2019-11-15 10:28:401 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Gordon Sondland (Image source: Public domain)
Every time it seems we have the whole Ukraine scandal figured out, we learn a new surprising fact. It was unknown how the public impeachment hearing was going to play out on Wednesday,
It was shocking to learn yet more damaging information about the Ukraine scandal when Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified that there was yet another call, this time between Donald Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. One of Taylor’s aides overheard that call with Trump reinforcing his desire to have Ukraine conduct investigations of his political opponents. And now that this information is out there, it’s been learned there is another official who overheard it.
Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky talked on the phone on July 25, with Trump indicating that if Ukraine conducted the investigations he wanted into the 2016 election, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter who had worked for a Ukrainian energy company, that Zelensky would receive what he wanted: a White House visit and military aid.
The very next day, Trump talked with Sondland about the same topics, and his aide, David Holmes, overheard the conversation, as he was in the same restaurant as Sondland, who said after the call that Trump cared more about the investigations than he did Ukraine. Holmes did not tell Taylor about it until recently.
Another diplomatic staff member was at the table with Holmes, Suriya Jayanti, an attorney with the State Department who was previously posted to the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. Since September Jayanti has been stationed at the embassy in Kyiv, helping coordinate U.S. business interests with the energy industry. It’s not known what connection she may have to Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company Hunter Biden is connected to.
Trump, however, said he does not recall the July 26 call with Sondland. “No, not at all, not even a little bit,” he said.
Holmes is now scheduled to testify on Friday in a closed session before the impeachment investigators. That interview was secured shortly after Taylor’s testimony on Wednesday.
Jayanti was in Washington last month and was scheduled for a closed-door deposition. However, this was canceled because of the funeral for former House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings who was one of the impeachment investigators. The interview has not been rescheduled.
Additionally on Wednesday, a Twitter account that appears to belong to then-Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk posted a photo of him at dinner with Sondland, Taylor, and then-U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
Both current and former U.S officials contend that even the notion that Sondland would use a cell phone in a public location in a foreign country known to be targeted for surveillance by foreign intelligence agencies to speak with someone in the U.S government about sensitive matters is a breach of communication security. That it was the president he was speaking with is even more damaging.
In her deposition last month, former White House Russia adviser Dr. Fiona Hill said she had concerns that Sondland was a counterintelligence risk. She mentioned that he would give out personal cell phone numbers — including his own, hers, and former national security adviser John Bolton’s — and also cited his failure to get briefed appropriately before meetings.
“So he was often meeting with people he had no information about,” she testified. “It’s like basically driving along with no guardrails and no GPS in an unfamiliar territory.” He was meeting with foreign officials “that we had derogatory information on that he shouldn’t have been meeting with” or was doling out his phone number or texting foreign officials. “All of those communications could have been exfiltrated by the Russians very easily.”
Hill also recalled European officials appearing at the gates of the White House, calling her personal phone, which was kept in a lockbox. She’d later find messages from the officials who’d be very upset, as they’d have been told by Sondland that they were supposed to meet with her. She found it to be of great concern and asked that someone from the Intelligence Bureau “sit down with him and explain that this was a counterintelligence risk.”
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