On Friday, the drama was high in the nation’s capital as former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified as part of the second day of public impeachment hearings, giving evidence to the House Intelligence Committee that suggested that President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) might, you know, not be the best president. The moving account of the 33-year veteran of the United States diplomatic corps, detailing how it felt to be criticized and threatened by her commander in chief, provided the dramatic pizazz that some theater critics felt had been missing on Wednesday, when two other witnesses had told investigators substantively devastating facts about Trump’s scheme to extort the government of Ukraine into investigating Vice President Joe Biden—but had done so in a way that lacked razzmatazz and, as of press time, not been nominated for any Golden Globes.
But the week was still not over: Late Friday, CBS News obtained the opening statement of David Holmes’ closed-door testimony, which confirmed reports that the embassy staffer had in fact overheard a phone call in which Trump asked US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland for a progress report on the crimes.
As I was leaving the meeting with President Zelenskyy, I was told to join the meeting with Ambassador Sondland and Mr. Yermak as note-taker. I had not expected to join that meeting and was a flight of stairs behind Ambassador Sondland as he headed to meet with Mr. Yermak. When I reached Mr. Yermak’s office, Ambassador Sondland had already gone in. I explained to Mr. Yermak’s assistant that I was supposed to join the meeting as the Embassy’s representative and strongly urged her to let me in, but she told me that that Ambassador Sondland and Mr. Yermak had insisted that the meeting be one-on-one, with no note-taker. I then waited in the anteroom until the meeting ended, along with a member of Ambassador Sondland’s staff and a member of the U.S. Embassy Kyiv staff.
When the meeting ended, the two staffers and I accompanied Ambassador Sondland out of the Presidential Administration Building and to the embassy vehicle. Ambassador Sondland said that he wanted to go to lunch. I told Ambassador Sondland that I would be happy to join if he wanted to brief me on his meeting with Mr. Yermak or discuss other issues, and Ambassador Sondland said that I should join. The two staffers joined for lunch as well.
The four of us went to a nearby restaurant and sat on an outdoor terrace. I sat directly across from Ambassador Sondland and the two staffers sat off to our sides. 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.
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.
As of Saturday, Republicans had yet to come up with any excuses for why this is actually good news for Trump. But, rest assured, they’re working on it.