During his public impeachment testimony on Wednesday, top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine Bill Taylor revealed that one of his staffers overheard President Donald Trump discussing the need for Ukrainian investigations during a phone call with U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. It now appears a second person — a U.S. Embassy staffer — also overheard the president’s call with Sondland.
Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv, also overheard the phone call on July 26, which was one day after Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the Associated Press. Trump on Wednesday said he did not recall the alleged July 26 phone call with Sondland.
Taylor testified that a member of his staff last Friday told him that on July 26 there was a meeting between Sondland and President Zelensky’s aide Andrey Yermak. Taylor said that after the meeting, the staffer — later identified as political counselor to the embassy in Kyiv David Holmes — went to a restaurant with Sondland. While at that restaurant, President Trump called Sondland and Holmes overheard the two talking about the “investigations,” Taylor said. The White House memo of the July 25 phone call shows that Trump mentioned investigations into the Bidens and the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory. That phone call was the subject of a whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry.
“Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward,” Taylor testified Wednesday. “Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine.”
“Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” he added.
Holmes is scheduled to testify before House impeachment investigators in a closed-door session on Friday.
Jayanti was previously scheduled to be deposed by impeachment investigators, but the interview was cancelled so members could attend the funeral of the late Elijah Cummings. That interview has not yet been rescheduled.
Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who currently teaches at Stanford University, told the AP that a cell phone call between the president and Sondland would be a significant breach in security protocol.
“That phone call was also a mistake the way it was conducted and it had huge implications for our foreign policy,” McFaul said. “Particularly after that, anybody should understand how dangerous it is to make an unsecured call in Kyiv, or anywhere else for that matter.”
“Obviously, making a phone call from Kyiv to the president of the United States means that not just the Russian intelligence services will be on the call, but a whole lot of other people, too,” McFaul continued. “If it was that important, [Sondland] could have easily gotten up from the restaurant, gone to the embassy and made a secure call through the White House operations center. A lower-level official would probably be reprimanded for this kind of breach.”
[Image via Chip Somodevilla_Getty Images]