House Democrats on Friday released transcripts of depositions from former National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council.
Col. Vindman, who had first hand knowledge of the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, told lawmakers in the closed-door impeachment inquiry that he was concerned that investigations into the Biden family and Ukrainian energy company Burisma would jeopardize both Ukraine and U.S. national security.
“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen,” the U.S. Army officer said. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play, which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.”
The heart of the impeachment inquiry is the accusation that President Trump used his position to pressure the Ukrainian President Zelensky to open an investigation into Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s connection to a corrupt Ukrainian energy company as well as an investigation into alleged election interference in 2016.
Col. Vindman said Mr. Trump asking for a favor left him with “no doubt” the entire call was a demand for investigations.
“There was no it’s okay, if you don’t want to do the investigations we can still do a White House meeting. The demand was in order to get the White House meeting, they had to deliver an investigation,” he said. “When when the president of the United States makes a request for a favor, it certainly seems — I would take it as a demand.”
Republicans pushed back on the military officer’s assertions, saying he couldn’t pinpoint a specific reference as evidence.
“You’ve made clear that that’s your opinion,” Rep. John Ratcliffe said. “It’s not an option shared by either of the Presidents on the call or others, but your testimony, to be clear, is that there’s not a specific place, its the entirely of the transcript.”
According to both accounts, Mr. Gordon “blurted out” the information about a White House meeting if the investigations were agreed to. They said the ambassador got that commitment from White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Mr. Mulvaney defied a subpoena to testify hours before Mr. Vindman’s and Ms. Hill’s testimonies.
Ms. Hill explained that Mr. Bolton abruptly ended the meeting, but Mr. Gordon attempted to continue it in a separate room to further discuss setting up a White House meeting. She later interrupted that meeting and informed the ambassador that any discussions had to go through the National Security Council.
“You go and tell [National Security Council lawyer John] Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this,” she said Mr. Bolton told her.
Ms. Hill and Col. Vindman were part of a July 10 meeting with Ukrainian officials that included Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and former National Security Adviser John Bolton. Mr. Bolton stormed out of the meeting after Mr. Sondland brought up the investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election that the administration was pushing.
Ms. Hill, who served in the White House as an expert on Russia, also told lawmakers at her October testimony that she was concerned with and objected to how the administration abruptly removed former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from her post.
Col. Vindman told lawmakers that there were inconsistencies in the transcript the White House released.
The White House strongly pushed back on claims that Col. Vindman suggested filling in words that were excluded from that transcripts, and the Purple Heart recipient faced harsh criticism from both President Trump and a handful of his allies on cable news shows.
Some suggested that Col. Vindman, who was born in Ukraine, favored the foreign government’s interests over those of the U.S., prompting strong backlash from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Col. Vindman’s testimony also highlighted the boiling tensions between Republicans and Democrats that spilled over into the media during his October testimony.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff accused Republicans of trying to out the whistleblower while the minority members said the California Democrat abused his power to intervene in their time with the witness.
During the testimony, Rep. Eric Swalwell interrupted a line of questioning from Republicans that centered on who Mr. Vindman told about the July 25th phone call.
“Mr. Chairman I want to object that the question calls to reveal the whistleblower,” the California Democrat said.
“I’m not asking about that, I’m just asking who this gentleman shared this information with,” Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, responded. “We have two counsel sitting right beside him. I’m asking who he shared the call with. We know he didn’t share it with his direct report.”
“Mr. Jordan, the minority may not care about protecting the whistleblower, but we in the majority do,” Mr. Schiff said, before adjourning for a recess over Republican objections.
The most damaging testimony from Col. Vindman and Ms. Hill had previously been leaked to the news media.
Earlier, Mr. Trump said the testimony so far has not laid a glove on him.
“I’m not concerned about anything. The testimony has all been fine,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House.
He said he hadn’t heard of most of the people who have testified in the closed-door hearings, adding that Democrats went “all over Washington to find 10 people who hate the president.”
The three Democratic committee chairman leading the inquiry said the testimony further implicated Mr. Trump in wrongdoing.
“Lieutenant Colonel Vindman — an active duty military officer who was awarded the Purple Heart after being injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq — performed another duty to the country by testifying before the Committees about presidential misconduct that he witnessed during his service at the White House,” they said in a joint statement accompanying the transcripts.
The Democrats signing the statement were Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, the acting chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
They highlighted Col. Vindman’s testimony that Mr. Trump’s “demand” for Ukraine to investigate corruption involving political rival Joseph R. Biden forced him to make a “moral and ethical” to complain.
The chairmen hailed Ms. Hill for revealing that those sounding alarms about Mr. Trump’s dealings in Ukraine included then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, who she said described the underhanded goings-on as a “drug deal.”
Mr. Bolton has defied congressional subpoenas but has expressed a willingness to testify if he can clear the White House’s legal hurdles.
“Lt. Col. Vindman and Dr. Hill—two courageous and patriotic Americans—testified despite pressure by the White House to silence their testimony. Their superiors in the White House have declined to cooperate with the inquiry, but transcripts released today show clearly that individuals close to the President were alarmed by a presidential scheme as illicit and corrupt as a ‘drug deal.’”
“Lt. Col. Vindman and Dr. Hill — two courageous and patriotic Americans — testified despite pressure by the White House to silence their testimony,” said the chairmen. “Their superiors in the White House have declined to cooperate with the inquiry, but transcripts released today show clearly that individuals close to the President were alarmed by a presidential scheme as illicit and corrupt as a ‘drug deal.’”
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