David Holmes, a State Department aide to Ambassador William Taylor, gave a strong defense of former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and shared the colorful details of a Sondland-Trump phone call he overheard in July in his opening statement.
Mr. Holmes, as other witnesses have done, laid out his background as a career official with no political ties in his position.
He was called in to testify after Mr. Taylor, one of the first witnesses to testify in open hearings, revealed there was new information about President Trump’s interests in the investigation of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and 2016 election interference.
Mr. Holmes explained how he heard the president ask about the investigation and Mr. Sondland say President Zelensky was going to launch a probe because “he loves your ass.”
He said he knew it was Mr. Trump on the phone because his “voice was loud and recognizable.”
Mr. Sondland confirmed the call in his testimony on Wednesday, only refuting the detail that he brought up the Bidens. He said that he did not understand the Burisma investigation to be linked to the Bidens at the time.
Regarding the investigations, both Mr. Holmes and Mr. Taylor believed they were linked to military aid and the White House meeting Ukrainians wanted.
In September, he learned that Mr. Sondland was pushing a “specific and concrete” commitment to have Mr. Zelensky announce the investigation on live TV.
He described a meeting with one of Mr. Zelensky’s top aides where Mr. Taylor urged them not to, but the Ukrainian “shrugged in resignation.”
“In short, everyone thought there was going to be an interview, and that the Ukrainians believed they had to do it,” he said. “The interview ultimately did not occur.”
The crux of the impeachment inquiry centers on allegations that President Trump pressured Ukrainian President Zelensky via a quid pro quo to open investigations into alleged 2016 election interference and Vice President Joe Biden’s connection to Burisma corruption.
Mr. Holmes worked under Ms. Yovanovitch and recounted how after she pushed through anti-corruption reforms, Ukrainian officials began peddling allegations against her, including that she pushed a “do not prosecute list” and used the embassy’s connections to help the Democratic Party in the U.S.
He then described how the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and others began circulating those allegations in the U.S. media.
“The barrage of allegations directed at Ambassador Yovanovitch, a career ambassador, is unlike anything I have seen in my professional career,” he said.
He also described the frustration from State Department officials, including Mr. Sondland, at how Mr. Giuliani was expanding his role meeting with Ukrainian officials and discussing Ukrainian issues in the media.
In one exchange before Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, Mr. Holmes described how one official asked why Mr. Giuliani had such a large public role and Mr. Sondland lashed out.
“Dammit Rudy,” Mr. Sondland said, according to Mr. Holmes. “Every time Rudy gets involved he goes and f***s everything up.”