State Department staffer David Holmes refused to promise Congress on Thursday afternoon that he would be more responsible in future with sensitive communications.
The political officer for the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, was testifying in the last public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry. He said that he had overheard a phone conversation at an outdoor restaurant between President Donald Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland in which Trump had mentioned “investigations.”
Though he did not take notes of that portion of the call, and had been drinking wine, Holmes said that his memory of the conversation was clear. He shared it with colleagues at the embassy, including Charge d’affaires William Taylor — though Taylor testified last week that he had only learned about the conversation recently.
In his closed-door deposition last week, Holmes had trouble remembering how many people he had told about the conversation. He admitted, for example, boasting to six friends on vacation about hearing President Trump on the phone call.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) could hardly believe it:
MR. JORDAN: You told friends you were sitting by an ambassador who was talking on his cell phone with the President of the United States, you told your buddies about that?
MR. HOLMES: Yeah.
MR. JORDAN: How many people did you teIl?
MR. HOLMES: Sir, again, I don’t recall specifically. I don’t recall specifically. I was traveling with six friends.
MR. JORDAN: Six fniends?
MR. HOLMES: Yeah.
MR. JORDAN: So now it’s up to nine people. When you come back on the 6th, who all did you tell then?
MR. HOLMES: In the meeting with Ambassador Taylor, I told him, and the other people in that meeting would have heard it. So, as I said before, I believe it was my deputy — sir, I don’t recall who was in the room at that instance when I told them — I guess what I’m saying is that — I’m focused on telling Ambassador Taylor, he’s the person I’m there to brief. And I don’t always know who else was in the room.
In the public hearing, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) asked Holmes to commit to being more careful with presidential communications in future. Holmes refused.
The following exchange ensued:
Conaway: Mr. Holmes, in your role, you’re privileged to an awful lot of stuff. Official things, and things that are best kept between you and the official folks that you deal with. Is there an expectation among the principals that you represent that you will exercise some discretion in what you share with others about what goes on?
Holmes: Yes, sir.
Conaway: In your public — in your testimony in your deposition you made the — first off, we had a hard time pinning down the number of people that you’ve actually had this conversation with about the conversation that you overheard. Now, our ambassador had no expectation of privacy, you know, blustering around, doing what he’s done, but we couldn’t figure how many people you actually shared that information with. And I would argue that the information is unflattering to the president, unflattering to the ambassador, and that your discretion is, you know, at odds here. Your testimony, your deposition said you shared that with folks who you thought would find it “interesting.” I’d argue that everybody on the back row would find it interesting, but I don’t know that that’s necessarily criterion. On a go-forward basis, can you articulate in the future when you’re privileged to certain circumstances that would be embarrassing to the principal — that if it’s official, that you share with the ambassador, fine, but that folks outside the embassy or folks even within the embassy that don’t have a need to know, that you wouldn’t regale them with your recounting of those instances?
Holmes: Sir, I think it was Gordon Sondland who showed indiscretion having that conversation over a phone line —
After some crosstalk, Conaway tried again:
Conaway: The question is of you, Mr. Holmes. Your discretion. Gordon Sondland did not expect privacy. I got that. But you’ve been in a room 17 years where people trust that whatever went on in the room and left you kept it to official channels and didn’t share all that information with other folks. I’m just asking you to argue on your own behalf that “interesting” is not some sort of a criterion that you would use when you share information from meetings. A simple, straightforward question.
Holmes: Sir, I shared the information I needed to share with the right people who needed to know it. I did not share any information that people didn’t need to know.
Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) cut Conaway off. Holmes did not clarify why his six vacation “buddies” needed to know.
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.