New witness claims firsthand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes

House impeachment investigators on Friday heard from a new witness claiming firsthand knowledge of President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE's effort to enlist Ukrainian leaders to dig up dirt on his domestic political opponents.

David Holmes, a State Department veteran now based in Kyiv, testified privately that he overheard a July phone conversation between Trump and Gordon SondlandGordon SondlandConservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' Democrat suggests Republicans took acting classes based on ability to 'suspend disbelief' Gaetz: We didn't impeach Obama even though 'a lot of constituents' think he abused his power MORE, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, in which the president sought an update on "the investigation" and Sondland delivered the news Trump wanted, according to the opening remarks obtained by The Hill.

"So, he’s gonna do the investigation?" Trump asked, according to Holmes's testimony.

"He’s gonna do it," Sondland replied.

The call, Holmes said, occurred at a restaurant in Kyiv on July 26, one day after the now-famous phone conversation in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for "a favor" in the form of investigations into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNew York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Graham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications MORE and the 2016 elections.

Both of those probes could have helped Trump politically, and the Democrats' impeachment inquiry is focused on whether Trump abused his office by recruiting a foreign leader for help in a U.S. election.

Trump's Republican allies have criticized many of the witnesses who've testified in the investigation, saying their accounts lean too heavily on secondhand or thirdhand information and are therefore unreliable. Holmes's account was purportedly firsthand, and Democrats hailed his arrival in the Capitol.

"We always learn more when witnesses come in, and today we learned a lot more," Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellLive coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Lawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday night as he left the closed-door deposition.

"The arrows continue to point in the direction of a shakedown scheme, led by the president of the United States, operated by agents like Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGraham invites Giuliani to testify about recent Ukraine trip Judge orders State Dept. to search for and provide more Ukraine docs DOJ releases memos backing Trump immunity claims ahead of impeachment vote MORE, Gordon Sondland and Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' MORE," he continued.

On the July 26 call, Holmes testified, Sondland told Trump that Zelensky would do anything the president asked, including comply with the investigation requests, because the Ukrainian leader "loves your ass."

Holmes also testified that he asked Sondland after the call if it was true that Trump "did not 'give a shit about Ukraine.'"

Sondland responded that Trump cared only about "big stuff," Holmes testified. Holmes said he noted that plenty of big things happening in Ukraine, including a five-year-old war with Russia in the east.

"He meant 'big stuff' that benefits the President, like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing," Holmes said, paraphrasing Sondland.

Holmes said Sondland's cellphone was not on speaker mode but that he could nonetheless hear Trump's words because "the president's voice was very loud and recognizable."

The account was the latest twist in the fast-developing impeachment inquiry into Trump's handling of foreign policy in Ukraine. Just days ago, the Trump-Sondland phone conversation was not widely known, but on Wednesday, William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified publicly that Holmes relayed the story to him last week.

Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is one of Taylor's top staffers in Kyiv.

Holmes was the 16th witness to be interviewed behind closed doors in the Capitol basement since Democrats began the private depositions on Oct. 3.

His appearance came on the heels of the testimony of another witness, Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchSenate confirms Trump's Russia ambassador The State Department: Nonpartisan service on behalf of America Nunes: 'Sickening' that Schiff obtained his phone records MORE, who appeared in public before the Intelligence Committee for roughly five hours earlier Friday.

ADVERTISEMENT

Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was deposed privately last month but returned to Capitol Hill as the third witness to testify as part of the public hearing phase of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

The former ambassador, who was removed abruptly from Kyiv in May, painted a bleak picture of career diplomats fighting to salvage U.S.-Ukraine relations in the face of a shadow foreign policy, led by Giuliani, to secure business deals and political favors at all costs.

"How could our system fail like this?" she testified. "How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?"

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

Updated 11:45 a.m.