenskyy) for being “silent” on the 2016 election and Biden investigations, and complaining about the New York Times attacking him for “exposing the Biden family history of making millions . . . from Ukraine criminals"
  • He confirmed how vital to Ukraine was a White House meeting and aid and was stunned to learn on July 18 that the aid was held up by orders of the president.
  • In a July 26 meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, it was clear that he understood the necessity of pursuing the political investigations Trump raised in the July 25 call. (“During the meeting, President Zelenskyy stated that during the July 25 call, President Trump had ‘three times’ raised ‘some very sensitive issues,’ and that he would have to follow up on those issues when he and President Trump met ‘in person.’ Not having received a readout of the July 25 call, I did not know what those sensitive issues were.”) Under questioning, Holmes said he understood those issues meant the investigation of the Bidens. He persuasively explained that the incident was so unusual and bizarre that he retained a hyper-vivid recollection of the incident.
  • At the lunch with Sondland, he heard Trump inquire about “investigations” and reiterated that Sondland referenced the “Bidens” in explaining to Holmes that Trump didn’t care about Ukraine, only “big stuff.” (In a deadpan voice, he also recounted a ludicrous discussion between Trump and Sondland regarding a rapper jailed in Sweden. “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.’ Ambassador Sondland further told the President that Sweden ‘should have released him on your word,’ but that ‘you can tell the Kardashians you tried.’” Sondland, in Holmes’s telling, comes across as crass boob.)
  • It was clear that the price of aid and of a White House meeting was “specific and concrete": a Zelensky interview on CNN in which he would announce the investigations.

In sum, Holmes unexpectedly gave credible, detailed information, not only making clear that the quid pro quo was well known, but that it was clear “Burisma” equated to “Bidens.” In doing so, he strongly suggests Volker and Sondland were either intentionally dense or lying about their understanding of the connection. He also confirms that Trump was furthering private, personal interests at the expense of Ukraine’s national security and our own.

Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official responsible for Europe and Russia, came out with guns blazing. “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 said in her opening statement. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.” She continued: “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.”

She blasted the conspiracy-mongers, who in this case are the Republicans: “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 are deployed for purely domestic political purposes.” For good measure, she added: “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.” She reiterated that Trump had been told the wacky conspiracy theories were false, but he nevertheless chose to believe Giuliani. Like Holmes, she said she was “shocked and saddened” over the July 25 call. It was not, in other words, a “perfect” call.

Both Hill and Holmes reiterated that it was obvious to all concerned that Burisma was synonymous with the Bidens, in part because Giuliani was publicly equating the two.

One could not help but contrast her candor and patriotism with the conduct of her former boss and former national security adviser John Bolton. Bolton’s credentials on the right make him a powerful and credible voice with Republicans, yet for whatever career and pecuniary reasons (he’s hauling in speaking fees and has a book deal), he remains silent, willing to allow Republicans to continue, as Hill said, perpetrating an outright lie about Ukraine and covering for a president who “impedes or subverts the national security of the United States in order to further domestic political or personal interests.” He should strongly reconsider remaining mute; if not, history — including history written by hawks — will treat him harshly.

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