Trump Impeachment Hearings Highlights So Far
Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, are testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.
“On July 25, along with several of my colleagues, I listened to a call between President Trump and President Zelensky, the content of which has since been publicly reported. I found the July 25 phone call unusual because in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.” “Dad, I’m sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected professionals — talking to our elected professionals, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. My simple act of appearing here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world. It was improper for the president to request, to demand an investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power where there is at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation. And that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge. And it would be perceived as a partisan play, it would undermine our Ukraine policy and it would undermine our national security.” “Colonel, you’ve described this as a demand, this favor that the president asked. What is it about the relationship between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine that leads you to conclude that when the president of the United States asks a favor like this, it’s really a demand?” “Chairman, the culture I come from, the military culture, when a senior asks you to do something, even if it’s polite and pleasant, it’s not — it’s not to be taken as a request. It’s to be taken as an order. In this case, the power disparity between the two leaders — my impression is that in order to get the White House meeting, President Zelensky would have to deliver these investigations.” “Did you discuss the July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky or any matters associated with a phone call with any members of the press?” “No.” “To be clear, you never discussed these matters with The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, CNN or any other media outlet?” “No, I did not.” “Lt. Col. Vindman, did you discuss the July 25 phone call with anyone outside the White House on July 25 or the 26th? And if so, with whom?” “Yes, I did. My core function is to coordinate U.S. government policy, interagency policy. And I spoke to two individuals.” “And what agencies were these officials with?” “Department of State — and an individual in the intelligence community.” “What — as you know, the intelligence community has 17 different agencies. What agency was this individual from?” “If I could interject here. We don’t want to use these proceedings —” “It’s our time, Mr. Chairman —” “I know, but we need to protect the whistle-blower. If — please stop. I want to make sure that there is no effort to out the whistle-blower through these proceedings.” “Lt. Col. Vindman, you testified in the deposition that you did not know who the whistle-blower was or is.” “I do not know who the whistle-blower is. That is correct.” “So how is it possible for you to name these people and then out the whistle-blower?” “Per the advice of my counsel, I’ve been advised not to answer specific questions about members of the intelligence community. What I can offer is that these were properly cleared individuals, or was a properly cleared individual, with a need to know.” “Well this is — I mean you can really, you can plead the Fifth. But you’re here to answer questions and you’re here under subpoena. So you can either answer the question or you can plead the Fifth.” “Excuse me. On behalf of my client, we are following the rule of the committee, the rule of the chair with regard to this issue. And this does not call for an answer that is invoking the Fifth or any theoretical issue like that. We’re following the ruling of the chair.” “What — counselor, what ruling is that?” “If I could interject: Counsel is correct. The whistle-blower has the right, statutory right to anonymity. These proceedings will not be used to out the whistle-blower.”
Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, are testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.CreditCredit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Here’s what you need to know:
Democrats expressed outrage at the attacks on Vindman by the White House and Republicans.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, right, and Daniel Goldman, the chief lawyer for the Democrats, on Tuesday.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Democratic lawmakers responded angrily to attacks on Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, as the White House and Republicans sought to discredit the colonel in real time during his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.
“There have been a lot of insinuations and suggestions, maybe, that your service is somehow not to be trusted,” said Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York. He accused Republicans of trying to “air out some allegations with no basis or proof, but they want to get them out there, hoping some strands of spaghetti will stick on the wall. They keep throwing them.”
His angry remarks came after the official, taxpayer-funded Twitter account of the White House posted a critical quote about Colonel Vindman from Timothy Morrison, his former boss at the National Security Council.
Earlier, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio had cited that comment as well as criticism from Fiona Hill, Mr. Vindman’s former boss at the National Security Council.
“Any idea why they have those impressions?” Mr. Jordan inquired. Colonel Vindman, who apparently came prepared for the criticism, pulled out a copy the performance evaluation Ms. Hill wrote about him in July and read aloud from it.
“Alex is a top one percent military officer and the best army officer I have worked with in my 15 years of government service,” Mr. Vindman said, quoting Ms. Hill. “He is brilliant, unflappable, and exercises excellent judgment.”
Republicans also questioned the loyalty of Colonel Vindman, an American citizen and decorated Army combat veteran who was born in Ukraine, by asking him about three instances when Oleksandr Danylyuk, the director of Ukraine’s national security council, had approached to offer him the job of defense minister in Kyiv.
Under questioning by the committee’s Republican counsel, Colonel Vindman confirmed the offers and testified that he repeatedly declined, dismissing the idea out of hand and reporting the approaches to his superiors and to counterintelligence officials.
The line of questioning seemed to be designed, at least in part, to feed doubts about Colonel Vindman’s commitment to the United States, the subject of a wave of character attacks on him by Mr. Trump’s allies. Fox News quickly picked up on the tactic, sending out a news alert moments after Mr. Castor finished: “Vindman says Ukrainian official offered him the job of Ukrainian defense minister.”
Mr. Maloney said he was particularly outraged by questions from a Republican lawmaker questioning why Colonel Vindman wore his Army dress uniform to the hearing.
“That dress uniform includes a breast plate that has a combat infantryman badge on it and a purple ribbon,” Mr. Maloney said. “It seems if there is someone who should wear that uniform, it’s someone who has a breast plate on it.”
The top White House Ukraine expert called Trump’s call with Zelensky “inappropriate” and “improper.”
Two senior national security officials at the White House challenged Mr. Trump’s description of his call with the Ukraine president as “perfect,” testifying on Tuesday about how concerned they were as they listened in real time to Mr. Trump appealing for an investigation of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Colonel Vindman testified that he was so disturbed by the call that he reported it to the council’s top lawyer.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” he said under questioning about his first thoughts when he heard Mr. Trump’s mention of investigations into Mr. Biden and an unproven theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election. “It was probably an element of shock, that maybe in certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out, and how this was likely to have significant implications for U.S. national security.”
Earlier, Colonel Vindman explained why he felt it was his “duty” to report his concerns to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer at the National Security Council. “It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent.”
Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, said she found the president’s call unusual because it included discussion of a “domestic political matter.”
Their testimony kicked off three days of hearings featuring nine diplomats and national security officials as Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee continue to build their case that Mr. Trump abused his power by trying to enlist Ukraine to publicly commit to investigations that would discredit former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a leading political rival, and other Democrats.
Vindman and Williams testified that not a single national security official supported freezing Ukraine’s security aid.
Colonel Vindman and Ms. Williams both testified that they were never aware of any other national security officials in the United States government who supported the decision to withhold nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine, which both said was directed the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.
Both witnesses said withholding the military assistance from Ukraine was damaging to relations between the two countries and to Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian aggression. Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois asked Colonel Vindman whether anyone else supported the decision to freeze the aid.
“No one from the national security?” Mr. Quigley asked.
“None,” Colonel Vindman said.
“No one from the state department?”
“No one from the department of defense?
Ms. Williams testified that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine told Vice President Mike Pence during a September 1 meeting that continuing to withhold the aid would indicate that United States support for Ukraine was wavering, giving Russia a boost in the ongoing conflict between the two countries.
“Any signal or sign that U.S. support was wavering would be construed by Russia as potentially an opportunity for them to strengthen their own hand in Ukraine,” Ms. Williams said, relating what Mr. Zelensky told Mr. Pence.
At the White House, President Trump called the impeachment hearings “a big scam” and “a kangaroo court.”
Mr. Trump offered his first response of the day to the testimony against him during a cabinet meeting at the White House.
“Republicans are absolutely killing it, because it’s a big scam,” the president said.
Rick Perry, the outgoing energy secretary who has been scrutinized for his role in the Ukraine matter, opened the meeting with a prayer in which he said everyone in the room was there because they have been “ordained” to be there.
The president railed anew against impeachment during the cabinet meeting, which is ostensibly about border policy and the proposed United States trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. Mr. Trump called the proceedings “a kangaroo court” headed by “little shifty Schiff,” referring to Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He also suggested that the impeachment attempt would backfire politically on Democrats.
This is the first time the president had been in front of the pool since leaving the White House for an unplanned visit to Walter Reed hospital on Saturday. In the Cabinet Room, he also addressed speculation that he may have visited the hospital abruptly because of heart problems, calling the media “sick.” He said he just had a routine physical.
The president also accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of stonewalling the trade pact because of her focus on impeachment, calling her “that woman” and saying she was “incompetent.”
Nunes tried to make Biden, not Trump, the target.
Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee, sought to turn the focus away from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden, leading the witnesses through a series of questions intended to suggest that the former vice president had intervened in Ukraine’s domestic affairs to benefit his son, Hunter Biden, despite the lack of evidence.
Mr. Biden, as vice president, pressured Ukrainian officials to fire a prosecutor who was seen as tolerating corruption in keeping with the policy of the United States, European allies and international financial organizations at the time. But Mr. Nunes suggested that Mr. Biden was acting to benefit his son, who was on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that had been investigated for corruption.
“Did you know that Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Poroshenko at least three times in February 2016 after the president and owner of Burisma’s home was raided on February 2 by the state prosecutor’s office?” Mr. Nunes asked, referring to Petro O. Poroshenko, then the president.
“Not at the time,” Ms. Williams answered. She added: “I’ve become aware of that through this proceeding.”
Mr. Nunes asked a series of similar questions and then repeated them for Mr. Vindman. Neither witness was working on the issue at the time, so neither could offer information to about it. But Mr. Nunes used the opportunity to introduce his allegations, anyway. He also tried repeatedly to extract information from Colonel Vindman about the identity of the whistle-blower who filed a complaint about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, drawing objections from the colonel’s lawyer.
At one point, things turned testy when Mr. Nunes addressed Colonel Vindman as “Mr. Vindman.”
“Ranking member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please,” he shot back.
The top White House Ukraine expert denounced as “vile” attacks on impeachment witnesses.
Colonel Vindman used his opening statement before impeachment investigators to denounce the attacks leveled by President Trump and his allies against those who have appeared, or are scheduled to testify, in the impeachment inquiry.
“The vile character attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible,” Colonel Vindman said.
His remarks came after Mr. Trump has lashed out repeatedly against witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, disparaging their records and calling them “Never Trumpers” who are trying to take him down. Amid the threats, the Army has been assessing potential security threats to Colonel Vindman and his brother Yevgeny, who also works at the National Security Council. There have also been discussions about moving the Vindmans and their families on to a military base for their protection, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
The colonel, who came to the United States as a refugee at the age of 3, referred to his family’s history in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, noting that in Russia, “offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life.”
“Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” Colonel Vindman said. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
Trump’s Ukraine envoy will say he was out of the loop, while a national security aide says he heard nothing illegal on President Trump’s call.
Kurt D. Volker, President Trump’s special envoy for Ukraine, will testify Tuesday afternoon that he was out of the loop as Mr. Giuliani effectively sought to pressure Ukraine for investigations of the Bidens. Other witnesses, however, have challenged Mr. Volker’s testimony, describing him as a member of a trio known inside the Trump administration as the “three amigos,” who were running a shadow foreign policy on Ukraine with Rick Perry, the energy secretary, and Gordon D. Sondland, a Trump megadonor and the United States ambassador to the European Union.
Mr. Volker will be joined on the afternoon panel by Timothy Morrison, a longtime Republican congressional aide who has previously testified about a conversation between the president and Mr. Sondland in which Mr. Trump insisted that Ukraine must publicly announce investigations.
But Republicans plan to focus on Mr. Morrison’s assessment of the president’s July 25 call with Mr. Zelensky. Mr. Morrison told lawmakers that he heard nothing illegal as he listened to the call, though he was concerned that it could leak and cause political problems.
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