Democrats leading an impeachment probe into Donald Trump‘s alleged abuses of power in his dealings with Ukraine found the testimony of a high-ranking US official “extremely disturbing” and “very credible” as the House prepares to take a formal vote on Mr Trump’s impeachment.
Acting House Oversight Committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York told NBC News that she found Lt Col Alexander Vindman‘s remarks “extremely, extremely, extremely disturbing” during the committee’s closed-door deposition.
According to his testimony, Mr Vindman had twice reported his “concerns” to the White House after US officials including Mr Trump had discussed demanding Ukraine announce an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden in exchange for a meeting with Mr Trump and military aid.
A decorated Iraq War veteran, Mr Vindman was listening to the 25 July phone call between Mr Trump and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky that’s now at the heart of the US president’s impeachment investigation.
But in his opening testimony to the Congressional committees investigating the president, Mr Vindman also says Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, told Ukraine officials, as well as members of Mr Trump’s cabinet, that Mr Zelensky must “deliver” an investigation into Mr Trump’s political opponent in exchange for a meeting with Mr Trump.
Mr Sondland had “emphasised” Ukraine investigate Mr Biden as well as his son Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, according to a draft of the testimony obtained by The New York Times.
Mr Vindman, a National Security Council expert on Ukraine, reported his concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel fearing that the phone call could “undermine US national security”.
“I was concerned by the call,” he said in his opening statement to Congress. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the US government’s support of Ukraine. I realised 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.”
Following the release of Mr Vindman’s testimony, the president repeated claims that the impeachment investigation is a “witch hunt”.
“Supposedly, according to the Corrupt Media, the Ukraine call ‘concerned’ today’s Never Trumper witness. Was he on the same call that I was? Can’t be possible! Please ask him to read the Transcript of the call. Witch Hunt!”
A Ukrainian immigrant whose family fled the Soviet Union for New York City in 1979, Mr Vindman served in the Iraq War, where he was wounded by a roadside bomb, earning him a Purple Heart.
Republicans who have tried to undermine the investigation have called Mr Vindman’s background into question while continuing to berate Democrats pursuing the president’s impeachment.
To Fox News host Laura Ingraham, the “interesting angle” of Mr Vindman’s testimony wasn’t his testimony of meetings with White House officials but that it was coming from a “security official who is advising Ukraine, while working inside the White House, apparently against the president’s interest”.
“Usually, they spoke in English,” she said.
John Yoo, a former George W Bush administration official, told Ms Ingraham that Mr Vindman’s role could be considered “espionage”.
Mr Vindman joined the White House’s National Security Council in 2018 and reported to Fiona Hill, who served under now former national security advisor John Bolton.
He has argued that a “strong and independent Ukraine is critical to US national security interests because Ukraine is a frontline state and a bulwark against Russian aggression”.
Earlier this year, he said he “became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency”.
“This narrative was harmful to US government policy,” he said in his statement. “While my interagency colleagues and I were becoming increasingly optimistic on Ukraine’s prospects, this alternative narrative undermined US government efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine.”
Following the election of Mr Zelensky in April 2019, Mr Vindman listened in on Mr Trump’s phone call congratulating Ukraine’s new president. The call was “positive” and Mr Trump invited Mr Zelensky to the White House, Mr Vindman says. In May, he joined a delegation to Ukraine for Mr Zelensky’s inauguration.
On 10 July 2019, two weeks before the phone call between the presidents, a Ukraine defence secretary visited Washington DC to meet Mr Sondland, Mr Bolton, State Department envoy Kurt Volker and US energy secretary Rick Perry.
According to Mr Vindman, the meeting went well “until the Ukrainians broached the subject of a meeting between the two presidents”.
Mr Vindman said that Mr Sondland suggested Ukraine deliver “specific investigations” before a meeting could be arranged, then Mr Bolton “cut the meeting short”.
After the meeting, he claims Mr Sondland “emphasised the importance of Ukraine deliver[ing] the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma”.
At this point, Mr Vindman told Mr Sondland that “his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push”.
Ms Hill also told Mr Sondland that “his statements were inappropriate,” according to Mr Vindman, who reported the exchange to the NSC’s lead counsel.
Following the July phone call between the two presidents, Mr Vindman made another report to the NSC’s lead counsel.
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