WASHINGTON — A career Army officer. A career foreign service official. Both had a consistent message during Day 3 of the House impeachment inquiry, and each was troubled by the phone call between President Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine.
Here are some takeaways from the hearing so far:
‘CONCERNED BY THE CALL’
Republicans have consistently criticized the House impeachment inquiry by saying that witnesses did not have firsthand knowledge of President Donald Trump’s role in trying to persuade Ukraine to investigate a chief political rival.
On Day 3 of the proceedings, that posture is suddenly far more difficult to maintain.
The two witnesses in Tuesday morning’s session each listened to the July 25 phone call in which Trump prodded his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Jennifer Williams, a senior adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, said she immediately considered the call “unusual” since it “involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”
Alexander Vindman, an Army lieutenant colonel who arrived for the hearing in military uniform adorned with medals, went even further in describing his firsthand concerns. He considered it “improper,” and, acting out of “duty,” reported his alarm to the chief lawyer for the National Security Council. He sought to pre-empt any Republican arguments that he had political or partisan concerns in mind, pointedly noting that he conveyed his concerns privately and through the right channel.
“I privately reported my concerns, in official channels, to the proper authorities in the chain of command. My intent was to raise these concerns because they had significant national security implications for our country,” Vindman said.
Pence has been portrayed largely as out of the loop about Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Biden. The public testimony by Williams is refocusing attention on what the Pence knew and when about the events that sparked the House impeachment investigation.
But Pence’s office says the two barely interacted.
Williams, a career foreign service officer who was detailed to Pence's office from the State Department, compiled briefing materials for Pence on Ukraine, was in the room when he met with Zelenskiy in September and was among the staffers in the Situation Room who listened and took notes during Trump's July 25 call with Zelenskiy.
Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for Pence, notes her current appointment began on April 1, and says, “she doesn’t directly report to the Vice President.”
To that end, Pence failed to come to Williams’ defense when Trump fired off a tweet over the weekend saying she should meet with “the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!”
There is no evidence she is a “Never Trumper.” Williams said the opportunity to serve the vice president was the “greatest honor of my career.”
WHITE HOUSE REAL-TIME RESPONSE
The White House reacted to the substance of the impeachment inquiry in real time Tuesday, stepping up its engagement after facing persistent complaints from Republican allies that it wasn’t doing enough to counter the allegations against the president.
The White House sent out five “rapid response” emails to reporters before the witnesses were even sworn-in for Tuesday’s open hearing, and the notes continued throughout the proceedings. The messages at once sought to defend Trump and undermine the credibility of the witnesses before the committee.
“The President of the United States determines American foreign policy – not unelected bureaucrats,” said one email, as the White House argued that the career officials testifying had a policy dispute with Trump about Ukraine. “It’s the job of bureaucrats to implement that agenda set by the President – not leak and undermine him at every turn.”
"Williams’ prior testimony offered nothing but personal opinion and conjecture over a call that all Americans can see for themselves was perfectly appropriate,” the White House said.
The White House is also attacking Vindman, saying he “has faced accusations of poor judgement, leaking, and going around normal procedures.”
Efforts to push back on the proceedings in real-time were to begin last week, but were stymied Friday after President Donald Trump tweeted out an attack on another witness, former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.