What We Learned Today From Impeachment Inquiry Hearings

The New York Times Politics 2 weeks ago

WASHINGTON — Two top national security officials offered new details about President Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine as they appeared for testimony during the second week of public hearings in House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

At issue is whether Mr. Trump abused his power by holding out security aid and a coveted White House meeting from the Ukrainian government in exchange for an announcement from Ukraine’s president of investigations that could benefit Mr. Trump politically. Here are the new revelations from the officials, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams:

Tuesday morning panel

Few in the government supported holding up security aid to Ukraine, witnesses said.

Tuesday morning’s witnesses provided a new window into how the national security establishment reacted to the decision to freeze $391 million in security aid for Ukraine for 55 days. Colonel Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, and Ms. Williams, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, both testified that they knew of no one at the National Security Council — the foreign policy arm of the White House — the State Department or the Pentagon who supported holding up the aid. “None,” Colonel Vindman said.

Vindman reported concerns about Trump’s call to an intelligence officer and State Department official.

Colonel Vindman and Ms. Williams were the first two witnesses at a public hearing who listened in real time to Mr. Trump’s now-infamous July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Both said they were alarmed; Ms. Williams called the call “unusual and inappropriate” while Colonel Vindman said it was “wrong.”

But Ms. Williams said she told no one about her concerns, while Colonel Vindman offered new detail of what he did after the call: He told an intelligence officer and a State Department official before reporting his concerns to the security council’s top lawyer. Together, their responses contrasted with other witnesses who have said they heard nothing wrong with the call.

The July call transcript was put on a secure server to limit access and prevent leaks.

Colonel Vindman provided new details about how the reconstructed transcript of the call ended up in a secure White House server. He testified that he believed that John A. Eisenberg, the senior lawyer at the National Security Council to whom he reported his concerns about the call, intended to put the reconstructed transcript into a secure system to limit access and prevent leaks. “I didn’t take it as anything nefarious,” the colonel testified. His testimony contradicts Timothy Morrison, his former direct superior at the council, who has told lawmakers that the transcript was accidentally put on the secure system.

Trump’s requests for investigations were demands, Vindman said.

Colonel Vindman testified that he believed that Mr. Trump’s request for Ukraine to open investigations into the “2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma” — inquiries that could help Mr. Trump’s re-election chances — should be viewed as demands that were “inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security.”

Colonel Vindman also revealed a new understanding about how he conveyed to his superiors his concerns over a White House meeting on July 10 with Ukrainian officials. He said he immediately spoke to Mr. Eisenberg, adding to a similar account from Fiona Hill, who at the time was Colonel Vindman’s superior at the National Security Council.

Vindman and Williams expressed concern about Giuliani’s role in Ukraine policy.

Ms. Williams and Colonel Vindman added texture to the frustration inside the government about the shadow Ukraine foreign policy being conducted by the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and others. Colonel Vindman testified that he quickly became aware of “former mayor Rudy Giuliani’s promoting false narratives that undermined the United States’ Ukraine policy.” Their testimony confirms many of the other impeachment witnesses who have described Mr. Giuliani, who has no official government job, as having an outsize role in influencing Mr. Trump’s position on Ukraine.

Attacks on Vindman by the White House and Trump allies revealed a Republican strategy.

The White House and the president’s Republican allies revealed a key part of their impeachment strategy as they sought to aggressively undermine Colonel Vindman’s credibility. Republican lawmakers confronted Colonel Vindman with comments from Mr. Morrison questioning his judgment. The colonel, an Iraq war veteran who received a Purple Heart after being wounded by a roadside bomb, was ready for the attack, citing a work evaluation from Ms. Hill that said he was “brilliant, unflappable and exercises excellent judgment.”

The White House ignored that and tweeted out the disparaging quote from Mr. Morrison, making it clear that even a decorated veteran who is still a National Security Council aide was not off limits.


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