‘No doubt’ about a quid pro quo, of­fi­cial tes­ti­fied

TRUMP’S ‘DE­MAND’ WOR­RIED VIND­MAN Tran­script re­veals Aug. meet­ing on Ukraine aid


In vivid and at times con­tentious tes­ti­mony be­fore House im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors, the se­nior White House of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for Ukraine de­scribed what he be­lieved was an un­am­bigu­ous effort by Pres­i­dent Trump to pres­sure the pres­i­dent of Ukraine to open in­ves­ti­ga­tions tar­get­ing Amer­i­can politi­cians in ex­change for a cov­eted Oval Of­fice meet­ing.

Un­der ques­tion­ing from Rep. Peter Welch ( Vt.) and other Democrats, Lt. Col. Alexan­der Vind­man said “there was no doubt” about what Trump wanted when he spoke by phone July 25 with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky — par­tic­u­larly in con­trast with an April call be­tween the two lead­ers shortly af­ter Ze­len­sky’s elec­tion.

“The tone was sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent,” Vind­man said, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of his Oct. 29 de­po­si­tion re­leased Fri­day. Vind­man, who as a se­nior White House of­fi­cial lis­tened in on both calls, went on: “I’m strug­gling for the words, but it was not a pos­i­tive call. It was dour. If I think about it some more, I could prob­a­bly come up with some other ad­jec­tives, but it was just — the dif­fer­ence be­tween the calls was ap­par­ent.”

Welch asked Vind­man if he had any doubt that Trump was ask­ing for in­ves­ti­ga­tions of his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents “as a de­liv­er­able” — in other words, as part of a quid pro quo.

“There was no doubt,” Vind­man said.

The re­lease of Vind­man’s tes­ti­mony, and that of Fiona Hill’s, a for­mer se­nior of­fi­cial for Rus­sia on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, comes as the House en­ters the next phase of its im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Next week will bring two days of pub­lic tes­ti­mony from three se­nior State De­part­ment of­fi­cials who have al­ready met with law­mak­ers be­hind closed doors. Hill and Vind­man are in dis­cus­sions to tes­tify at a pub­lic hear­ing later this month, ac­cord­ing to con­gres­sional Demo­cratic ad­vis­ers fa­mil­iar with the plan who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the on­go­ing in­quiry.

Vind­man’s de­scrip­tion of a quid pro quo fo­cused on the White House meet­ing de­sired by Ze­len­sky as Ukraine’s new pres­i­dent des­per­ately sought a show of U.S. sup­port in his coun­try’s con­tin­ued bat­tle with Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratists. But the Army of­fi­cer also de­tailed a pre­vi­ously undis­closed dis­cus­sion in the Oval Of­fice on Aug. 16, a con­ver­sa­tion among se­nior lead­ers that he did not wit­ness but un­der­stood to be aimed at per­suad­ing Trump to re­store the flow of hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in se­cu­rity aid to Ukraine.

Those in­volved in­cluded then­na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John

Bolton, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and Sec­re­tary of De­fense Mark T. Esper, Vind­man said. They gath­ered with Trump “to dis­cuss the hold and other is­sues” af­ter Bolton in­structed Vind­man to draft a memo for the pres­i­dent ex­plain­ing why dis­tri­bu­tion of the se­cu­rity aid — to­tal­ing al­most $400 mil­lion — was in the United States’ in­ter­ests.

Vind­man told law­mak­ers that there was broad agree­ment among na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials that not pro­vid­ing the aid to Ukraine “would sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­mine the mes­sage of sup­port” for the coun­try and “also sig­nal to the Rus­sians that they could po­ten­tially be more ag­gres­sive.”

But ac­counts of what tran­spired in the Oval Of­fice varied, Vind­man told in­ves­ti­ga­tors. One of­fi­cial told him that, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, the hold on mil­i­tary aid “never came up,” ac­cord­ing to Vind­man’s tes­ti­mony. A sec­ond ac­count in­di­cated that it was raised, “but no de­ci­sion was taken.”

In a dis­cus­sion with im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors about what con­sti­tutes a quid pro quo, Vind­man was grilled by a Re­pub­li­can law­maker about why he be­lieved Trump had made a “de­mand” that Ukraine launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Hunter Bi­den in re­turn for a White House meet­ing for Ze­len­sky. Bi­den is the son of for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, a lead­ing con­tender for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, and was once em­ployed by a con­tro­ver­sial Ukrainian en­ergy firm.

Vind­man, ex­plain­ing what he called the vast “power dis­par­ity” be­tween Trump and Ze­len­sky, told Rep. John Rat­cliffe (R-tex.) that Trump’s re­quest for a “fa­vor” from Ze­len­sky was fairly in­ter­preted as a de­mand.

“When the pres­i­dent of the United States makes a re­quest for a fa­vor, it cer­tainly seems — I would take it as a de­mand.”

“Fair enough,” said Rat­cliffe, who went on to ex­press doubts about the premise.

Rat­cliffe pressed Vind­man on the word “de­mand,” say­ing, “The word when we’re talk­ing about an al­le­ga­tion that there was a quid pro quo has sig­nif­i­cance, and ‘de­mand’ has a spe­cific con­no­ta­tion.” He stressed that Trump and oth­ers have de­nied there was any such de­mand.

But Vind­man stood by his de­scrip­tion, say­ing: “It be­came com­pletely ap­par­ent what the de­liv­er­able would be in or­der to get a White House meet­ing. That de­liv­er­able was re­in­forced by the Pres­i­dent. . . . The de­mand was, in or­der to get the White House meet­ing, they had to de­liver an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Vind­man also tes­ti­fied that

Gor­don Sond­land, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, told him that the idea to pre­con­di­tion a White House meet­ing on the Ukraini­ans’ help in in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Bi­dens was “co­or­di­nated” with the act­ing White House chief of staff, Mick Mul­vaney.

Sond­land “just said that he had had a con­ver­sa­tion with Mr. Mul­vaney, and this is what was re­quired in or­der to get a meet­ing,” Vind­man tes­ti­fied.

Mul­vaney de­fied a sub­poena Fri­day to ap­pear for a de­po­si­tion, claim­ing through his at­tor­ney “ab­so­lute im­mu­nity,” an of­fi­cial work­ing on the in­quiry said.

Trump later told re­porters that al­low­ing White House of­fi­cials to tes­tify would val­i­date what he sees as an il­le­git­i­mate pro­ceed­ing. “They’re mak­ing it up,” he said. “I don’t want to give cred­i­bil­ity to a cor­rupt witch hunt. I’d love for Mick to go up . . . ex­cept it val­i­dates a cor­rupt in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Sond­land told in­ves­ti­ga­tors last month that the dis­burse­ment of mil­i­tary aid was con­tin­gent on the in­ves­ti­ga­tions Trump de­sired. A tran­script of his de­po­si­tion was re­leased ear­lier this week.

Within an hour of Trump’s July call with Ze­len­sky, Vind­man said, he told White House lawyers that Trump had made an in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­quest for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“I thought it was trou­bling and dis­turb­ing” and “wrong,” Vind­man told House in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

He said he brought notes of the con­ver­sa­tion into a meet­ing that in­cluded White House lawyers John Eisen­berg and Mike El­lis, as well as Vind­man’s twin brother, Yevgeny, an ethics lawyer on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Vind­man said what he found “par­tic­u­larly trou­bling was the ref­er­ences to con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion” into Hunter Bi­den, telling law­mak­ers he thought it was wrong for the pres­i­dent to ask a for­eign power to in­ves­ti­gate an Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen.

He was also dis­turbed by Trump’s re­quest that Ze­len­sky speak with his per­sonal at­tor­ney, Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani, and At­tor­ney Gen­eral William P. Barr to “con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that didn’t ex­ist.”

Many of Vind­man’s con­cerns about politi­ciz­ing the re­la­tion­ship with Ukraine, which the United States sees as a bul­wark against Rus­sian ex­pan­sion in Europe, were shared by Hill, the for­mer NSC Rus­sia of­fi­cial.

Hill tes­ti­fied that Gi­u­liani and his busi­ness as­so­ciates, Igor Fru­man and Lev Par­nas, were try­ing to use the pow­ers of the pres­i­dency to fur­ther their own in­ter­ests. Fru­man and Par­nas were ar­rested last month and face fed­eral charges of fun­nel­ing for­eign money to U.S. politi­cians while try­ing to in­flu­ence U.s.-ukraine re­la­tions.

Hill said Bolton re­peat­edly told his staff and col­leagues in the ad­min­is­tra­tion “that no­body should be talk­ing to Rudy Gi­u­liani, on our team or any­body else should be.”

Even be­fore Trump’s July phone call with Ze­len­sky, dur­ing which Trump said Ukraine’s pres­i­dent should be in touch with Gi­u­liani about in­ves­ti­ga­tions, “there was a lot of usurpa­tion of that power,” Hill told im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors, char­ac­ter­iz­ing Gi­u­liani and his as­so­ciates as “try­ing to ap­pro­pri­ate pres­i­den­tial power or the author­ity of the Pres­i­dent, given the po­si­tion that Mr. Gi­u­liani is in, to also pur­sue their own per­sonal in­ter­ests.”

Hill said that, in hind­sight and with the ben­e­fit of a rough tran­script of the call and me­dia re­ports, she be­lieved that her “worst night­mare” for U.s.-ukraine re­la­tions had come to pass.

“My worst night­mare is the politi­ciza­tion of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the U.S. and Ukraine and, also, the usurpa­tion of au­thor­i­ties, you know, for other peo­ple’s per­sonal vested in­ter­ests,” Hill said. “And there seems to be a large range of peo­ple who were look­ing for these op­por­tu­ni­ties here.”

Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey, Karoun Demir­jian, Karen Deyoung, Tom Ham­burger, John Hudson, Colby Itkowitz, Greg Jaffe, Paul Kane, Ellen Nakashima, John Wag­ner and Matt Zapo­to­sky con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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