Trump impeachment: 'There is no doubt' what president was asking Ukraine for, Vindman testifies
Explosive transcripts provide further evidence of apparent quid pro quo
A key impeachment witness who listened in to Donald Trump‘s phone call with Ukraine told House investigators there was “no doubt” the president was asking for investigations into his political rivals, according to a newly-released transcript of his testimony.
On Friday, House committees spearheading the investigation released the full transcripts from closed-door testimonies with Lt Col Alexander Vindman, who sat in on the 25 July phone call, and Fiona Hill.
The explosive testimonies added further evidence of an apparent “quid pro quo” surrounding Mr Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, including the 25 July phone call in which he allegedly asked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations into one of his 2020 political rivals, Joe Biden.
Lt Col Vindman, who serves as the director for European affairs on the National Security Council, said there was “no doubt” what Mr Trump was asking for during the call with his Ukrainian counterpart. The official described a “power disparity” between Mr Trump and Mr Zelensky as being “vast”.
He also said there was an obligation for the Ukrainian president to “fulfil this particular requisite” of publicly announcing investigations into Mr Biden, a 2020 candidate, and the origins of the Russia probe, in order to receive a White House visit.
In his testimony, Lt Col Vindman also discussed changes made to the official memo relating to Mr Trump’s phone call that sparked the impeachment inquiry.
One of those changes was that Mr Zelensky’s reference to “Burisma” – an energy firm whose board Mr Biden’s son, Hunter, had sat on – had been changed to “the company”.
Asked why he thought that was significant, Lt Col Vindman said: “Because, frankly, the president of Ukraine would not necessarily know anything about this company Burisma. I mean, he would certainly understand some of this – some of these elements because the story had been developing for some time, but the fact that he mentioned specifically Burisma seemed to suggest to me that he was prepped for this call.”
The impeachment witness also told investigators that Mick Mulvaney, the president’s acting chief of staff, took part in making sure the White House meeting between the two leaders was conditioned upon the agreement that Mr Zelensky would launch the investigations in question.
He said European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland “had a conversation with Mr Mulvaney, and this is what was required in order to get a meeting”.
The security expert also talked about the different way in which the record of the call was handled.
“As opposed to going into the standard communications system, it went into a different type, a different, more secure system”, he told investigators.
Lt Col Vindman drew up a memo recommending that Mr Trump release US military aid worth $400m to Ukraine, which he said had been withheld in an “abnormal” way. However, he said, the president “didn’t act on the recommendation”.
And Ms Hill, who served as the administration’s top Russia expert under Mr Trump, provided House investigators with a direct quote from the president’s ex-National Security adviser, John Bolton, who reportedly said: “You go an tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you’ve heard and what I’ve said.”
She said she was “worried about these conspiracy theories” involving Ukrainian election interference, which Mr Trump has long said impacted the 2016 presidential elections without evidence. The US Senate and intelligence community have both confirmed Russia was responsible for a multi-pronged attack on the US election system in 2016 in support of Mr Trump.
“I’m working that all of you are going to go down a rabbit hole, you know, looking for things that are not going to be at all helpful to the American people or to our future election in 2020,” Ms Hill said.
“You just had the Senate report coming out informing us all yet again, a bipartisan, nonpartisan report from the Senate about the risk that there is to our elections,” she added. “If we have people running around chasing rabbit holes because Rudy Giuliani or others have been feeding information to The Hill, Politico, we are not going to be prepared as a country to push back on this again. The Russians thrive on misinformation and disinformation.”
Ms Hill also said that Mr Mulvaney and Mr Sondland were involved in “an improper arrangement” by “predicating the meeting in the White House” on having Ukraine launch the investigations in question.
She said she told Charlie Kupperman, a deputy national security adviser, that “Ukraine was going to be played by Giuliani in some way as part of the campaign”.
She described the request for investigations as being “pretty blatant” and said she was “very shocked, to be frank, that we ended up with a telephone conversation like this”.
“I’m not going to say anything more about this,” she said, “but I sat in an awful lot of calls, and I have not seen anything like this. And I was there for two and a half years. So I was just shocked.”