- House Democrats released the transcript Friday of testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.
- Vindman is one of the most significant and damaging witnesses to testify so far in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
- Vindman has direct knowledge of the phone call at the centre of the impeachment probe, and he confirmed that Trump engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine’s president.
- “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where the gain would be for the president in investigating the son of a political opponent,” he testified.
- Scroll down to read the key takeaways from Vindman’s blockbuster testimony.
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House Democrats released the transcript Friday of some of the most damning testimony given so far in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Lawmakers released transcripts on Friday of the depositions of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs.
Vindman, a military veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is one of the most significant witnesses against Trump. He has direct knowledge of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during which Trump repeatedly pressured Zelensky to launch politically motivated investigations that would help Trump’s 2020 campaign.
Vindman was so alarmed by the call that he immediately reported what he’d heard to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer for the National Security Council, but Eisenberg told him not to reveal details of the conversation to anyone else. He testified to Congress that Trump’s demands of Zelensky forced him to make a “moral and ethical” decision and fuelled concerns that Trump’s actions could “undermine US national security.”
According to the transcript of his testimony, Vindman also outlined in detail the pressure campaign that Trump and his allies carried out to strongarm Ukraine into acceding to his demands. That campaign included, among other things, freezing vital military aid to help Ukraine fend off Russian aggression and dangling a White House meeting with Trump in exchange for the investigations.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Vindman’s blockbuster testimony:
A White House meeting was “what this was about. This was about getting a White House meeting. It was a demand for [Zelensky] to fulfil his – fulfil this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting.”
- Vindman elaborated that Trump didn’t have to make an explicit demand in order for Zelensky to understand what he wanted.
Vindman immediately flagged Trump’s conversation to Eisenberg. But Eisenberg told Vindman not to tell anyone about what he’d heard on the phone call between Trump and Zelensky.
- When Vindman told Eisenberg about the call, he testified that Eisenberg told him he “shouldn’t talk to any other people” about it.
Vindman became aware of Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in the pressure campaign in mid-April.
- He also testified that there’s no evidence to support Giuliani’s smear campaign against Masha Yovanovitch, the US’s former ambassador to Ukraine who was abruptly ousted in May. Yovanovitch and other career officials have testified that she was removed because she refused to go along with Giuliani’s efforts to get Ukraine to deliver dirt to Trump.
- “I am unaware of any factual basis for the accusations against Ambassador Yovanovitch, and I am, frankly, unaware of any authoritative basis for Ukrainian interference in 2016 elections, based on my knowledge,” Vindman said.
Gordon Sondland, the US’s ambassador to the EU, told Vindman that the idea of predicating the White House meeting on Ukraine delivering Trump the political dirt he wanted “had been coordinated with” Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.
- Vindman is the third witness so far to point to Sondland’s relationship with Mulvaney.
- Hill testified that during a July 21 meeting with Ukrainian officials, Sondland “was talking about how he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations.”
- And George Kent, a top State Department official, testified that Mulvaney coordinated Sondland’s presence at high level meetings vis-a-vis Ukraine policy, and that Mulvaney was the one who carried out Trump’s directive to freeze military aid.
Sondland was initially taken off a list of officials for a May 2019 delegation meeting with Ukrainian officials because he tended to go off script and was seen as a risk. He was ultimately put back on the list.
- “He’s not a professional diplomat,” Vindman testified, referring to Sondland. “And this is not critical of him, but he didn’t necessarily act as a diplomat and he wouldn’t necessarily, you know-if we had a consistent position and a consistent set of talking points, he would not necessarily be consistent with our-with the rest of the consensus view.”
Vindman learned about the freeze in military aid on July 3.
- This revelation means Vindman was one of the earliest officials to find out about the holdup.
- He testified that the NSC was “trying to get to the bottom of why this hold was in place” and that the reason became clear during a July 18 meeting, when Vindman said he found out Mulvaney’s office gave the order to withhold aid.
A top Ukrainian official started asking about the frozen aid in mid-August, roughly two weeks before it was first publicly reported on.
- This revelation from Vindman undercuts one of Trump’s key claims – that there couldn’t have been a quid pro quo because the Ukrainians didn’t know aid was being withheld.
Vindman confirmed the broad details of a July 10 meeting at the White House between Trump advisers and Ukrainian officials.
- Sondland was at the meeting and “proceeded to discuss the deliverable required in order to get the meeting and he alluded to investigations,” Vindman testified. Afterward, then national security adviser John Bolton “terminated the meeting.”
- The Ukrainians saw the meeting as being critical to solidifying Ukraine’s alliance with the US, but things started to go off the rails when Sondland brought up Trump’s personal demands, according to the transcript of Vindman’s testimony.
At a later meeting, Sondland once again brought up the investigations Trump wanted and told Ukrainian officials they “would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens.”
- Vindman testified that there was “no ambiguity” in his mind about what Sondland was conveying. “He was calling for something, calling for an investigation that didn’t exist into the Bidens and Burisma.”
- Vindman emphasised that Sondland specifically mentioned the Bidens by name when asking for the investigation into Burisma.
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