Vindman: Trump’s call ‘improper’
GOP questions US loyalty of decorated officer at hearing
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.”
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testifies Tuesday that it was his “duty” to report his concerns about the July call to Ukraine.