CALL: A second U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv overheard a call between the president and his ambassador to the EU.
WASHINGTON — A second U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv overheard a cellphone call between President Donald Trump and his ambassador to the European Union discussing a need for Ukrainian officials to pursue “investigations,” The Associated Press has learned.
The July 26 call between Trump and Gordon Sondland was first described during testimony Wednesday by William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Taylor said one of his staffers overheard the call while Sondland was in a Kyiv restaurant the day after Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that triggered the House impeachment inquiry.
The second diplomatic staffer also at the table was Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv. A person briefed on what Jayanti overheard spoke to AP on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter currently under investigation.
The accounts of the two embassy staffers could tie Trump closer to alleged efforts to hold up military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings. In defending Trump on Wednesday, Republicans repeatedly highlighted that Taylor never directly heard the president direct anyone to demand that the Ukrainians open the probe.
Trump on Wednesday said he did not recall the
July 26 call with Sondland.
“No, not at all, not even a little bit,” Trump said.
The White House did not respond to questions Thursday about the second witness.
The staffer Taylor testified about is David Holmes, the political counselor at the embassy in Kyiv, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Holmes is scheduled to testify Friday before House investigators in a closed session.
Taylor was one of the first witnesses called Wednesday during the impeachment inquiry’s initial open hearing. He testified that his staffer could hear Trump on the phone asking Sondland about “the investigations.”
Later that day, a Twitter account that appears to belong to Ukraine’s then-Defense Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk posted a photo of himself at dinner with Sondland, Taylor and Ambassador Kurt Volker, who was then Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine for peace negotiations.
Since 2014, the Ukrainian government has been battling Russian-backed separatists in the country’s eastern region, and the continuation of U.S. military aid is crucial to its defense. Whether Trump directed nearly $400 million in aid to be withheld to force the Ukrainians to open investigations into Democrats is a key question of the impeachment inquiry.
Current and former U.S. officials say Sondland’s use of a cellphone in a public place in Ukraine to speak with anyone in the U.S. government about sensitive matters, let alone Trump, would be a breach of communications security. U.S. diplomats and other government employees are instructed not to use cellphones for sensitive official matters while traveling abroad and notably in countries known to be targeted for surveillance by intelligence agencies such as China, Israel and Russia.
Jayanti is an attorney who joined the State Department in 2012 and was previously posted at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. She has been stationed since September 2018 at the embassy in Kyiv where she helps coordinate U.S. business interests with the former Soviet republic’s energy industry.
Jayanti was in Washington last month and scheduled for a closed-door interview with impeachment investigators. But the deposition was canceled because of the funeral for former House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings and has not yet been rescheduled.
Holmes, a career diplomat, joined the Foreign Service in 2002 and has served in Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Kosovo and Russia as well as on the White House National Security Council staff.
A call transcript between President Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskiy is shown at the House hearing Wednesday.