In his opening statement in Tuesday’s public impeachment hearing, National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman said he thought President Trump’s July 25 call with his Ukrainian counterpart was “improper.”
“I was concerned by the call, what I heard was improper, and I reported my concerns to Mr. (John) Eisenberg,” Vindman said, referring to a lawyer on the National Security Council.
The Democrats are trying to determine whether Trump abused his office for political gain by asking President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma.
Officials have testified that they were concerned that Trump and his administration sought to tie nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine to the probes.
Vindman, who said he listened to the phone call in the Situation Room with his White House colleagues, explained why he thought the conversation was problematic.
“It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent. It was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play,” he said.
“This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermine US national security, and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region,” Vindman added.
He also said he became aware of “disruptive actors” — including Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — involved in US foreign policy matters involving Ukraine.
“In the spring of 2019, I became aware of two disruptive actors: primarily Ukraine’s then-prosecutor Lutsenko and former mayor Rudy Giuliani’s promoting false narratives that undermined the United States’ Ukraine policy,” he said.
Other impeachment witnesses have testified about the shadowy foreign policy efforts by Giuliani, whose actions were described by diplomat Bill Taylor “irregular” during his public testimony last week.
Vindman also described the character attacks on witnesses who have testified in the impeachment inquiry hearings as “vile.”
“I want to take a moment to recognize the courage of my colleagues who have appeared and are scheduled to appear before this Committee. I want to state that the vile character attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible,” he said.
“It is natural to disagree and engage in spirited debate, this has been the custom of our county since the time of our Founding Fathers, but we are better than personal attacks,” he added.
Vindman didn’t call out anyone specifically by name, but last week, during the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch, former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Trump live-tweeted an attack on her.
When she was asked about the tweet, she called it “very intimidating.”
“I never thought I would be sitting here testifying in front of this committee and the American public, about my actions,” Vindman said in his opening statement.
“When I reported my concerns, my only thought was to act properly and to carry out duty. Following each of my reports to Mr. Eisenberg, I immediately returned to work to advance the president’s and our country’s foreign policy objectives. I focused on what I have done throughout my career, promoting America’s national security interests.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence who also listened to the July 25 phone call, said she found the conversation “unusual” because “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”
“After the July 25th call, I provided an update in the vice president’s daily briefing book indicating that President Trump had a call that day with President Zelensky,” she said in her opening statement.
“A hard copy of the memorandum transcribing the call was also included in the book. I do not know whether the vice president reviewed my update or the transcript. I did not discuss the July 25th call with the vice president or any of my colleagues in the Office of the Vice President or the NSC,” she said.
Williams said she learned on July 3 about the Office of Management and Budget’s hold on the security assistance for Ukraine.
“According to the information I received, OMB was reviewing whether the funding was aligned with the Administration’s priorities,” she said.
“I subsequently attended meetings of the Policy Coordination Committee where the hold on Ukrainian security assistance was discussed. During those meetings, representatives of the State and Defense departments advocated that the hold should be lifted, and OMB representatives reported that the White House Chief of Staff had directed that the hold should remain in place,” she continued.
“On Sept. 11th, I learned that the hold on security assistance for Ukraine had been released. I have never learned what prompted that decision,” Williams said.