White House aide says President Trump’s ‘improper’ request for Biden investigation led him to report Ukraine call to lawyer

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – A White House aide tells lawmakers that what he heard on a July phone call between President Donald Trump and the new Ukrainian president was “improper.” Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is testifying Tuesday in a public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rivals as he withheld aid to the East European nation. Vindman is a U.S. Army officer detailed to the National Security Council. He listened in on the July 25 call at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Trump asked the new Ukrainian president to look into whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and wanted the country to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Vindman said it was “improper” for Trump to demand a foreign government investigative a U.S. citizen and political opponent. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official, says his military experience shapes how he views a phone call between President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart. Vindman said at Tuesday’s impeachment hearing that he believed Trump was demanding that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy undertake an investigation into Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden even if Trump didn’t phrase it as a demand. Vindman says that in the military, when someone senior “asks you to do something, even if it’s polite and pleasant, it’s not to be taken as a request. It’s to be taken as an order.” Vindman says that he doesn’t think the omission of the word “Burisma” from the transcript of a July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s new president was significant. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman says he thinks the people who do transcripts may not have caught the word. He said they put in “company” instead. Burisma is a Ukrainian gas company affiliated with the son of Joe Biden. He said that he tried to edit the transcript of the call to note the word “Burisma” but it didn’t make it into the rough transcript released publicly. He doesn’t know why. Vindman said he thought President Volodymyr Zelenskiy may have been prepped for the call because he didn’t think the new leader would know about it otherwise. Vindman is one of several witnesses coming before the committee this week. He and the other witnesses have already testified behind closed doors. Trump has denied doing anything wrong. An adviser to Vice President Mike Pence says she found a July phone call between President Donald Trump and the Ukraine leader “unusual” since it “involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.” Jennifer Williams was at the witness table Tuesday as the House intelligence public hearing got underway. The House impeachment inquiry is looking into the Trump administration’s interactions with Ukraine. She listened to the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. She says that after the call, she provided an update in the vice president’s daily briefing book indicating that the conversation had taken place. Williams says she did not discuss the call with Pence or any of her colleagues in the office of the vice president or the National Security Council.
The House intelligence panel is holding public hearings into Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rivals while also withholding aid to the Eastern European nation. An adviser to Vice President Mike Pence says she was told that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had directed that a hold on military aid to Ukraine should remain in place. Jennifer Williams is testifying Tuesday in the House impeachment inquiry into the Trump administration’s interactions with Ukraine. Williams says she attended meetings earlier this year in which the hold on Ukraine security assistance was discussed. She says representatives of the State and Defense departments advocated that the hold on the aid should be lifted, and that budget officials said that Mulvaney had directed that it remain in place. Williams says she learned on Sept. 11 that the hold had been lifted. She says she’s never learned what prompted that decision. The House intelligence panel is conducting public hearings into President Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, while also withholding security aid to the Eastern European nation. After they appear Tuesday morning, the House will hear in the afternoon from former NSC official Timothy Morrison and Kurt Volker, the former Ukraine special envoy.
In all, nine current and former U.S. officials are testifying in a pivotal week as the House’s historic impeachment inquiry accelerates and deepens. Democrats say Trump demanded that Ukraine investigate his Democratic rivals in return for U.S. military aid it needed to resist Russian aggression and that may be grounds for removing the 45th president. Trump says he did no such thing and the Democrats just want him gone. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen,” said Vindman, an Iraq War veteran. He said there was “no doubt” what Trump wanted from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. It wasn’t the first time Vindman, a 20-year military officer, was alarmed over the administration’s push to have Ukraine investigate Democrats, he testified. Earlier, during an unsettling July 10 meeting at the White House, Ambassador Gordon Sondland told visiting Ukraine officials that they would need to “deliver” before next steps, which was a meeting Zelenskiy wanted with Trump, the officer testified. “He was talking about the 2016 elections and an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma,” Vindman testified, referring to the gas company in Ukraine where Hunter Biden served on the board. “The Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens,” he said. “There was no ambiguity.” On both occasions, Vindman said, he took his concerns about the shifting Ukraine policy to the lead counsel at the NSC, John Eisenberg. Williams, a longtime State Department official who is detailed to Pence’s national security team, said she too had concerns during the phone call, which the aides monitored as is standard practice. When the White House produced a rough transcript later that day, she put it in the vice president’s briefing materials. “I just don’t know if he read it,” Williams testified in a closed-door House interview. Sondland, the wealthy donor whose routine boasting about his proximity to Trump has brought the investigation to the president’s doorstep, is set to testify Wednesday. Others have testified that he was part of a shadow diplomatic effort with the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, outside of official channels that raised alarms. Pence’s role throughout the impeachment inquiry has been unclear, and the vice president’s aide is sure to be questioned by lawmakers looking for answers. The White House has instructed officials not to appear, and most have received congressional subpoenas to compel their testimony. Trump has already attacked Williams, associating her with “Never Trumpers,” even though there is no indication the career State Department official has shown any partisanship. The president wants to see a robust defense by his GOP allies on Capitol Hill, but so far so far Republicans have offered a changing strategy as the fast-moving probe spills into public view. That is likely to change this week as Republicans mount a more aggressive attack on all the witnesses as the inquiry reaches closer into the White House and they try to protect Trump. In particular, Republicans are expected to try to undercut Vindman, suggesting he reported his concerns outside his chain of command, which would have been Morrison, not the NSC lawyer. Those appearing in public have already given closed-door interviews to investigators, and transcripts from those depositions have largely been released. Under earlier questioning, Republicans wanted Vindman to disclose who else he may have spoken to about his concerns, as the GOP inch closer to publicly naming the still anonymous whistleblower whose report sparked the inquiry. GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, who was deeply involved in other White House meetings about Ukraine, offered a sneak preview of this strategy late Monday when he compared Vindman, a Purple Heart veteran, to the “bureaucrats” who “never accepted Trump as legitimate.” “They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile, said Johnson, R-Wis. Vindman told the House investigators in his earlier testimony he was not the government whistleblower. The witnesses are testifying under penalty of perjury, and Sondland already has had to amend his earlier account amid contradicting testimony from other current and former U.S. officials. Morrison has referred to Burisma as a “bucket of issues” — the Bidens, Democrats, investigations — he had tried to “stay away” from. Sondland met with a Zelenskiy aide on the sidelines of a Sept. 1 gathering in Warsaw, and Morrison, who was watching the encounter from across the room, testified that the ambassador told him moments later he pushed the Ukrainian for the Burisma investigation as a way for Ukraine to gain access to the military funds. Volker provided investigators with a package of text messages with Sondland and another diplomat, William Taylor, the charge d’affaires in Ukraine, who grew alarmed at the linkage of the investigations to the aid. Taylor, who testified publicly last week, called that “crazy.” A wealthy hotelier who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, Sondland is the only person interviewed to date who had direct conversations with the president about the Ukraine situation. Morrison said Sondland and Trump had spoken about five times between July 15 and Sept. 11 — the weeks that $391 million in U.S. assistance was withheld from Ukraine before it was released. Trump has said he barely knows Sondland. Besides Sondland, the committee will hear on Wednesday from Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, a State Department official. On Thursday, David Holmes, a State Department official in Kyiv, and Fiona Hill, a former top NSC staff member for Europe and Russia, will appear.

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