5. The President Asked the Ukrainian President to Interfere in the 2020 U.S. Election by Investigating the Bidens and 2016 Election Interference
During a call on July 25, President Trump asked President Zelensky of Ukraine to" do us a favor though'' and investigate his political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. The next day, Ambassador Gordon Sondland informed President Trump that President Zelensky" was gon na do the investigation'' and" anything'' President Trump asked of him.
During a telephone call on July 25, 2019, President Donald J. Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joseph Biden, and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. President Trump also discussed the removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, said that she was" bad news,'' and warned that she would" go through some things.'' Two witnesses who listened to the call testified that they immediately reported the details of the call to senior White House lawyers.
When asked by a reporter on October 3, 2019, what he had hoped President Zelensky would do following the call, President Trump responded:" Well, I would think that, if they were honest about it, they 'd start a major investigation into the Bidens. It 's a very simple answer.''
Witnesses unanimously testified that President Trump 's claims about former Vice President Biden and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election have been discredited. The witnesses reaffirmed that in late 2015 and early 2016, when former Vice President Biden advocated for the removal of a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor, he acted in accordance with a" broad-based consensus'' and the official policy of the United States, the European Union, and major international financial institutions. Witnesses also unanimously testified that the removal of that prosecutor made it more likely that Ukraine would investigate corruption, not less likely.
Dr. Fiona Hill, former Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, testified that the conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election touted by President Trump are a" fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services.'' She noted that President Trump 's former Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster repeatedly advised the President that the so-called" CrowdStrike'' conspiracy theory that President Trump raised in the July 25 call is completely" debunked,'' and that allegations Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election are false.
Nonetheless, on July 26, 2019, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland met with senior Ukrainian officials in Kyiv and then informed President Trump that President Zelensky" was gon na do the investigation'' into former Vice President Biden and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Ambassador Sondland added that President Zelensky would" do anything'' President Trump asked of him. After the call, Ambassador Sondland told David Holmes, Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, that President Trump" did not give a shit about Ukraine'' and that he only cared about the" big stuff'' that benefited his personal interests, like the" Biden investigation.''
President Trump 's Call with President Zelensky on July 25, 2019
On July 25, 2019, President Zelensky finally had a long-awaited phone call with Ukraine 's most important international partner: The President of the United States.
It had been over three months since the two leaders first spoke. Despite a warm but largely non-substantive call on April 21, President Trump had since declined President Zelensky 's invitation to attend his inauguration and directed Vice President Mike Pence not to attend either. Ukrainian efforts to set a date for a promised Oval Office meeting with President Trump were stalled. As Mr. Holmes explained, following the April 21 call:
President Zelensky 's team immediately began pressing to set a date for that visit. President Zelensky and senior members of his team made clear that they wanted President Zelensky 's first overseas trip to be to Washington, to send a strong signal of American support, and requested a call with President Trump as soon as possible.
Before scheduling the July 25 call or a White House visit, President Trump met on June 28 with Russian President Vladimir Putin-- whose armed forces were engaged in a war of attrition against U.S.-backed Ukrainian forces-- on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. During their meeting, President Trump and President Putin a joke about Russia 's meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
On July 25, President Trump joined the call with President Zelensky from the Executive Residence at the White House, away from a small group of senior national security aides who would normally join him in the Oval Office for a conversation with a foreign head of state. President Trump and President Zelensky began to speak at 9:03 a.m. Washington time-- 4:03 p.m. in Kyiv. According to Tim Morrison, the newly-installed Senior Director for Europe and Russia on the NSC, President Zelensky spoke in Ukrainian and occasionally in" chopped English.'' Translators interpreted the call on both sides. American aides listening to the call from the White House Situation Room hoped that what was said over the next 30 minutes would provide President Zelensky with the strong U.S. endorsement he needed in order to successfully negotiate an end to the five-year-old war with Russia that had killed over 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers and to advance President Zelensky 's ambitious anti-corruption initiatives in Ukraine.
The Trump Administration 's subject-matter experts, NSC Director for Ukraine Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Mr. Morrison, were both on the call. They had prepared talking points for President Trump and were taking detailed notes of what both leaders said, so that they could promptly implement any agreed-upon actions. They were joined by Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, National Security Advisor to the Vice President, and Jennifer Williams, Special Advisor to the Vice President for Europe and Russia. Assistant to the President Robert Blair, a senior aide to Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, was also present, along with an NSC press officer. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listened from a different location, as did Dr. Charles M. Kupperman, the Deputy National Security Advisor.
Notably, Secretary Pompeo did not reveal that he listened to the July 25 call when asked directly about it on This Week on September 22. Neither Secretary Pompeo nor the State Department corrected the record until September 30, when" a senior State Department official'' disclosed the Secretary of State 's participation in the July 25 call.
The two presidents first exchanged pleasantries. President Trump congratulated the Ukrainian leader on his party 's parliamentary victory. In a nod to their shared experience as political outsiders, President Zelensky called President Trump" a great teacher'' who informed his own efforts to involve" many many new people'' in Ukraine 's politics and" drain the swamp here in our country.''
The discussion turned to U.S. support for Ukraine. President Trump contrasted U.S. assistance to that of America 's closest European allies, stating:" We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing and they should be helping you more than they are.'' The call then took a more ominous turn. President Trump stated that with respect to U.S. support for Ukraine," I would n't say that it 's reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine.''
President Zelensky, whose government receives billions of dollars in financial support from the European Union and its member states, responded that European nations were" not working as much as they should work for Ukraine,'' including in the area of enforcing sanctions against Russia. He noted that" the United States is a much bigger partner than the European Union'' and stated that he was" very grateful'' because" the United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine.''
President Zelensky then raised the issue of U.S. military assistance for Ukraine with President Trump:" I also would like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense''-- an area where U.S. support is vital. President Zelensky continued:" We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.'' The Javelin anti-tank missiles, first transferred to Ukraine by the United States in 2018, were widely viewed by U.S. officials as a deterrent against further Russian encroachment into Ukrainian territory.
Immediately after the Ukrainian leader raised the issue of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine, President Trump replied:" 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.''
Request to Investigate 2016 Election
President Trump then explained the" favor'' he wanted President Zelensky to do. He first requested that Ukraine investigate a discredited conspiracy theory aimed at undercutting the 's unanimous conclusion that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Specifically, President Trump stated:
I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike... I guess you have one of your wealthy people... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you 're surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it 's very important that you do it if that 's possible.
President Trump was referencing the widely debunked conspiracy theory that the Ukrainian government-- and not Russia-- was behind the hack of Democratic National Committee( DNC) servers in 2016, and that the American cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike moved the DNC 's servers to Ukraine to prevent U.S. law enforcement from examining them. This theory is often referred to in shorthand as" CrowdStrike'' and has been promoted by the Russian government.
For example, during a press conference in February 2017, just weeks after the unanimously assessed in a public report that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to benefit the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, President Putin falsely asserted that" the Ukrainian government adopted a unilateral position in favour 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.'' President Trump 's reference in his July 25 telephone call to" one of your wealthy people'' tracked closely with President Putin 's accusations that" certain oligarchs'' in Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to support Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Dr. Hill, an expert on Russia and President Putin, testified that the claim that" Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps, somehow for some reason, Ukraine did'' is" a fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.'' Dr. Hill reaffirmed that the 's January 2017 conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election is" beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified.''
Tom Bossert, President Trump 's former Homeland Security Advisor, stated publicly that the CrowdStrike theory is" not only a conspiracy theory, it is completely debunked.'' Dr. Hill testified that White House officials-- including Mr. Bossert and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster--" spent a lot of time'' refuting the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory to President Trump. Dr. Hill explained that Mr. Bossert and others" who were working on cybersecurity laid out to the President the facts about the interference.'' She affirmed that President Trump was advised that" the alternative theory that Ukraine had interfered in the election was false.''
President Zelensky did not directly address President Trump 's reference to CrowdStrike during the July 25 call, but he tried to assure President Trump that" it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier.'' President Zelensky committed to proceed with an investigation, telling President Trump that he had" nobody but friends'' in the new Ukrainian presidential administration, possibly attempting to rebut Rudy Giuliani 's earlier claims that President Zelensky was surrounded by" enemies'' of President Trump. President Zelensky then specifically noted that one of his assistants" spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine.''
Significantly, President Zelensky referenced Mr. Giuliani even before President Trump had mentioned him, demonstrating the Ukrainian leader 's understanding that Mr. Giuliani represented President Trump 's interests in Ukraine. The Ukrainian leader then reassured President Trump," I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation'' into the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory. He said," I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.'' President Trump replied," Rudy very much knows what 's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.''
Request to Investigate Bidens
President Trump then returned to his requested" favor,'' asking President Zelensky about the"[ t] he other thing'': that Ukraine investigate President Trump 's U.S. political rival, former Vice President Biden, for allegedly ending an investigation into the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings. Vice President Biden 's son, Hunter Biden, served as a member of Burisma 's board of directors. President Trump told President Zelensky:
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.
President Trump later continued," I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I 'm sure you will figure it out.''
In public on October 3, 2019, a reporter asked President Trump," what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call? Exactly.'' President Trump responded:" Well, I would think that, if they were honest about it, they 'd start a major investigation into the Bidens. It 's a very simple answer.''
When President Trump asserted to President Zelensky during the July 25 call that former Vice President" Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution,'' President Trump was apparently referring to Vice President Biden 's involvement in the removal of the corrupt former Ukrainian prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin.
Multiple witnesses-- including Dr. Hill, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, Mr. Holmes, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent-- testified that they were not aware of any credible evidence to support the claim that former Vice President Biden acted inappropriately when he advocated for the removal of Mr. Shokin. To the contrary, those witnesses confirmed that it was the official policy of the United State, the European Union and major international financial institutions, to demand Mr. Shokin 's dismissal. As Mr. Kent testified, there was a" broad-based consensus'' that Mr. Shokin was" a typical Ukraine prosecutor who lived a lifestyle far in excess of his government salary, who never prosecuted anybody for having committed a crime'' and who" covered up crimes that were known to have been committed'' Mr. Kent further explained:
What former Vice President Biden requested of former President of Ukraine Poroshenko was the removal of a corrupt prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, who had undermined a program of assistance that we had spent, again, U.S. taxpayer money to try to build an independent investigator unit to go after corrupt prosecutors. As Ambassador Yovanovitch testified, the removal of a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor general, who was not prosecuting enough corruption, increased the chance that alleged corruption in companies in Ukraine would be investigated. Mr. Shokin was a known associate of Mr. Giuliani. As described in Chapter 1, Mr. Giuliani had been communicating with Mr. Shokin since at least 2018. Mr. Giuliani also lobbied the White House on behalf of Mr. Shokin to intervene earlier in 2019 when the State Department rejected a vista application for Mr. Shokin to visit the United States based upon Mr. Shokin 's notorious corrupt conduct. Ambassador Kurt Volker, U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine 's Negotiations, testified that he explicitly warned Mr. Giuliani-- to no avail-- against pursuing" the conspiracy theory that Vice President Biden would have been influence in his duties as Vice President by money paid to his son. Ambassador Volker affirmed that former Vice President Biden is" an honorable man, and I hold him in the highest regard.''
Attacks Against Ambassador Yovanovitch During the July 25 call, President Trump also attacked Ambassador Yovanovitch, whom he had ousted as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine three months earlier after a concerted smear campaign perpetuated by Mr. Giuliani. As described in Chapter 1, Mr. Giuliani viewed Ambassador Yovanovitch-- a decorated diplomat who had championed Ukrainian anti-corruption officials and activists-- as an impediment to his activities in Ukraine. President Trump told President Zelensky:" The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that.'' He later added:" Well, she 's going through some things.'' Ambassador Yovanovitch described her visceral reaction when the first rad the call record, after the White House released it publicly on September 25, 2019. She testified," I was shocked. I mean, I was very surprised that President Trump would-- first of all, that I would feature repeatedly in a Presidential phone call, but secondly, that the President would speak about me or any ambassador in that way to a foreign counterpart.'' When asked whether she felt" threatened'' by President Trump 's statement that" she 's going to go through some things,'' Ambassador Yovanovitch answered that she did.
Praise of Corrupt Former Ukrainian Prosecutor
After disparaging Ambassador Yovanovitch, who had an extensive record of combatting corruption, President Trump praised an unnamed former Ukrainian prosecutor general-- referring to Yuriy Lutsenko-- who was widely considered to be corrupt and had promoted false allegations against Ambassador Yovanovitch. President Trump told President Zelensky:" Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that 's really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved.'' He later added," I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything.''
At the time of the July 25 call, Mr. Lutsenko-- who was collaborating with Mr. Giuliani to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch and the Bidens-- was still the Ukrainian prosecutor general. Mr. Holmes testified that Mr. Lutsenko" 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.'' By July 2019, Mr. Holmes assessed that Mr. Lutsenko was" trying to angle to keep his job'' under the new Zelensky Administration and that part of his strategy was" appealing to Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump by pushing out these false theories about the Bidens and the 2016 election.''
Multiple witnesses testified that another former Ukrainian prosecutor, Mr. Shokin, was also considered to be corrupt. For example, Mr. Kent testified during his deposition that Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Shokin were" corrupt former prosecutors'' who were" peddling false information in order to revenge against those who had exposed their misconduct, including U.S. diplomats, Ukrainian anticorruption officials, and reform-minded civil society groups in Ukraine.'' Ambassador Volker testified at his public hearing that Mr. Lutsenko was" not credible, and was acting in a self-serving capacity.'' Mr. Holmes further noted that Mr. Lutsenko" resisted fully empowering truly independent anticorruption institutions that would help ensure that no Ukrainians, however powerful, were above the law.''
After the call, the White House press office issued a short and incomplete summary of the call, omitting major elements of the conversation. The press statement read:
Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke by telephone with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine to congratulate him on his recent election. President Trump and President Zelenskyy discussed ways to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Ukraine, including energy and economic cooperation. Both leaders also expressed that they look forward to the opportunity to meet.
Concerns Raised by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman
Prior to President Trump 's July 25 call with President Zelensky, Lt. Col. Vindman had prepared-- with Mr. Morrison 's review and approval-- a call briefing package, including talking points for President Trump 's use. This was consistent with the NSC 's regular process of preparing for the President 's phone calls with foreign leaders. The NSC-drafted talking points did not include any reference to Biden, Burisma, CrowdStrike, or alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Lt. Col. Vindman testified during his deposition that, prior to the July 25 call, he was aware of concerns from former National Security Advisor John Bolton and other U.S. officials that President Trump might raise these discredited issues with President Zelensky. Indeed, Ambassador Bolton had resisted scheduling the call because he believed it might be a" disaster.''
As he sat in the White House Situation Room listening to the leaders, Lt. Col. Vindman quickly recognized that the President 's conversation was diverging from the talking points he helped prepare based on the interagency policy process, and" straying'' into an" unproductive narrative'' promoted by Mr. Giuliani and other" external and nongovernmental influencers''-- topics that Lt. Col. Vindman dubbed" stray voltage.''
Lt. Col. Vindman knew immediately that he had a duty to report the contents of the call to the White House lawyers. He explained," I had concerns, and it was my duty to report my concerns to the proper-- proper people in the chain of command.'' Lt. Col. Vindman testified that President Trump 's request that a foreign leader dependent on the United States open an investigation into his U.S. political opponent constituted a" demand'' that President Zelensky had to meet in order to secure a White House meeting:
So, Congressman, the power disparity between the President of the United States and the President of Ukraine is vast, and, you know, in the President asking for something, it became-- there was-- in return for a White House meeting, because that 's what this was about. This was about getting a White House meeting. It was a demand for him to fulfill his-- fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting.
Lt. Col. Vindman further testified that President Trump 's demand of the Ukrainian leader was" inappropriate'' and" improper,'' and that it would undermine U.S. national security:
Chairman, as I said in my statement, it was inappropriate. It was improper for the President to request-- to demand an investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power where there 's, at best, dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation, and that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge, and it would be perceived as a partisan play. It would undermine our Ukraine policy, and it would undermine our national security.
Within an hour of the call ending, Lt. Col. Vindman reported his concerns to John A. Eisenberg, the Deputy Counsel to the President for National Security Affairs and the Legal Advisor to the NSC, and Michael Ellis, a Senior Associate Counsel to the President and the Deputy Legal Advisor to the NSC. Lt. Col. Vindman recounted the content of the call based on his handwritten notes and told the lawyers that he believed it was" wrong'' for President Trump to ask President Zelensky to investigate Vice President Biden.
Concerns Raised by Timothy Morrison
After 17 years as a Republican Congressional staffer and approximately a year serving elsewhere on the NSC staff, Mr. Morrison assumed his position as the NSC 's Senior Director for Europe and Russia on July 15, 2019, only 10 days before President Trump 's call with President Zelensky.
Before he transitioned into his new role, Mr. Morrison met with his predecessor, Dr. Hill. She advised him to stay away from efforts orchestrated by Mr. Giuliani and Ambassador Sondland to pressure Ukraine into investigating a" bucket of issues'' that included" Burisma the company,'' and" Hunter Biden on the board.'' Dr. Hill also warned Mr. Morrison before the July 25 call about the President 's interest in alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election related to the DNC server.
Mr. Morrison testified that he had no knowledge of any investigations at the time, but after performing a Google search of" what is Burisma? '' and seeing the name Hunter Biden, Mr. Morrison decided to" stay away.'' Even though he was new to the portfolio, Mr. Morrison promptly concluded that because" Burisma'' involved Hunter Biden, and because former Vice President Biden was running for President, such investigations could be a" problematic'' area. Mr. Morrison further explained that he tried to stay away from requests related to Burisma and the 2016 U.S. election because these investigations were not related to" the proper policy process that I was involved in on Ukraine,'' and" had nothing to do with the issues that the interagency was working on.''
With that background in mind, Mr. Morrison admitted he was" concerned'' when, while listening to the call on July 25, he heard President Trump raise" issues related to the[ DNC] server.'' Ultimately, Mr. Morrison said," the call was not the full-throated endorsement of the Ukraine reform agenda that I was hoping to hear.''
In" fairly short order,'' Mr. Morrison reported the contents of the call to Mr. Eisenberg and Mr. Ellis, the NSC lawyers. He asked them to review the call, which he feared would be" damaging'' if leaked. Mr. Morrison stated that at the time of the call, he" did not have a view'' on whether the call was" appropriate and proper.'' He also stated that he" was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed.'' During his deposition, however, Mr. Morrison clarified," I did not then and I do not now opine... as to the legality'' of what happened on the call.
In a second meeting with Mr. Eisenberg, Mr. Morrison requested that access to the electronic files of the call record be restricted. This was an unusual request. Mr. Morrison confirmed to the Committee that he had never before asked the NSC Legal Advisor to restrict access to a presidential call record. It was also unusual because Mr. Morrison raised restricting access with Mr. Eisenberg despite the fact that Mr. Morrison himself had the , as an NSC senior director, to recommend restrictions on the relevant files to the NSC 's Executive Secretariat.
Lt. Col. Vindman also discussed restricting access to the July 25 call summary with Mr. Eisenberg and Mr. Ellis. At some point after the call, Lt. Col. Vindman discussed with the NSC lawyers the" sensitivity'' of the matters raised on the call and" the fact that... there are constant leaks.'' Lt. Col. Vindman explained that"[ f] rom a foreign policy professional perspective, all of these types of calls would inherently be sensitive.'' But the July 25 call was particularly sensitive because it could" undermine our relationship with the Ukrainians'' given that it" would implicate a partisan play.'' The NSC lawyers, therefore, believed that it was" appropriate to restrict access for the purpose of the leaks'' and" to preserv[ e] the integrity'' of the transcript. Lt. Col. Vindman recalled that Mr. Ellis raised the idea of placing the call summary on the NSC 's server for highly classified information and Mr. Eisenberg" gave the go-ahead.''
Some weeks after his discussions with the NSC attorneys, Mr. Morrison could not locate the call record. He contacted the staff of the NSC 's Executive Secretariat in search of an explanation and was informed that" John Eisenberg had directed it to be moved to a different server'' utilized by the NSC staff for highly classified information. This transfer occurred despite Mr. Morrison 's view that the call record did not meet the requirements to be placed on the highly classified system.
Mr. Eisenberg later told Mr. Morrison that the call record had been placed on the highly classified system by" mistake.'' Even after Mr. Eisenberg stated that the call record was moved to the highly classified system by" mistake,'' it nevertheless remained on that system until at least the third week of September 2019, shortly before its declassification and public release by the White House.
Concerns Raised by Jennifer Williams
Vice President Pence 's advisor, Ms. Williams, had listened to nearly a dozen phone calls between President Trump and other heads of state prior to July 25, 2019, as well as Vice President Pence 's April 23 call with President Zelensky. As she sat listening to President Trump 's July 25 call, she was struck by his requests relating to Vice President Biden. She stated that she believed that President Trump 's were" unusual and inappropriate.''
Ms. Williams testified that she thought that" references to specific individuals and investigations, such as former Vice President Biden and his son'' were" political in nature, given that the former Vice President is a political opponent of the President.'' The struck her as" more specific to the President in nature, to his personal political agenda,'' as opposed to" a broader foreign policy objective of the United States.'' She added," it was the first time I had heard internally the President reference particular investigations that previously I had only heard about through Mr. Giuliani 's press interviews and press reporting.''
Significantly, Ms. Williams, who had learned about the hold on security assistance for Ukraine on July 3, also said that the Trump-Zelensky call" shed some light on possible other motivations behind a security assistance hold.''
" Burisma'' Omitted from Call Record
Mr. Morrison, Lt. Col. Vindman, and Ms. Williams all agreed that the publicly released record of the call was substantially accurate, but Lt. Col. Vindman and Ms. Williams both testified that President Zelensky made an explicit reference to" Burisma'' that was not included in the call record. Specifically, Lt. Col. Vindman testified that his notes indicated President Zelensky used the word" Burisma''-- instead of generically referring to" the company''-- when discussing President Trump 's request to investigate the Bidens. Ms. Williams ' notes also reflected that President Zelensky had said" Burisma'' later in the call when referring to a" case.''
Lt. Col. Vindman indicated that President Zelensky 's mention of" Burisma'' was notable because it suggested that the Ukrainian leader was" prepped for this call.'' He explained that" frankly, the President of Ukraine would not necessarily know anything about this company Burisma.'' Lt. Col. Vindman continued," he would certainly understand some of this-- some of these elements because the story had been developing for some time, but the fact that he mentioned specifically Burisma seemed to suggest to me that he was prepped for this call.''
The Substance of the Call Remained Tightly Controlled
Ms. Williams testified that staff in the Office of the Vice President placed the draft call record in the Vice President 's nightly briefing book on July 25.
Separately, and following established protocols for coordinating U.S. government activities toward Ukraine, Lt. Col. Vindman provided Mr. Kent at the State Department with a readout. Because Mr. Kent had worked on Ukraine policy for many years, Lt. Col. Vindman sought Mr. Kent 's" expert view'' on the investigations requested by the President. Mr. Kent informed him that" there was no substance'' behind the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory and" took note of the fact that there was a call to investigate the Bidens.'' Recalling this conversation, Mr. Kent testified that Lt. Col. Vindman said" he could not the majority of what was discussed[ on the July 25 call] because of the very sensitive nature of what was discussed,'' but that Lt. Col. Vindman noted that the call" went into the direction of some of the most extreme narratives that have been discussed publicly.''
Ambassador Sondland Followed Up on President Trump 's Request for Investigations
Soon after arriving in Kyiv from Brussels on July 25, Ambassador Sondland asked the U.S. Embassy to arrange a meeting the next day with Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak.
On the morning of July 26, Ambassadors Sondland, Volker and Taylor-- accompanied by Mr. Holmes, who acted as their official notetaker-- went to the Presidential Administration Building in central Kyiv for meetings with Ukrainian officials. Contrary to standard procedure, Mr. Holmes and Ambassador Taylor did not receive readouts of the July 25 call, so they were unaware of what President Trump and President Zelensky had discussed. Ambassador Volker also did not receive an official readout of the July 25 call from the NSC staff. He testified that Andriy Yermak, a senior aide to President Zelensky, simply characterized it as a" good call'' in which" President Zelensky did reiterate his commitment to reform and fighting corruption in Ukraine.''
The first meeting on July 26 was with Chief of Staff to President Zelensky Andriy Bohdan. Regarding the July 25 call, Mr. Holmes recalled Mr. Bohdan that" President Trump had expressed interest... in President Zelensky 's personnel decisions related to the Prosecutor General 's office[ PGO].'' Mr. Holmes further testified that Mr. Bohdan then" started asking... about individuals I 've since come to understand they were considering appointing to different roles in the PGO.'' Mr. Holmes explained that he" did n't understand it,'' and that"[ i] t was n't until I read the July 25th phone call transcript that I realized that the President[ Trump] had mentioned Mr. Lutsenko in the call.''
Subsequently, Ambassadors Sondland, Taylor, and Volker met with President Zelensky and other senior officials. Mr. Holmes once again took notes. He testified" During the meeting, President Zelensky stated that, during the July 25th call, President Trump had, quote,` three times raised some very sensitive issues ' and that he would have to follow up-- he, Zelensky-- would have to follow up on those issues when he and President Trump met in person.'' After he read the transcript of the July 25 call, Mr. Holmes determined that President Zelensky 's mention of" sensitive issues'' was a reference to President Trump 's demands for a" Burisma Biden investigation.''
Catherine Croft, Special Advisor to Ambassador Kurt Volker, was also in Kyiv on July 26. Although she did not attend the meeting with President Zelensky, she received a readout from Ambassadors Volker and Taylor later that day, as they were traveling in an embassy vehicle. Ms. Croft testified that her handwritten notes from that readout indicate" the President[ Trump] had raised investigations multiple times'' in his July 25 call with President Zelensky. Ambassadors Sondland and Taylor told the Committee that they did not recall President Zelensky 's about investigations. Ambassador Volker similarly did not recall that the issue of investigations was discussed, but testified that he did not dispute the validity of" notes taken contemporaneously at the meeting.''
Ambassador Sondland Met One-on-One with Ukrainian Presidential Aide
The meeting with President Zelensky ended around noon .683 After the meeting, Ambassadors Taylor and Volker departed the Presidential Administration building for a visit to the front lines of the war with Russia in eastern Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland separately headed for Mr. Yermak 's office. Mr. Holmes testified that, at the last minute, he received instruction from his leadership at the U.S. Embassy to join Ambassador Sondland. By that point, Mr. Holmes recalled, he" was a flight of stairs behind Ambassador Sondland as he headed to meet with Mr. Yermak.'' Mr. Holmes continued," When I reached Mr. Yermak 's office, Ambassador Sondland had already gone in to the meeting.'' Mr. Holmes then" 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.'' Mr. Holmes" then waited in the anteroom until the meeting ended, along with a member of Ambassador Sondland 's staff and a member of the U.S. Embassy Kyiv staff.''
Ambassador Sondland 's meeting with Mr. Yermak lasted approximately 30 minutes. When it ended, Ambassador Sondland did not provide Mr. Holmes an explanation of what they discussed. Ambassador Sondland later testified that he did not" recall the specifics'' of his conversation with Mr. Yermak, but he believed" the issue of investigations was probably a part of that agenda or meeting.''
Call Between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland on July 26, 2019
After a busy morning of meetings with Ukrainian officials on July 26, Ambassador Sondland indicated that he wanted to get lunch. Mr. Holmes interjected that he would" be happy to join'' Ambassador Sondland and two other State Department colleagues accompanying him" if he wanted to brief me out on his meeting with Mr. Yermak or discuss other issues.'' Ambassador Sondland accepted the offer. The diplomats proceeded" to a nearby restaurant and sat on an outdoor terrace.'' Mr. Holmes" sat directly across from Ambassador Sondland,'' close enough that they could" an appetizer.'' Mr. Holmes recounted that" at first, the lunch was largely social. Ambassador Sondland selected a bottle of wine that he among the four of us, and we discussed topics such as marketing strategies for his hotel business.'' Later during the meal, Ambassador Sondland" said that he was going to call President Trump to give him an update.'' Ambassador Sondland then placed a call on his unsecure mobile phone. Mr. Holmes was taken aback. He told the Committee," it was, like, a really extraordinary thing, it does n't happen very often''-- a U.S. Ambassador picking up his mobile phone at an outdoor cafe and dialing the President of the United States.
Mr. Holmes, who was sitting directly opposite from Ambassador Sondland, said he" heard him announce himself several times, along the lines of,` Gordon Sondland, holding for the President.' It appeared that he was being transferred through several layers of switchboards and assistants, and I then noticed Ambassador Sondland 's demeanor changed and understood that he had been connected to President Trump.''
Mr. Holmes stated he was able to hear the first part of Ambassador Sondland 's conversation with President Trump because it was" quite loud'' and" quite distinctive'' when the President began speaking. When President Trump started speaking, Ambassador Sondland" sort of winced and held the phone away from his ear,'' and" did that for the first couple exchanges.''
Recounting the conversation that followed, Mr. Holmes testified:
I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the President and explain 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," loves your ass.'' I then heard President Trump ask," So he 's going to do the investigation? '' Ambassador Sondland replied that he is going to do it, adding that President Zelensky will do" anything you ask him to do.''
President Trump has denied that he spoke to Ambassador Sondland on July 26 and told reporters," I know nothing about that.'' But in his public testimony before the Committee, Ambassador Sondland noted that White House call records made available to his legal counsel confirmed that the July 26 call in fact occurred. Ambassador Sondland further explained that Mr. Holmes 's testimony-- specifically, a" reference toA$ AP Rocky''-- refreshed his recollection about the July 26 call, which Ambassador Sondland had not originally disclosed to the Committee.
Although Ambassador Sondland did not believe he mentioned the Bidens by name, he testified that with regard to the substance of his July 26 conversation with President Trump:" I have no reason to doubt that this conversation included the subject of investigations.'' He added that he had" no reason'' to doubt Mr. Holmes ' testimony about the contents of the call, and that he would" have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the President 's concerns.'' Asked about his statement to President Trump that President Zelensky" loves your ass,'' Ambassador Sondland replied:" That sounds like something I would say. That 's how President Trump and I communicate, a lot of four-letter words, in this case three letter.''
After the call between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump ended, Ambassador Sondland to Mr. Holmes that" the President was in a bad mood,'' as" was often the case early in the morning.'' Mr. Holmes, who had learned about the freeze on U.S. security assistance days earlier, was attempting to clarify the President 's thinking, and said he" 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 shit about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not give a shit about Ukraine. I asked, why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated, the President only cares about, quote, unquote," big stuff.'' I noted there was, quote, unquote, big stuff going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia. And Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant, quote, unquote," big stuff'' that benefits the President, like the, quote, unquote," Biden investigation'' that Mr. Giuliani was pushing. The conversation then moved on to other topics.
Ambassador Sondland did not dispute the substance of Mr. Holmes ' recollection of this discussion. He stated," I do n't recall my exact words, but clearly the President, beginning on May 23, when we met with him in the Oval Office, was not a big fan'' of Ukraine. Asked whether President Trump" was a big fan of the investigations,'' Ambassador Sondland replied:" Apparently so.'' Asked to clarify if, during his July 26 conversation with Mr. Holmes, he recalled" at least referring to an investigation that Rudy Giuliani was pushing,'' Ambassador Sondland replied," I would have, yes.''
Mr. Holmes Informed U.S. Embassy Leadership about President Trump 's Call with Ambassador Sondland
After the lunch, Mr. Holmes dropped off Ambassador Sondland at his hotel, the Hyatt Regency Kyiv. Mr. Holmes then returned to the U.S. Embassy. Ambassador Taylor, the acting Ambassador in Kyiv, was still visiting the front line. So when he arrived at the Embassy, Mr. Holmes briefed his immediate supervisor, Kristina Kvien, Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassy Kyiv, about the President 's call with Ambassador Sondland and Ambassador Sondland 's subsequent description of President Trump 's priorities for Ukraine.
After taking a long-planned vacation from July 27 to August 5, Mr. Holmes told Ambassador Taylor about his lunch with Ambassador Sondland on the first day he returned to work, August 6. Mr. Holmes told the Committee that he did not brief the call in detail to Ambassador Taylor because" it was obvious what the President was pressing for'':
Of course that 's what 's going on. Of course the President is pressing for a Biden investigation before he 'll do these things the Ukrainians want. There was nodding agreement. So did I go through every single word in the call? No, because everyone by that point agreed, it was obvious what the President was pressing for.
In October 2019, following the public release of testimony by several witnesses pursuant to the Committee 's impeachment inquiry, Mr. Holmes reminded Ambassador Taylor about Ambassador Sondland 's July 26 conversation with President Trump. Ambassador Taylor was preparing to return to Washington and testify publicly before the Committee. Mr. Holmes had been following news coverage of the inquiry and realized he had unique, firsthand evidence that" potentially bore on the question of whether the President did, in fact, have knowledge'' of efforts to press the Ukrainian President to publicly announce investigations:
I came to realize that I had firsthand 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 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.
Mr. Holmes testified that the July 26 call became" sort of a touchstone piece of information'' for diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv who" were trying to understand why we were n't able to get the meeting'' between President Trump and President Zelensky and" what was going on with the security hold.'' He elaborated:
I would refer back to it repeatedly in our, you know, morning staff meetings. We 'd talk about what we 're trying to do. We 're trying to achieve this, that. Maybe it will convince the President to have the meeting. And I would say,` Well, as we know, he does n't really care about Ukraine. He cares about some other things. And we 're trying to keep Ukraine out of our politics and so, you know, that 's what we 're up against.' And I would refer-- use that repeatedly as a refrain.