David Holmes, the political officer at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine who has emerged as the Democrats’ new star witness in the “impeachment inquiry,” admitted he had been drinking wine at the time he claimed to overhear the president on the phone.
Holmes claimed to have overheard a conversation between U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland and President Donald Trump on a mobile phone on July 26, the day after Trump spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Holmes told the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door hearing last Friday that Trump asked Sondland whether Zelensky would “do the investigation,” and Sondland said that Zelensky “loves your ass.”
The text of Holmes’s prepared remarks was leaked, and the media reported he had “first-hand” evidence that Trump cared about “investigations” — though that was already known after Trump released the transcript of the July 25 call.
What the media did not report were other details that became clear Monday, when the transcript of Holmes’s testimony was released, on the eve of a second week of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry.
One detail was that Holmes, and Sondland, were drinking at the time of the conversation in question:
The four of us went to a nearby restaurant and sat on an outdoor terrace. I sat directly across from Ambassador Sondland, and the two staffers sat off to our sides. At first, the lunch was largely social. Ambassador Sondland selected a bottle of wine that he shared among the four of us, and we discussed topics such as marketing strategies for his hotel business.
The call followed shortly thereafter. Holmes admitted he had not heard both sides of the call for its entire duration.
Holmes would later testify to the informal nature of the banter around the restaurant table, explaining sheepishly to committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) why he had used vulgar language in talking with Sondland: “I’m not proud of my language. But the informal tone of the lunch and the language I had heard him using in his call with the President, we were just sort of, you know, two guys over lunch talking about stuff, and it seemed to me that was the kind of language that he used.”
Throughout the testimony, Holmes referred to his notes, and was able to produce exact quotations of things he had heard other people say. But for some reason, he never took notes of what he heard President Trump say, or what Sondland had said about Zelensky.
He claimed that “we take notes on foreigners,” but also testified that he had written immediately to a colleague at the U.S. embassy in Sweden to tell her what Sondland and President Trump had discussed about the president’s efforts to free jailed rapper A$AP Rocky.
Holmes could not recall precisely how many people he had told about the call, or what he had said: he testified that he had shared it with six friends on vacation, among others. His boss, Charge d’affairs William Taylor, testified last week in the first public hearing that he had only heard Holmes’s story recently.
In his remarks, Holmes also expressed passionate, almost indignant criticism of President Trump’s conduct of policy toward Ukraine — even though he admitted Trump had given Ukraine much-needed military aid. He closed his prepared remarks with a declaration of his beliefs on foreign policy: “Ukrainians want to hear a clear and unambiguous reaffirmation of our longstanding bipartisan policy of strong support fon Ukraine, that it remains unchanged, and that we fully back it at the highest levels.”
Holmes is scheduled to testify on Thursday — a witness who was drinking at the time he heard part of a phone call; who failed to take notes on the crucial portion of the call, despite taking notes on everything else and emailing a colleague about another part of the call; and who had a clear antipathy toward President Trump and his conduct of foreign policy.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.