White House officials astonished, concerned over Trump's request of Kyiv
By Alfonso Fernandez and Alex Segura
The director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, US Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testifies before the House Intelligence Committee during the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington on 19 November 2019. EFE/EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff questions the special adviser for Europe and Russia to Vice President Mike Pence, Jennifer Williams (not shown) during the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington on 19 November 2019. EFE/EPA/Jacquelyn Martin / POOL
The special adviser for Europe and Russia to Vice President Mike Pence, Jennifer Williams (L), and the director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, US Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (R); finish their testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington on 19 November 2019. EFE/EPA/ERIK S. LESSER
By Alfonso Fernandez and Alex Segura
Washington, Nov 19 (efe-epa).- Surprise, even astonishment, was what two current White House officials - Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams - said they felt when they learned of the "improper" and "unusual" demand made of Ukraine by President Donald Trump, a request that has unleashed the current impeachment investigation against him.
Saying he was concerned upon listening to the call live, Vindman said "Without hesitation, I knew I had to report this. It was inappropriate, it was improper for the president to demand an investigation into a political opponent."
Vindman is the main Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and he was referring to the July 25 phone call between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which the US leader asked Kyiv to investigate current Democratic presidential contender and former Vice President Joe Biden.
That is precisely the point of departure for the impeachment proceedings currently under way in the House of Representatives, which are seeking to determine if Trump intentionally blocked the delivery of $400 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to try and force Kyiv to launch an investigation into Biden and the business activities of his son Hunter in the East European country.
"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," Vindman said, adding that "This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support (in the US Congress), undermine US national security, and advance Russia's strategic objectives in the region."
Vindman said that he never imagined that reporting his concerns to his superiors and to White House Counsel John Eisenberg, who told him not to discuss it further, would result in his testifying before Congress, adding that he was only doing his "duty" to report behavior he considered improper and detrimental to US national security.
The hearing was clearly divided along partisan lines, with Democrats trying to emphasize the highlights of Vindman's by all accounts exemplary US Army career and his credibility and Republicans trying to discredit him at every turn.
The first clash came early in Tuesday's hearing when the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, referred to Vindman as "mister," to which the Army officer outfitted in his dress blues with his medals on his chest said, "It's Lt. Col. Vindman, please," reminding the conservative lawmaker, one of Trump's most adamant supporters in Congress, to address him by his rank.
In his testimony, Vindman said that this past spring he noticed that the then-attorney general of Ukraine, Yuri Lutsenko, and Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani,
The former New York mayor was "promoting false information that undermined the United States' Ukraine policy," Vindman stated.
He also said that the White House omitted the name "Burisma," the large Ukrainian energy company, from the so-called transcription of that July 25 call made public by the White House, although Vindman acknowledged that the omission was a minor error, which he had tried to correct.
Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma.
Regarding the testimony of Williams, a policy aide to Vice President Mike Pence, she agreed that the younger Biden's activities on the Burisma board could "potentially" have been a conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, although Williams adopted a less blunt or forceful tone than Vindman, she testified that the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky surprised her for its unusual content.
She said that she considered the content of the call to be "unusual" given that it included a discussion of what seemed to her to be a domestic political matter.
She also said that she was surprised that she had been mentioned by name by Trump in a Twitter message on the weekend in which he claimed she was a "Never Trumper," as those who have refused to support him during his presidential candidacy and since he came into office have been labeled by Trump and his supporters.
"It certainly surprised me," she said. "I wasn't expecting to be called out by name."
Pence's special adviser on Europe and Russia explained that the previously anticipated trip by the vice president to attend the newly-elected Zelensky's inauguration - although the date of that event was not yet known - was ultimately cancelled by Trump himself.
When asked about the possible reasons for that cancellation, Williams said only that she was not in a position to "speculate" about the president's motivation.
On Tuesday afternoon, the impeachment hearings in the House Intelligence Committee are continuing with the testimony of Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, the official formerly in charge of Russian affairs at the National Security Council and Vindman's direct superior.