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Former State Department Employee Dan Feldman On His Time Working With David Holmes


And for more on that aide that we just heard Michele Kelemen mention - his name is David Holmes. I want to now bring in Dan Feldman. He's a former State Department official who worked with Holmes in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


DAN FELDMAN: Thank you.

CHANG: So I want to start with the moment from Ambassador Bill Taylor's testimony on Wednesday, when we first learned about David Holmes' role in all of this.


WILLIAM TAYLOR: In the presence of my staff, at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations.

CHANG: OK. We now know that member of his staff is David Holmes. Dan, how closely did you and David Holmes work together?

FELDMAN: He worked on Afghanistan issues for a number of years. And so he reported up to me and the rest of the chain of command on Afghanistan.

CHANG: And do you believe that David Holmes is someone who would speak up in a moment out of partisanship or politics; someone who could be accused of having an agenda here?

FELDMAN: Absolutely not, as was the case with every other foreign service officer I worked with over my more than six years at the State Department. I never knew the partisan inclinations of a single one of them.

CHANG: You don't even know if Holmes identifies as Democrat or Republican?

FELDMAN: I have no idea. In fact, he was awarded something during my time in the State Department where he was actually critical of an Obama administration policy and won an award for the dissent cable in which he wrote about that.

CHANG: And I also understand there was a time after Holmes worked with you when he filed an official complaint, what's called a constructive dissent cable. Can you tell me about that story? And what did you learn about him when that happened?

FELDMAN: Like every other foreign service officer, he's cut from the same cloth, as we've seen those diplomats testifying in the last few days. He's principled and ethical, conscientious. And this is an ability within the State Department, if officers feel that they don't agree with a policy, that it's not in the best interest of the U.S. policy, that they can file a dissent cable about it. And of all the dissent cables that were filed that year, his was awarded something for being among the most constructive and effective.

CHANG: So even though he was critical of the State Department, he was able to continue working in it and nobody held, it seemed like, grudges against him for filing that cable.

FELDMAN: No, no. In fact, I think it's very unique, I think, within an institution to demonstrate that they are so valued that they appreciate that constructive dissent. And if anything, his career would seem to be on a fast track. He really represented the best of the rising generation of foreign service officers. And many of the things that would signal that, he got even after he filed that dissent cable.

CHANG: You're talking about a culture within the State Department that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch talked a little bit about today. I understand that you briefly worked with her. Is that correct?

FELDMAN: It is, yes.

CHANG: What has struck you the most about her testimony so far? - either her closed-door testimony that's now been made public or today's testimony that was public.

FELDMAN: I think what was most poignant was how she demonstrated the manner in which foreign service officers and civil servants seek to make a difference every single day and how she illustrated that and the way - in my experience, working with the entire cadre of foreign service officers and civil servants - that they take these positions, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, in hardship postings, at fairly little pay - or, at least, much less than what they could make outside of government - because they believe so passionately about serving government and serving the U.S. national security interests and upholding their oath to support and defend the Constitution.

CHANG: So given that - I imagine you have a lot of friends who are still in the State Department.

FELDMAN: Absolutely.

CHANG: How have they been feeling watching these proceedings unfold? - because a lot of career diplomats have become entangled. There was just a report - the inspector general's report - on how political retribution against career State Department employees has become a thing. And on a much bigger stage, we're hearing more about this smear campaign against Yovanovitch. How has that affected morale?

FELDMAN: Well, I think, certainly, there are many within the State Department at this point that are very proud of seeing their colleagues testify in this manner and demonstrate the value of diplomats to American national security. And so there's a Foreign Service Strong, #FSStrong hashtag and - after these diplomats have been testifying. But I think morale is very low at this point at the State Department. And they're quite demoralized, and what they want to see more than anything else is their senior leadership stand up and defend them.

CHANG: All right. That's Dan Feldman, former State Department official.

Thank you so much for coming in today.

FELDMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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