Trump Attacks Impeachment Inquiry and Accuses a Witness of Lying

By Eileen Sullivan

Mr. Trump said a career diplomat made up a conversation between him and his ambassador to the European Union, dismissing sworn testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

President Trump at the White House on Friday.
President Trump at the White House on Friday.Credit...T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump unleashed a series of falsehoods on Friday in an effort to invalidate the impeachment inquiry and counter sworn testimony from officials in his own administration, after a week of damaging public hearings.

In a 53-minute phone interview with “Fox & Friends,” Mr. Trump accused David Holmes, a political counselor to the top American diplomat in Ukraine, of fabricating a phone call between Mr. Trump and the ambassador to the European Union. Mr. Holmes told impeachment investigators that he had overheard the president asking the ambassador, Gordon D. Sondland, about Ukrainian investigations into his political rivals, a consequential detail in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

“I guarantee you that never took place,” Mr. Trump said. He added that he barely knew Mr. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier from Oregon who contributed $1 million to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee. In his own testimony under oath, Mr. Sondland corroborated Mr. Holmes’s account.

The interview on Friday, broadcast live and commercial-free with a view of the “Fox & Friends” hosts speaking by phone to Mr. Trump, gave the president a chance to respond to the damaging revelations of the past week and reprise widely debunked theories and some of his favorite lines of attack.

To start, Mr. Trump called Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence committee, a “sick puppy,” a “corrupt politician” and the first witness he would want to call in a Senate impeachment trial.

Will he be impeached? “I don’t expect it,” the president said. “I think it’s very hard for them to impeach you when they have absolutely nothing.” Some of Mr. Trump’s top aides and legal advisers, anticipating that the Democratic-led House will impeach Mr. Trump, met with Republican senators on Thursday to strategize over what a Senate trial would look like.

Mr. Trump also said he knows the identity of the anonymous whistle-blower whose complaint prompted the impeachment inquiry — and asserted that the details in the complaint were “fake.”

The July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was “perfect.” He said, “Why should we give money to a country that’s known corrupt?”

Mr. Trump also said the Obama administration spied on his campaign, an accusation he leveled without evidence on Twitter in the early days of his administration. “They tried to overthrow the presidency. This is a disgrace.”

He also said Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of helping Hillary Clinton, an unsubstantiated theory. “Don’t forget. Ukraine hated me. They were after me in the election.”

Fiona Hill, Mr. Trump’s former top Europe and Russia expert, testified on Thursday that the claim was a dangerous, “fictional narrative” planted by Moscow to damage American democracy, and urged Republican lawmakers to abandon it, arguing that promoting the theory played into Russia’s hands. And United States intelligence officials have recently informed senators that it was part of a yearslong Russian disinformation campaign.

Mr. Trump tried to distance himself from Mr. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier who was a megadonor to the president’s campaign.

“This guy, Sondland: hardly know him,” Mr. Trump said.

“I’ve had a couple of conversations with him,” Mr. Trump said. “I see him hanging around when I go to Europe.”

Mr. Sondland is posted in Brussels and testified that he had spoken to the president on the phone some 20 times.

Mr. Holmes in public testimony on Thursday described in detail a phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Sondland during a lunch with two other officials from the State Department, as they dined outdoors at a Kyiv restaurant and shared a bottle of wine.

Mr. Holmes said Mr. Sondland and Mr. Trump were discussing a recent meeting with Mr. Zelensky, just one day after the phone call between the leaders, which is at the heart of the impeachment investigation.

According to Mr. Holmes, the president asked Mr. Sondland if Mr. Zelensky would pursue the investigations he sought into Democrats. Mr. Sondland assured Mr. Trump that “he’s going to do it,” and that the Ukrainian leader would do “anything you ask him to.” When the call ended, Mr. Holmes said the ambassador told him Mr. Trump did not care about Ukraine, only about “big things” like the investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, Hunter Biden.

A day before Mr. Holmes’s testimony, Mr. Sondland publicly implicated the president and other senior administration officials in the pressure campaign against Ukraine.

In the Fox interview, Mr. Trump hit on a theme that Democrats and witnesses have raised during the impeachment hearings — how was it that Mr. Sondland, with no foreign policy experience and who was not the ambassador to Ukraine, found himself leading the United States policy with Ukraine.

“But he was really the European Union ambassador, and all of a sudden he’s working on this,” Mr. Trump said on Friday. “Ask about that.”

Mr. Sondland told lawmakers that Mr. Trump directed him to do so.

In response to a cryptic tweet from John R. Bolton, his former national security adviser who has so far declined to testify in the House impeachment inquiry, Mr. Trump was asked whether he had frozen Mr. Bolton’s Twitter account.

“No, of course not. Of course not,” Mr. Trump said. “No, I actually had a good relationship with John. We disagreed on some things and some methods, but I actually had a good relationship.”

Mr. Bolton later posted more Twitter messages accusing the White House of blocking him from the personal account he had when he joined the president’s staff last year.

“We have now liberated the Twitter account, previously suppressed unfairly in the aftermath of my resignation as National Security Advisor,” Mr. Bolton wrote. “More to come.”

He later added: “Re: speaking up — since resigning as National Security Advisor, the @WhiteHouse refused to return access to my personal Twitter account. Out of fear of what I may say? To those who speculated I went into hiding, I’m sorry to disappoint!”

Despite the tease, Mr. Bolton, who is writing a book, is unlikely to suddenly change his mind and begin discussing his opposition to the Ukraine pressure campaign in the near future. He is waiting for a judge to decide whether a House subpoena takes precedence over a White House request not to testify in the case of a former deputy.

Until then, he has made clear that he does not intend to issue public statements the way Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, and other advisers to Mr. Trump have done, because that would risk waiving any claim of immunity.

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.