No mention of Bidens, Burisma while Ukraine military aid was held up, State official testifies
David Hale, the State Department’s No. 3 official, testified in a Nov. 6 closed-door deposition that no one in the Trump administration or any "government channel" ever mentioned former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter as a reason for withholding aid from Ukraine, according to a transcript of his remarks released late Monday by House Democrats in their impeachment inquiry.
Democrats have argued that the White House improperly pressured Ukraine to look into the Bidens and Burisma Holdings, the natural gas company where Hunter Biden held a lucrative role despite limited expertise while his father oversaw Ukraine policy as vice president. George Kent, a State Department official who has also testified in the impeachment investigation, said he flagged Hunter Biden's apparent conflict of interest to the Obama administration at the time.
However, Hale said, he saw the Bidens referenced only in media reports -- as well as in a "speculative" email from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified last week. Hale is scheduled to testify publicly Wednesday.
Yovanovitch "mentioned that Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani might have been motivated to sully Vice President Biden's reputation by reminding the world of the issue regarding his son's activities in Ukraine," Hale testified, referring to President Trump's personal attorney.
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"When the whistleblower reports and all that came out of that, that's when I first saw this," Hale, the under secretary of state for political affairs, testified.
Separately, Hale recalled that representatives from key executive departments -- including the Treasury Department, Office of Management and Budget, Department of Homeland Security and State Department -- "endorsed the resumption of military aid" to Ukraine.
Under questioning from Democrats, Hale acknowledged he was "out of the loop" on a variety of matters, and that Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland didn't brief him about "discussions he was having with his Ukraine counterparts to either condition the White House meeting or the aid on these investigations." Additionally, Hale noted that he was similarly "out of the loop" on acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's discussions with the president concerning Ukraine aid.
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Mulvaney has acknowledged that White House assistance to Ukraine was tied to the country's broader anti-corruption efforts, although he did not state that the aid was linked to a probe of the Bidens in particular.
"This is a corrupt place. Everyone knows this is a corrupt place ... Plus, I'm not sure that the other European countries are helping them out either," Mulvaney said last month. He added: "Did [Trump] also mention to me, in the past, the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that, but that's it, and that's why we held up the money ... The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation, and that is absolutely appropriate."
Also late Monday, Democrats released testimony from State Department official David Holmes, who said in his Nov. 15 deposition that the conversation he overheard between Trump and Sondland during a lunch in Ukraine was so distinctive — even extraordinary — that nobody needed to refresh his memory.
Holmes testified that he told "a number of friends of mine" about the call because it was "like, a really extraordinary thing" to be "part of" a lunch in which "someone called the president." He insisted he didn't go into detail about the call while he boasted about it, but estimated that he may have told as many as six friends.
"I've never seen anything like this," Holmes told House investigators, "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."
Holmes testified that after a bottle of wine, Sondland "said that he was going to call President Trump to give him an update. Ambassador Sondland placed a call on his mobile phone, and I 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 assistances. I then noticed Ambassador Sondland’s demeanor change, and understood that he had been connected to President Trump."
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The conversation between the president and the ambassador July 26 came one day after the call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that led to the impeachment inquiry.
Holmes' account of the conversation in Kiev was the first to include Trump personally calling about the investigations into Democrats and Joe Biden.
Holmes, who joined Sondland and others during the lunch meeting, told investigators Trump was talking so loudly he could hear the president clearly on the ambassador's phone.
"I then heard President Trump ask, quote, 'So he's going to do the investigation?'" Holmes testified. "Ambassador Sondland replied that 'He's going to do it,' adding that President Zelensky will, quote, 'do anything you ask him to.'"
Holmes said he didn't take notes of the conversation he overheard between Trump and Sondland but remembered it "vividly."
Pressed during the interview if anyone helped him recall the details, Holmes said, "that wouldn’t have been needed, sir, because, as I said, the event itself was so distinctive that I remember it very clearly."
Holmes said Sondland announced that the president was "in a bad mood." And, Holmes said he "asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the president did not give a sh-- about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland agreed that the president did not give a sh-- about Ukraine..nope, not at all, doesn’t give a sh-- about Ukraine."
Holmes said the president "only cares about 'big stuff.'" Holmes testified that Sondland said that didn't mean war with Russia, but "this Biden investigation that Giuliani is pushing."
During a meeting between then-National Security Advisor John Bolton and Zelensky’s top aide Andriy Bogdan in Kiev, Holmes served as note-taker. Holmes indicated Bolton was frustrated "about Giuliani's influence with the president, making clear that there was nothing he could do about it."
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"I came to believe it was the president's political agenda" that Guiliani was pursuing in Ukraine, Holmes went on, "because Mr. Giuliani was promoting that investigations issue, which later I came to understand, including through these various interactions, that was -- that the president cared about."
Holmes, a political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is scheduled to testify publicly Thursday.
Fox News' Ashley Cozzolino, Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.