Kurt D. Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and Timothy Morrison, a former top National Security Council official will deliver testimony to the impeachment inquiry. Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman and Jennifer Williams testified earlier.CreditCredit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
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“I did not know of a linkage.” Trump’s former Ukraine envoy said he was unaware that security aid was tied to investigations of Democrats.
Kurt D. Volker arriving to testify on Tuesday.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Kurt D. Volker, the former special envoy for Ukraine, portrayed himself as left out of key moments and unaware that others working for President Trump were linking the release of American security aid to Ukraine committing to investigations of Democrats.
Opening the second panel of the day, Mr. Volker sought to reconcile his original closed-door testimony with the accounts of other witnesses who came after him. “I have learned many things that I did not know at the time of the events in question,” he said in his opening statement.
Among other things, he said that at the time he worked with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, to seek assurances from Ukraine about investigations he was pushing, he did not understand those investigations to include former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as a target nor did he know that they would be tied to release of the frozen security aid.
“I did not know of any linkage between the hold on security assistance and Ukraine pursuing investigations,” Mr. Volker said. “No one had ever said that to me — and I never conveyed such a linkage to the Ukrainians.” He recalled telling the Ukrainians “the opposite,” that they did not need to do anything to get the hold lifted and that it would be taken care of. “I did not know others were conveying a different message to them around the same time,” he said.
Mr. Volker sought to clarify why his testimony about the now-famous July 10 meeting at the White House differed from those of Fiona Hill, then the senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, and Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, her Ukraine policy deputy.
Ms. Hill and Colonel Vindman testified that John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, ended the meeting abruptly when Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, brought up the investigations and that some in the room took the conversation downstairs where it turned heated. Mr. Volker mentioned none of that in his original testimony.
“As I remember, the meeting was essentially over when Ambassador Sondland made a general comment about investigations,” he said on Tuesday. “I think all of us thought it was inappropriate. The conversation did not continue and the meeting concluded. Later on, in the Ward Room, I may have been engaged in a side conversation or had already left the complex, because I do not recall further discussion regarding investigations or Burisma.”
More generally, he said he did not interpret the word Burisma to be tantamount to Mr. Biden. “In hindsight, I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company Burisma as equivalent to investigating former Vice President Biden. I saw them as very different — the former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable. In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections.”
Volker said he cringes when referred to as one of “three amigos” interfering in Ukraine policy.
Mr. Volker expressed annoyance at being lumped together with Mr. Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry as “three amigos,” as if they were somehow indistinguishable, and he rejected the notion that he was part of an irregular foreign policy channel.
The term “three amigos” has come to characterize how the usual foreign policy process was warped by Mr. Trump’s interest in obtaining damaging information about Democrats from Ukraine. It originated from an interview Mr. Sondland gave to Ukrainian television when he said “we have what are called the three amigos,” naming Mr. Volker, Mr. Perry and himself.
Mr. Volker in his testimony objected to the name and the implication. “I’ve never used that term and frankly cringe when I hear it,” he said. In his mind, he said, he associated the phrase with his mentor, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who died last year, and two allies who supported a troop surge in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who has since left the Senate.
Mr. Volker said he was not part of a shadow foreign policy because he was the officially designated diplomat assigned to help resolve Ukraine’s war with Russia. “My role was not some irregular channel, but the official channel,” he said, noting that he reported to Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state who appointed him, and Mike Pompeo, his successor, and coordinated with diplomats and White House officials.
Democrats expressed outrage at the attacks on Vindman by the White House and Republicans.
Democratic lawmakers responded angrily to attacks on Colonel Vindman, who testified during the morning session, as the White House and Republicans sought to discredit the colonel in real time during his appearance before the committee.
“There’s been a lot of insinuations and there’s been a lot 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 and proof, but they just want to get them out there and hope maybe some of those strands of spaghetti I guess will stick on the wall if 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, who testified later in the day on a separate panel.
Earlier, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio had cited that comment as well as criticism from Ms. Hill, Colonel 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,” Colonel 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 Mr. Biden.
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 Mr. Biden, a leading political rival, and other Democrats.
In a cabinet meeting as the hearing unfolded, Mr. Trump praised his allies and dismissed the hearings as a “kangaroo court,” saying, “Republicans are absolutely killing it, because it’s a big scam.”
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 by 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 Sept. 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.
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 Colonel 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.
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