WASHINGTON ― Officials who heard President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukraine over the spring and summer understood that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would have to investigate Trump’s political opponents if he hoped to get the White House visit and military aid his country desperately needed, two key witnesses made clear to Congress on Tuesday.
The testimony added more evidence that Trump’s request amounted to a quid pro quo.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran who was working in the White House as the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert, testified that he saw Trump’s push for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter as an “order” to Zelensky and felt compelled to report it up the chain of command. Vindman is registered to vote with no party affiliation. Asked if he was a “Never Trumper,” he called himself a “never partisan.”
State Department official Jennifer Williams said she found Trump’s now-infamous July 25 phone call to Zelensky “unusual” because it involved discussion of a domestic political matter. Williams, who Trump attacked in a tweet as a “Never Trumper,” serves as an adviser on Russia to Vice President Mike Pence and campaigned for ex-President George W. Bush in 2004. She testified that “the reference to Biden” on Trump’s call with Zelensky “sounded political.”
Republicans on the committee spent most of the hearing attacking the media as Democratic “puppets” and trying to gently undermine a Purple Heart recipient and a Bush campaign official. Republicans pressed Vindman about being offered the position of defense secretary of Ukraine, which Vindman reported to his superiors when he returned home.
Vindman said the offer wasn’t something he seriously considered, and considered it laughable because he’s an American and a member of the U.S. military. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said the line of questioning was a question about his loyalty “cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit.”
Vindman testified that he felt it was “improper for the president to request, to demand, an investigation into a political opponent” and felt he “had to report this to the White House counsel.” He said it would undermine foreign policy and national security.
Vindman testified that Trump didn’t mention corruption in either phone call that he had with Zelensky before the July phone call, despite the fact that rooting out corruption in Ukraine was part of U.S. policy and was mentioned in Trump’s talking points.
Tuesday’s morning session kicked off a busy week in the impeachment process. Ambassador Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison will testify Tuesday afternoon. Trump donor and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Defense Department official Laura Cooper and U.S. diplomat David Hale will testify Wednesday, and presidential adviser Fiona Hill and State Department official David Holmes will testify on Thursday.
Sondland’s highly anticipated testimony could be the most important day of testimony. But Volker is also expected to face tough questions from Democrats, as his testimony has been inconsistent with that of other witnesses. Volker claimed he wasn’t aware of being part of an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate Biden, but several other officials testified that Volker was closely involved in the efforts.