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A key witness at Thursday's impeachment hearing testified that in the same phone call where President Trump pushed a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens, a wealthy ambassador advised him to play the 'racism card' and update Kim Kardashian on his efforts to help spring jailed rapper A$AP Rocky.
Diplomatic lawyer David Holmes provided his first public testimony about a July 26th phone call where he says he overheard Trump giving loud instructions to U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, who was dining with Holmes and other officials at a restaurant in Kiev at the time.
But it wasn't just a pressure campaign – which a top official likened to a 'drug deal' – that was on the menu. Sondland, a West Coast hotelier and major Trump inaugural donor, updated Trump on the status of A$AP Rocky, who had been jailed in Sweeden after a Stockholm street fight.
After talk about Ukrainian President Zelensky, who Sondland told the president 'loves your ass,' matters switched to the rapper.
'The conversation then shifted to Ambassador Sondland's efforts, on behalf of the President, to assist a rapper who was jailed in Sweden, and I could only hear Ambassador Sondland's side of that part of the conversation,' Holmes told lawmakers in a hushed room while the cameras rolled.
'Ambassador Sondland told the President that the rapper was 'kind of f----d there,' and 'should have pled guilty,' he said – referring to a case that would land the rapper in jail for a month until his conviction and ultimate release.
Reality star and activist Kim Kardashian West speaks about a second chance hiring and re-entry initiative alongside U.S. President Donald Trump, right, at an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday June 13, 2019 – weeks before A$AP Rocky got arrested after a street fight in Stockholm
A$ap Rocky is seen outside the Loewe show during Paris Fashion Week SS20 on September 27, 2019 in Paris, France
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland said Holmes' earlier testimony about the rapper jogged his own memory about the phone call, which he confirmed happened
Kim Kardashian West attends The Promise Armenian Institute Event At UCLA at Royce Hall on November 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California
Holmes also provided damaging testimony about his interactions with Sondland and other officials in Ukraine, where he is stationed at the U.S. embassy
Rapper Kanye West, left, shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. West and Kardashian sought intervention by Trump to help A$AP Rocky
Trump tweeted about A$AP Rocky, following an intervention by Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, the same day he asked the president of Ukraine to probe the Bidens
A$AP Rocky (R) leaves the district court in Stockholm, Sweden, 02 August 2019 on the third day of his trial
Sondland 'recommended that the President 'wait until after the sentencing or it will make it worse,' adding that the President should 'let him get sentenced, play the racism card, give him a ticker-tape when he comes home,' according to Holmes.
'Ambassador Sondland further told the President that Sweden 'should have released him on your word,' but that 'you can tell the Kardashians you tried.''
Holmes, who attended prestigious schools and had diplomatic postings in Moscow and New Delhi, spoke with extensive recall about the meeting with Sondland, describing sharing an appetizer with Sondland and a bottle of wine for the table – even describing a table-runner that covered two adjoining surfaces for the meal.
'It was quite loud when the president came on,' he said, calling Trump's voice 'quite distinctive.'
Sondland 'sort of winced and held the phone away from his ear like this,' Holmes said, holding his hand away from his ear for emphasis. 'And he did that for the first couple exchanges.'
Sondland vouched for the call in his own testimony Wednesday, although he didn't bring it up in his closed deposition.
'What triggered my memory was someone's reference to A$AP Rocky, which was I believe the primary purpose of the phone call,' Sondland testified with information that appeared to directly connect the president to the call for 'investigations' – short hand for Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, where Hunter Biden served on the board.
The president's efforts to explicitly seek a probe of the Bidens while getting A$AP Rocky out of a Swedish prison converged in late July.
On July 25th – the day Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a 'favor' an mentioned Joe Biden, he he sent out an escalatory tweet in the campaign to pressure the Swedes to short-circuit their judicial process for the rapper.
That same day, at 5:24 pm, Trump tweeted: 'Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem! #FreeRocky.'
In substance key to the impeachment probe, Holmes said: 'I then heard President Trump ask, 'So, he's gonna do the investigation?' Ambassador Sondland replied that 'he's gonna do it,' adding that President Zelensky will do 'anything you ask him to.'
'Even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection that these statements were made. I believe that my colleagues who were sitting at the table also knew that Ambassador Sondland was speaking with the President,' Holmes said.
The rapper had been arrested after a street fight which was captured on video in Stockholm. Trump got involved following a push by Kim Kardashian and her husband, rapper Kanye West.
'I will be calling the very talented Prime Minister of Sweden to see what we can do about helping A$AP Rocky. So many people would like to see this quickly resolved!' Trump tweeted in late July, in an effort that proved unsuccessful.