Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it’s “wrong” to solicit personal favors from a foreign country while putting up U.S. assets as collateral.
“There’s just no two ways about it,” he told “PBS Newshour’s” Judy Woodruff during a Monday talk at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio.
“If you’re seeking some kind of personal gain and you’re using ― whether it’s American foreign aid or American weapons or American influence ― that’s wrong,” said Tillerson, who served as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state for 14 months until he was ousted in March 2018. “And I think everyone understands that.”
Tillerson’s remarks came as congressional investigators ramped up impeachment proceedings against President Trump over his dealings with Ukraine. At the heart of House Democrats’ inquiry is Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump pressed for a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, based on unfounded corruption accusations.
At the time of their discussion, American military aid to Ukraine was being temporarily withheld, raising serious questions over whether a quid pro quo was being made.
On Tuesday morning, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s leading Ukraine expert, testified before the House Intelligence Committee with firsthand knowledge of the now-infamous call. Vindman told lawmakers Trump was giving Zelensky an “order” rather than a “request.”
“It was improper for the president to demand an investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power where there’s at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation, and that this would have significant implications if this became public knowledge,” Vindman said, adding that “it would undermine our Ukraine policy and it would undermine our national security.”
Trump also wanted an investigation into whether Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election to help Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, though the U.S. intelligence community has already determined Russia interfered to aid Trump.
Trump’s call so alarmed Vindman that he said “without hesitation, I knew I had to report this to the White House counsel.”
Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence, testified with Vindman, and will be followed by former U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security Council official Timothy Morrison in the afternoon.