On Wednesday, former Ambassador Bill Taylor, who was billed by Adam Schiff as his star witness, testified before the “impeachment” tribunal that Schiff has empaneled. Mostly he admitted to knowing jack about the quid pro quo (or bribery or solicitation of a bribe or whatever the Democrats are calling their central allegation this week) and what he did know, first hand, was not unhelpful to President Trump.
What was interesting, though, was in his written statement he mentioned a highly improbable story but one tailor-made for the credulous NeverTrumpers who have bought into this story as spun by Schiff.
In short, he claims that a staffer overheard Trump speaking on a phone in a restaurant, that what he heard proved a quid pro quo, and, oh, by the way, that had just slipped his mind. It was quickly revealed that the staffer was a guy named David Holmes who was counselor to Marie Yovanovich at the US embassy in Kiev. In his opening statement from his closed-door session, this is how Holmes describes the scene.
During the lunch, Ambassador 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 assistants. I then noticed Ambassador Sondland’s demeanor change, and understood that he had been connected to President Trump. While Ambassador Sondland’s phone was not on speakerphone, I could hear the President’s voice through the earpiece 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 Zelenskyy “loves your ass.” I then heard President Trump ask, “So, he’s gonna do the investigation?” Ambassador Sondland replied that “he’s gonna do it,” adding that President Zelenskyy will do “anything you ask him to.” Even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection that these statements were made. I believe that my colleagues who were sitting at the table also knew that Ambassador Sondland was speaking with the President.
The conversation then shifted to Ambassador Sondland’s efforts, on behalf of the President, to assist a rapper who was jailed in Sweden, and I could only hear Ambassador Sondland’s side of that part of the conversation. Ambassador Sondland told the President that the rapper was “kind of f—-d there,” and “should have pled guilty.” He recommended that the President “wait until after the sentencing or it will make it worse,” adding that the President should “let him get sentenced, play the racism card, give him a ticker-tape when he comes home.” Ambassador Sondland further told the President that Sweden “should have released him on your word,” but that “you can tell the Kardashians you tried.”
After the call ended, Ambassador Sondland remarked that the President was in a bad mood, as Ambassador Sondland stated 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—t about Ukraine.” Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not “give a s—t about Ukraine.” I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that 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.
Upon returning to the Embassy, I immediately told the Deputy Chief of Mission and others at the Embassy about the call with the President and my conversation with Ambassador Sondland. I also emailed an Embassy official in Sweden regarding the issue with the U.S. rapper that was discussed on the call.
July 26 was my last day in the office ahead of a planned vacation that ended on August 6. After returning to the Embassy, I told Ambassador Taylor about the July 26 call. I also repeatedly referred to the call and conversation with Ambassador Sondland in meetings and conversations where the issue of the President’s interest in Ukraine was potentially relevant. At that time, Ambassador Sondland’s statement of the President’s lack of interest in Ukraine was of particular focus. We understood that in order to secure a meeting between President Trump and President Zelenskyy, we would have to work hard to find a way to explain Ukraine’s importance to President Trump in terms that he found compelling.
Holmes’s account, though, is at odds with that of “star witness” Bill Taylor in several respects.
Holmes claims he told Taylor on or about August 6. He claims he told the Deputy Chief of Mission on July 26. Taylor says he didn’t learn of the incident until November. It is hard to believe that the Deputy Chief of Mission didn’t tell Taylor about the call, for its novelty value if nothing else. And it is equally difficult to believe, given all the attention to the subject, that Taylor would simply block out a story about a call between the President and Ambassador Sondland on the exact same subject as an impeachment inquiry.
Holmes places the Osaka G20 meeting on July 28, two days after the phone call:
On July 28, while President Trump was still not moving forward with a meeting with President Zelenskyy, he met with Russian President Putin at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, sending a further signal of lack of support for Ukraine.
The meeting was actually a month earlier on June 28 and the meeting between Trump and Putin took place before the alleged quid pro quo was a gleam in the eye of the #Resistance. Moreover, on the April 21 call between Trump and Zelensky, Trump invited Zelensky to the White House and promised “we’re with you all the way. Ambassador Volker followed up the call with an official statement (this is the Twitter version) that said:
President Trump called to congratulate Volodymyr Zelenskyy (@zeteam_official) for his electoral victory and the Ukrainian people for a peaceful & democratic election. We will continue to support 🇺🇦’s efforts to restore its territorial integrity and counter 🇷🇺 aggression. https://t.co/ShBOWU1rga
— Kurt Volker (@SpecRepUkraine) April 22, 2019
This all indicates that Holmes is pretty much manufacturing a linkage of events contrary to the actual facts.
You’ll notice from the blockquote of Holmes’s testimony that as soon as Trump stopped speaking with Sondland about Ukraine, Holmes could no longer hear what Trump was saying. Also from Holmes’s statement:
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.
There are four people at lunch and one bottle of wine, which typically yields about 4 glasses? Really. Not much of a lunch on an outdoor patio during a Ukrainian summer.
Holmes provides some pretty extensive direct quotes from the phone call, then slides in:
Even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection that these statements were made. I believe that my colleagues who were sitting at the table also knew that Ambassador Sondland was speaking with the President.
I would submit that if Dumbo heard the conversation Sondland was having, then everyone at the table heard it. I’d also submit that they discussed it. I’d further submit that if you didn’t take notes in July and immediately went on two weeks leave and didn’t record the events until…well, now…that your memory of events is not only not infallible, but it is colored with everything you’ve heard since this story broke, the rampant State Department rumor-mongering that we’re learning is standard practice, and, quite likely, an antipathy towards Trump and a desire to be seen as a bold #Resistance hero. In fact, Holmes basically admits to his motivation in his statement:
As the current impeachment inquiry has progressed, I have followed press reports and reviewed the statements of Ambassador Taylor and Ambassador Yovanovitch. Based on my experience in Ukraine, my recollection is generally consistent with their testimony and I believed that the relevant facts were therefor being laid out for the American people. However, in the last week or so, I read press reports expressing for the first time that certain senior officials may have been acting without the President’s knowledge in their dealings and suggesting that the only evidence being elicited at the hearings was “hearsay.” I came to realize I had first-hand 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 officials were using the levers of our diplomatic power to induce the new Ukrainian President to announce the opening of a particular criminal investigation. It is at that point that I made the observation to Ambassador Taylor that the incident I had witnessed had acquired greater significance, which is what he reported in his testimony earlier this week.
In short, not only is the scenario Holmes describes wildly improbable, just from the sheer physics of the situation, the idea that something this significant would only come to his mind now, four months later, is just not plausible. Added to that the fact that the story is motivated by a desire to participate in the impeachment drama there is zero reason why anyone should take it seriously.
The whole thing is reminiscent of the bizarre tale spun by Julie Swetnick to try to interject herself into the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. The tale was initially mind-boggling, it quickly unraveled and Swetnick was referred for criminal prosecution. It is safe to say that Holmes will not be the last Swetnick to appear in this case.