What We’ve Learned From Hill and Holmes’s Impeachment Testimony

WASHINGTON — David Holmes, a career diplomat and political counselor to the United States embassy in Ukraine, and Fiona Hill, a former Europe and Russia expert at the White House, schooled lawmakers on Thursday on the United States’ geopolitical relationship with Ukraine and provided some new details about the efforts to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into President Trump’s political rivals.

They both highlighted their apolitical and nonpartisan expertise and experience in foreign policy, a direct contrast to the witness a day earlier, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union — a wealthy Republican donor with no diplomatic experience before his 2018 appointment to the plum post in Brussels.

Here are some key points from the testimony so far.

Responding to questions from Republicans, Dr. Hill explained the crux of the issue at the heart of the impeachment inquiry — the United States had two separate agendas operating in Ukraine, yet those involved in each viewed theirs was the only one.

Dr. Hill said she and other career foreign policy officials were frustrated with what Mr. Sondland was doing outside the normal channels of interagency coordination.

Hill: What I was angry about was that he wasn’t coordinating with us. I’ve actually realized, having listened to his deposition, that he was absolutely right. That he wasn’t coordinating with us because we weren’t doing the same thing that he was doing. So I was upset with him, that he wasn’t fully telling us about all of the meetings that he was having. And he said to me ‘But I’m briefing the president. I’m briefing Chief of Staff Mulvaney. I’m briefing Secretary Pompeo, and I’ve talked to Ambassador Bolton. Who else do I have to deal with? And the point is that we have a robust interagency process that deals with Ukraine. It includes Mr. Holmes, it includes Ambassador Taylor as the chargé in Ukraine, it includes a whole load of other people. But it struck me when yesterday, when you put up on the screen Ambassador Sondland’s emails, and who was on these emails? These were the people that need to know. And he was absolutely right. Because he was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy, and those two things had just diverged.”

Dr. Hill thought Mr. Sondland’s goal of getting President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals was trivial and contrary to longstanding efforts regarding Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Mr. Sondland told lawmakers that he did not understand how there could be an irregular back channel when his channel included the president of the United States, members of the president’s cabinet and the national security adviser.

“I don’t know how they can consider us to be the irregular channel and they to be the regular channel when it’s the leadership that makes the decisions,” Mr. Sondland said.

During an intense exchange with Mr. Sondland at the time, Dr. Hill said she told him, “This is all going to blow up.” She added, “And here we are.”

Holmes: “This was a very distinctive experience. I’ve never seen anything like this in my foreign service career, someone at a lunch in a restaurant making a call on a cellphone to the president of the United States, being able to hear his voice, very distinctive personality.

Mr. Holmes provided more details on Thursday about the now infamous lunch he had with Mr. Sondland and two other State Department staffers on July 26 in Kyiv. It was at this lunch that Mr. Holmes overheard a phone call between Mr. Sondland and Mr. Trump — one in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Sondland if the Ukrainian president planned “to do the investigation.”

Mr. Holmes described a relaxed setting at an outdoor terrace with the weather that day in the upper 70s. Mr. Sondland ordered a bottle of wine, he said, which the four of them shared, and discussed marketing strategies for Mr. Sondland’s boutique hotel business.

The additional details add more credibility to Mr. Holmes recollection, which Republicans have tried to diminish. Mr. Sondland on Wednesday told lawmakers that he did not remember all of the details of that conversation with Mr. Trump, but he agreed that a friendly comment recalled by Mr. Holmes — Mr. Sondland telling the president that Mr. Zelensky “loves your ass” — sounded like something he would say.

Mr. Trump on Thursday said that what Mr. Holmes described — a conversation that was not on speaker phone but could still be overheard — was virtually impossible.

Holmes: “Specifically, the three priorities of security, economy, and justice, and our support for Ukrainian democratic resistance to Russian aggression, became overshadowed by a political agenda promoted by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a cadre of officials operating with a direct channel to the White House.”

Mr. Holmes describes what other witnesses have disclosed — that the sudden involvement of President Trump’s private lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, in foreign policy involving Ukraine was disruptive and damaging to the American goal of helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia. While Mr. Holmes described how the Giuliani-led campaign evolved starting in March, Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the ranking member on the House Intelligence committee, focused on one date — July 25 — when Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky spoke to each other by phone. That call was at the center of the whistle-blower complaint that led to the current impeachment inquiry.

Hill: “Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

Hill: “I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests. ”Dr. Hill bluntly stated that Russia was behind the 2016 election interference and theft of Democrats’ emails. American intelligence agencies and congressional panels came to the same conclusion years ago. One of the investigations that Mr. Trump sought Ukraine to initiative was one looking into a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016.

Hill: “I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016.”

One of the Republican defenses for Mr. Trump’s decision to place a hold on nearly $400 million in military aid is that he was always suspicious of Ukraine because of its systemic corruption. This, Republicans say, is why he wanted a commitment from Mr. Zelensky to pursue corruption investigations. Dr. Hill, in her opening remarks, attempted to shut down this and other theories, often promoted by the committee’s top Republican, Mr. Nunes, who described the impeachment hearings as “bizarre” on Thursday.