Vindman defends impeachment witnesses, describes concerns about Trump Ukraine call

A top White House expert on Ukraine testifying publicly in the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump on Tuesday described attacks on him and other witnesses as “reprehensible” and “cowardly,” recognizing career officials for their courage in coming forward to raise concerns about the administration’s policies toward Ukraine.

In measured opening remarks, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman said that he believed President Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president to be “improper” and that he reported concerns about it to a National Security Council (NSC) lawyer out of a “sense of duty.”

“I never thought I would be sitting here testifying in front of this committee and the American public about my actions,” Vindman, who wore his uniform during Tuesday’s hearing, said.

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Vindman and other career officials who have testified privately or publicly have withstood criticisms from the president’s Republican allies and even Trump himself, who last month called Vindman, a career official working on the White House National Security Council, as a “Never Trumper.”

“I want to state that the vile character attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible. It is natural to disagree and engage in spirited debate, this has been our custom since the time of our Founding Fathers, but we are better than callow and cowardly attacks,” Vindman said during his opening statement on Tuesday, without mentioning Trump or any specific attacks.

“The uniform I wear today is that of the United States Army. The members of our all-volunteer force are made up of a patchwork of people from all ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds who come together under a common oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” Vindman continued. “We do not serve any particular political party, we serve the nation.”

Vindman, the director for European affairs on the NSC, listened in on the July phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during which Trump asked Kyiv for investigations into 2016 election interference and former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and his son’s business relationship with Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings.

Vindman, who testified in a private deposition last month, said that he believed Trump’s actions were inappropriate and could hamper U.S. national security. Vindman reported the call to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg.

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“I was concerned by the call. What I heard was improper, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg,” Vindman said. “It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. 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. This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermine U.S. national security and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region,” he continued, echoing remarks from his previous closed-door testimony, a transcript of which has been released publicly.

Trump has suggested Vindman has given a skewed account of Trump’s call, a rough transcript of which has been released by the White House. On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) suggested that Vindman might be against Trump’s foreign policy and participating in an “ongoing effort to sabotage” Trump as a result.

The call between Trump and Zelensky triggered a whistleblower complaint alleging Trump used his office to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election.

House Democrats are investigating whether Trump sought to use military aid or a White House meeting to pressure Ukraine to open investigations that could benefit him politically. Trump has denied wrongdoing, calling the phone call “perfect” and saying there was no quid pro quo in his dealings with Ukraine. He also said that he raised the Bidens in order to pressure Ukraine to root out “corruption” and that his actions had nothing to do with politics.

Vindman, one of a handful of witnesses scheduled to testify publicly this week in connection with the House impeachment inquiry, is testifying Tuesday alongside Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Pence.

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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