David Holmes And Fiona Hill Testify On Capitol Hill

Nov 21, 2019
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is the fifth day of hearings in the House impeachment inquiry. And today we're hearing from Fiona Hill, a Russian policy expert who worked for President Trump on his National Security Council. And also David Holmes, he worked for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and overheard a July 26 phone call between President Trump and Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland. White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here to help us understand what's happening in that hearing room. Hi, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi.

GREENE: I want to start by listening to a little bit of what David Holmes was saying in his testimony this morning. He was describing this phone conversation he overheard between Trump and Sondland. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID HOLMES: I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the president and explain 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 Zelenskiy, quote, "loves your a**." I then heard President Trump ask, so he's going to do the investigation? Ambassador Sondland replied that he's going to do it, adding that President Zelenskiy will do anything you ask him to do.

GREENE: OK. A lot there, including an expletive. Franco, what is the significance of this call?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, it's significant because it speaks more directly to the question of whether the president of the United States had knowledge of what these senior officials were alleged to be doing. Up until now, the White House, the president has talked about this mostly being of hearsay, of presumption, that no one had direct knowledge.

Holmes is very clearly - he says - and without any doubt in his mind - that he was hearing the president's voice himself. And I'll also note that Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who was allegedly having the call with the president, didn't dispute Holmes' recollection.

GREENE: Has the White House said anything yet about this call?

ORDOÑEZ: The White House has. They are raising questions about whether Holmes could actually have heard this. President Trump tweeted about this just earlier today. He tweeted that he's been watching people make phone calls his entire life. And he kind of kids that his hearing - well, he says his hearing is great.

And he has not - when it's not on speaker phone, it's very difficult to hear a conversation. He says he's even tried to no avail. And he says try it. I will say, though, that President Trump did not dismiss the content. He did not say this didn't happen or it's untrue.

GREENE: And just briefly - I mean, we're also hearing from Fiona Hill, the NSC expert who's left the White House. What are we hearing so far from her?

ORDOÑEZ: She would not give her opinion on the call that Holmes overheard. She did give brief remarks at the opening of the hearing. What stood out was how she reprimanded some lawmakers who she said gave credence to this debunked theory that Ukraine was interfering in the 2016 election.

She called it a fictional narrative that Russia has spread. And she warned that these are, quote, "politically driven falsehoods" that are advancing Russian interests.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks so much, Franco. We appreciate it.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.