President Trump was told by one of his ambassadors that the Ukrainian leader would do “anything you ask him to”, his impeachment inquiry has heard.
Mr Trump has been accused of abusing his office by allegedly asking President Zelenskiy in a 25 July telephone call to investigate his potential 2020 election rival Joe Biden in return for releasing further American military aid for Ukraine. The US president denies any wrongdoing.
Testifying before the inquiry by the Democrat-led House of Representatives, David Holmes from the US embassy in Kiev claimed he heard a phone conversation the following day between the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, and Mr Trump.
Mr Holmes recalled “the president’s voice was very loud and recognisable, and ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume”.
According to the diplomat, Mr Sondland told the US leader that President Zelenskiy “loves your ass”.
Mr Holmes, who is political counsellor at the embassy, said he then heard Mr Trump ask: “So he’s going to do the investigation?”
Ambassador Sondland replied that “he’s going to do it,” adding President Zelenskiy will do “anything you ask him to”, according to Mr Holmes.
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Mr Holmes told the House intelligence committee that he spoke to the ambassador afterwards and Mr Sondland said he agreed Mr Trump did not “give a s*** about Ukraine”.
“I asked why not, and ambassador Sondland stated the president only cares about ‘big stuff'”, Mr Holmes said.
The ambassador said “big stuff” meant things that benefit the president like the “Biden investigation” that Mr Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was pushing for, Mr Holmes claimed.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s former top Russia adviser has said the Kremlin is “geared up” to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.
Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, is also addressing the impeachment inquiry.
And she had a warning for Republicans, who she accuses of echoing Russian propaganda.
In her prepared evidence, she slammed Republicans for what she called the fictional narrative that Ukraine was involved in election meddling.
She said Republicans were using the impeachment proceedings to promote falsehoods that Ukraine attacked the 2016 election and she refuses to be part of it.
She said: “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. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016.”
And she added: “The impact of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being torn apart.”
In her statement, she said: “Right now, Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election.
“We are running out of time to stop them.
“In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”
On Wednesday, Mr Sondland said Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani explicitly sought a quid pro quo – one thing in return for another – with Ukraine.
The ambassador said this involved arranging a White House visit for President Zelenskiy in return for the Ukrainian leader announcing investigations of Mr Biden and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.
Mr Sondland also testified it was his understanding Mr Trump was holding up almost $400m (£310m) in military aid in exchange for Kiev’s announcement of the investigations.