Vind­man: Trump’s call ‘improper’

GOP ques­tions US loy­alty of dec­o­rated of­fi­cer at hear­ing

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mas­caro and Mary Clare Jalonick

WASH­ING­TON — A ca­reer Army of­fi­cer tes­ti­fied Tues­day that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s call with Ukraine was “improper,” as Repub­li­cans tried to un­der­cut the na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial with pointed ex­changes ques­tion­ing his loy­alty to the U.S. dur­ing a re­mark­able day in the impeachmen­t hear­ings.

Ar­riv­ing on Capi­tol Hill in mil­i­tary blue with medals across his chest, Lt. Col. Alexan­der Vind­man told law­mak­ers it was his “duty” to re­port his con­cerns about the phone call. But he de­flected re­peated Repub­li­can ef­forts to di­vulge ev­ery­one he told about it — thwart­ing Trump al­lies’ at­tempts to iden­tify the anony­mous whistle­blower who spurred the impeachmen­t probe.

Vind­man, a 20-year mil­i­tary of­fi­cer who re­ceived a Pur­ple Heart for be­ing wounded in the Iraq War, was among the of­fi­cials who lis­tened in to the July 25 call when Trump asked Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy for a “fa­vor” — in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Demo­crat Joe

Bi­den and other is­sues.

“With­out hes­i­ta­tion, I knew I had to re­port this,” Vind­man told the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. “It was in­ap­pro­pri­ate, it was improper for the pres­i­dent to de­mand an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent.”

The tes­ti­mony launched a piv­otal week as the House’s impeachmen­t in­ves­ti­ga­tion reaches fur­ther into Trump’s White House.

Democrats say Trump’s pres­sure on Ukraine to in­ves­ti­gate for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den while with­hold­ing U.S. mil­i­tary aid to Kyiv may be grounds for re­mov­ing the 45th pres­i­dent. Re

publicans have ar­gued both that there was no link­age be­tween the two mat­ters and that there is noth­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate even if there was.

Vind­man, an of­fi­cial at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, tes­ti­fied along­side Jen­nifer Williams, his coun­ter­part at Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence’s of­fice.

Both said they had con­cerns as Trump spoke with the newly elected Ukrainian pres­i­dent about po­lit­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Bi­den.

Their ap­pear­ance be­fore the House com­mit­tee was fol­lowed by for­mer NSC of­fi­cial Ti­mothy Mor­ri­son and Kurt Volker, the for­mer Ukraine spe­cial en­voy.

Trump in­sists Ze­len­skiy did not feel pres­sured and has cast the impeachmen­t probe as a par­ti­san af­fair aimed at push­ing him from of­fice.

An im­mi­grant who came to the U.S. as a tod­dler from Ukraine, Vind­man opened his tes­ti­mony by as­sur­ing his fa­ther he would be “fine for telling the truth.”

Yet Vind­man spent long stretches field­ing Repub­li­can at­tacks on his loy­alty to the U.S. and his ca­reer in public ser­vice.

The Repub­li­cans’ lead coun­sel asked at one point about an of­fer to Vind­man from a Ukrainian of­fi­cial to be­come the coun­try’s de­fense min­is­ter.

Vind­man called it “com­i­cal” and said he swiftly re­ported it up his chain of com­mand.

“I’m an Amer­i­can,” Vind­man said. “And I im­me­di­ately dis­missed these of­fers.”

At the White House, Trump said he had watched part of the day’s tes­ti­mony and slammed the on­go­ing impeachmen­t hear­ings as a “dis­grace.”

Over the week­end, Trump as­sailed Williams as part of the “Never Trumpers” who op­pose his pres­i­dency, though there is no in­di­ca­tion she has shown any par­ti­san­ship. Trump al­lies have also re­peat­edly at­tacked Vind­man’s loy­alty.

Williams, a ca­reer State Depart­ment of­fi­cial who has worked for three pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions and counts for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice as a “per­sonal hero,” said the Trump phone call was the first time she had heard any­one specif­i­cally seek­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions from Ukraine.

The ref­er­ence to Bi­den and his son Hunter “struck me as po­lit­i­cal in na­ture.”

Williams tes­ti­fied the Trump phone call was un­like about a dozen oth­ers she had heard from pres­i­dents over her ca­reer.

When the White House pro­duced a rough tran­script later that day, she put it in Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence’s brief­ing ma­te­ri­als.

“I just don’t know if he read it,” Williams tes­ti­fied ear­lier in her closed-door House in­ter­view.

Later Tues­day, Volker, the for­mer spe­cial en­voy to Ukraine tes­ti­fied that he be­lieves now, thanks to hind­sight and the tes­ti­mony of other wit­nesses, that Trump was us­ing the aid to com­pel Ukraine to in­ves­ti­gate Bi­den and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas com­pany, Burisma.

But while say­ing he should have re­al­ized it ear­lier, Volker in­sisted he did not know of the ef­fort at the time, de­spite his deep in­volve­ment with Ukrainian of­fi­cials on a state­ment — never re­leased — that would have com­mit­ted the coun­try to in­ves­ti­gat­ing Burisma and the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Volker tes­ti­fied along­side Mor­ri­son, a for­mer White House na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial.

Both wit­nesses were re­quested by Repub­li­cans.

Mor­ri­son has said he was not con­cerned that any­thing il­le­gal was dis­cussed on Trump’s July 25 call.

“As I stated dur­ing my de­po­si­tion, I feared at the time of the call on July 25th how its dis­clo­sure would play in Wash­ing­ton’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate,” he said Tues­day. “My fears have been re­al­ized.”

SU­SAN WALSH/AP

Lt. Col. Alexan­der Vind­man tes­ti­fies Tues­day that it was his “duty” to re­port his con­cerns about the July call to Ukraine.

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