On Thursday, diplomat David Holmes is testifying publicly in the impeachment inquiry, a late addition by House Democrats after he privately testified about a phone call between President Trump and diplomat Gordon Sondland on “investigations” in Ukraine.

Who he is

He is a top staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. His official title is political counselor. As such, he worked closely with the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and works now with the current acting ambassador, William Taylor.

Why he matters

Holmes could add more evidence that Trump set up a quid pro quo for Ukrainians. He is one of the few witnesses who heard Trump’s voice ask about “investigations” that Ukraine’s president was going to undertake

He also said that from his vantage point in Ukraine, he could see Ukrainians “gradually came to understand that they were being asked to do something in exchange” for getting two things they really wanted from Trump: a White House meeting and/or military aid.

About that phone call Holmes overheard

Holmes was eating lunch with Sondland, the European Union ambassador and one of Trump’s point people on Ukraine, in July. It was the day after Trump talked to Ukraine’s newly elected president and had asked Ukraine’s president for “a favor,” to investigate the Bidens and CrowdStrike. Holmes testified behind closed doors Saturday that at the restaurant, Sondland pulled out his cellphone and said he would call the president.

Holmes said he overheard Trump with his own voice ask about Ukraine’s president: “So, he’s going to do the investigations?” Sondland replied: “He’s going to do it,” adding, “Do anything you ask him to.”

Also important: Holmes testified that he remembers the call “vividly” because it was so unusual, not least because U.S. diplomats assumed that cellphone calls and texts are being monitored by Russians: “I’ve never seen anything like this, someone calling the president from a mobile phone at a restaurant, and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language. There’s just so much about the call that was so remarkable that I remember it vividly.”

Key quote from his private deposition

There are two excerpts, both long, but both critical to understanding Holmes’s testimony:

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 very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume. I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the president and explain that he was calling from Kyiv. I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied yes, he was in Ukraine, and went on to state that President Zelensky, quote, unquote, loves your a--. I then heard President Trump ask, quote, “So he’s going to do the investigation?” unquote. Ambassador Sondland replied that, “He’s going to do it,” adding that President Zelensky will quote, “Do anything you ask him to.”
After the end of the call, Ambassador Sondland remarked that the President was in a bad mood. As Ambassador Sondland stated, it was often the case early in the morning. I then took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Sondland for his candid impression of the President’s views on Ukraine. In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the President did not give a s--- about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not give a s--- about Ukraine. I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated: The president only cares about “big stuff.” I noted that there was “big stuff” going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia. And Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant “big stuff that benefits the President, like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.” The conversation then moved on to other topics.

What else we learned from Holmes’s private deposition

That there was an unofficial channel of diplomacy on Ukraine that excluded diplomats like him and seemed more consequential to the Ukrainians. Holmes mentions the group who called themselves the “three amigos” — Sondland, diplomat Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — announcing they were taking the lead on working with Ukraine’s new president.

He said the Ukrainians particularly wanted to talk to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani: “They viewed him as a significant individual in terms of their relationship with the United States.”

What Holmes didn’t say in his private testimony

That Trump was directing all of this. Though Holmes did say Sondland characterized himself as acting at the president’s direction: “He would say things in meetings like, ‘I know the president would agree with what you just said,’ or ‘I heard the president say something like … ' I mean, he would portray himself as having knowledge, direct knowledge of the president’s priorities and interests."

What to look for in his private testimony

The call between Sondland and Trump that Holmes overheard is striking to read on the page. How will it play when he recounts it aloud?