Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for November 19, 2019

Newsline: Embassy official says ‘never seen anything’ like restaurant call to Trump

A top official at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine told impeachment investigators he had “never seen anything like” the late July phone conversation he overheard between President Donald Trump and his ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, in a Kyiv restaurant. “This was an extremely distinctive experience in my Foreign Service career,” David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, said in a deposition Friday, according to a transcript released late Monday. “I’ve never seen anything like this, someone calling the president from a mobile phone at a restaurant, and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language. There’s just so much about the call that was so remarkable that I remember it vividly.” (https://www.euronews.com/2019/11/19/state-department-official-testifies-he-s-never-seen-anything-trump-n1085426) The call Holmes is referencing is one first brought up by the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, during last week’s public testimony. Taylor said one of his staffers, later revealed to be Holmes, overheard a phone call on July 26 during which Trump asked Sondland about “the investigations,” meaning the probes into the Bidens and Democrats. Holmes, who is now slated to appear for public testimony Thursday, told impeachment investigators he heard Sondland tell Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “loves your ass,” to which Trump asked, “So, he’s gonna do the investigation?” Sondland replied that Zelenskiy was “gonna do it,” adding that the Ukrainian leader would do “anything you ask him to.” Holmes said he was able to make out what Trump was saying during that brief portion of the phone call because Sondland held the phone away from his ear as Trump was speaking loudly. Holmes would testify that Trump’s unmistakable voice was later quieter. Holmes said he did not take notes of that part of the call but told fellow embassy staffers what he heard.

Newsline: U.S. Consulate In India Denies L-1 Visas At Alarming Rate

U.S. consular officers are making it extremely difficult, and in some cases nearly impossible, for U.S. companies to transfer their employees from India into America on L-1 visas. The culprit is the Trump administration’s extreme “vetting” and “hire American” policies – even though U.S. unemployment rates are historically low and companies are trying to get visas for individuals they already employ. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2019/11/18/companies-say-us-consulate-in-india-denies-l-1-visas-at-alarming-rate/#33999ddf6e0a) “Our refusal rate for L visas at consular posts in India is 80% to 90%,” an executive of a major U.S. company told me in an interview. “We prepare a sheaf of backup documents, as we’ve always done, but now, after an employee explains why he needs to be transferred into the U.S. and what he’ll be doing, the consular officer will, in effect, say, ‘Not good enough’ and refuse the visa.” (The executive said visa refusals for L-1 visas from U.S. consulates in China are also a problem.)