New Testimony in Trump Impeachment Inquiry
In Washington, public testimony in the Trump impeachment inquiry continues. Several key witnesses conveyed their concerns about delays in military assistance to Ukraine and a telephone conversation between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, which took place on July 25th
In Washington, the House of Representatives is investigating whether Trump abused his office and sought help from a foreign government to investigate a potential electoral rival.
The inquiry centers on a telephone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, during which Zelensky was asked to investigate whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and also former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Trump has said repeatedly that he did nothing wrong and described the impeachment inquiry as a “witch-hunt” and “a kangaroo court.”
On Nov. 19, Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the U.S. National Security Council’s expert for Ukraine, testified publicly before at the impeachment hearing.
Vindman told the hearing that he considered Trump’s comment to Zelensky as a “demand” because of the power disparity between the two leaders. He said he reported the details of the call immediately to a White House lawyer because he thought it was “improper” for a U.S. president to ask a foreign state to investigate an American political rival.
“I was concerned by the call. What I heard was inappropriate, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg. It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent. I was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation, 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, undermining U.S. national security, and advancing Russia’s strategic objectives in the region,” Vindman said.
Vindman also dismissed Trump’s assertion that Ukraine may have meddled in the 2016 election, calling it “a Russian narrative that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has promoted.”
Allies of Trump, have questioned the loyalty of Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran who emigrated to the United States from Soviet Ukraine when he was 3 years of age.
Former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former senior National Security Council official Tim Morrison also testified before the congressional impeachment panel on Nov. 19.
Volker appeared to alter certain aspects of the closed-door testimony he gave earlier. In particular, he said that only recently did he realize that the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma was linked to Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who was on the company’s board of directors.
“Third, I did not understand that others believed that any investigation of Ukrainian company Burisma, which had a history of accusations of corruption, was tantamount to investigating Vice President Biden. I drew a sharp distinction between the two,” Volker said. “In hindsight, I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving Ukrainian company Burisma as equivalent to investigating former Vice President Biden. I saw them as very different. The former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable.”
“I’ve learned many things that I did not know at the time of the events in question. First, at the time, I was connecting Mr. Yermak (Andriy Yermak, an aide to Ukrainian President Zelenskiy) and Mr. Giuliani and discussing with Mr. Yermak and Ambassador Sondland (U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland) a possible statement that could be made by the Ukrainian president, I did not know of any linkage between the hold on security assistance and Ukraine pursuing investigations. No one had ever said that to me and I never conveyed such a linkage to the Ukrainians. I opposed the hold on U.S. security assistance as soon as I learned about it on July 18 and I thought we could turn it around before the Ukrainians ever knew or became alarmed about it,” Volker said.
Trump ordered his acting Chief of Staff to withhold almost $400 million in congressionally-approved military aid for Ukraine a week before his phone call with Zelensky.
Both Morrison and Volker described a parallel track of diplomacy in Ukraine meant to find incriminating information on the Bidens. They have described their unease about the influence of Rudi Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and Trump’s personal lawyer, who was giving Trump a very negative assessment of Ukraine, at odds with the position of the U.S. Department of State.
“The president (Trump) was very skeptical. Given Ukraine’s history of corruption, that’s understandable. He said that Ukraine was a corrupt country full of terrible people. He said they ‘tried to take me down’. In the course of that conversation, he referenced conversations with Mayor Giuliani. It was clear to me that despite the positive news and recommendations being conveyed by this official delegation about the new (Ukrainian) president, President Trump had a deeply rooted negative view on Ukraine, rooted in the past. He was receiving other information from other sources, including Mayor Giuliani, that was more negative, causing him to retain this negative view,” Volker said.
In his testimony, Tim Morrison said he did not think anything illegal was discussed during the call between Trump and Zelensky. However, he said he tried to restrict access to the transcript of the phone call over concerns of how its disclosure would be received in Washington.
“As I stated during my deposition, I feared at the time of the call on July 25 how its disclosure would play in Washington’s political climate. My fears have been realized. I understand the gravity of these proceedings, but I beg you not to lose sight of the military conflict underway in eastern Ukraine today. The ongoing illegal occupation of Crimea and the importance of reform of Ukraine’s politics and economy,” Former National Security Council Russia Expert Tim Morrison said.
The most anticipated testimony of the hearings so far will happen today (Nov. 20), when U.S. Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, is scheduled to appear. He is expected to be asked about how his testimony has changed during the investigation, his telephone conversation with Trump on July 26, overheard in a Ukrainian restaurant, and exactly what sort of instructions he received from Trump. Sondland’s testimony begins at 4 p.m. Kyiv time.