Republican Rep. Devin Nunes used Tuesday’s televised impeachment hearing to try to get Army Col. Alexander Vindman to reveal the identity of the whistleblower – only to get shot down by the panel chairman and Vindman’s lawyer.
Speaking after Vindman and fellow witness Williams delivered damning testimony about Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine, Nunes, a California lawmaker who is the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, put a series of questions to Vindman about what he did after Trump’s infamous July 25 call.
‘I did not discuss the call with anyone inside or outside the White House,’ Vindman said – after saying he considered Trump bringing up the Bidens with a foreign leader ‘inappropriate.’
Nunes asked if he discussed the call with anyone outside the White House.
‘Not in the White House. Cleared U.S. government officials with appropriate need-to -know,’ Vindman replied.
Pressed further, he provided the name of high-level State Department official George Kent.
Then he said the other was ‘an individual in the intelligence community.’
‘What agency is this individual from?’ Nunes asked him – potentially bringing the questioning closer to the identity of the whistle-blower, who the New York Times identified as a CIA officer and whose name has appeared in some press accounts.
‘We need to protect the whistleblower,’ interjected Schiff.
‘I want to make sure that there’s no effort to out the whistleblower in these proceedings,’ Schiff said. He instructed that this was ‘not the purpose’ of the hearing. ‘I want to advise the witness accordingly,’ Schiff said.
Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, kick off a week of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill Tuesday
Adam Schiff told Williams: ‘You are here today, and the American people are grateful.’ Vindman testified: ‘My intent was to raise these concerns because they have significant national security concerns for our country’
Republican Rep. Devin Nunes (right) tried to get Army Col. Alexander Vindman to reveal the identity of the whistleblower – only to get shot down by the panel chairman and Vindman’s lawyer and Adam Schiff
Colonel Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams take the oath before they testify during the House Intelligence Committee hearing into President Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to tie US aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents
Then Nunes, a firebrand who marshaled opposition to the Russia probe when he ran the committee, continued in his questions. ‘Mr. Vindman …’ He began.
‘Ranking member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please,’ the Army colonel responded, while sporting his full dress uniform.
Nunes immediately corrected himself, then pointed to Vindman’s prior testimony that he did not know the identity of the whistle-blower.
‘I do not know who the whistleblower is,’ Vindman said.
‘Per the advice of my counsel I have been advised not to answer specific questions about members of the intelligence community,’ said Vindman.
‘Are you aware that this is the Intelligence Committee that’s conducting the impeachment hearing?’ asked Nunes, sounding exasperated.
Then Vindman invoked both his lawyer and Schiff’s instructions. ‘What I can offer is that these were properly cleared individuals or was a properly cleared individual with a need-to-know,’ he said.
‘We are following the ruling of the chair,’ Vindman’s lawyer said, backing up his client’s position.
Nunes did go on the attack in his opening statement – but he targeted the media and the anonymous whistleblower who started the impeachment inquiry.
‘The media have fully accepted the Democrats’ stunning reversal on the need for the whistleblower to testify to this committee,’ Nunes, a Republican from California, charged.
During questioning, Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who immigrated to the U.S. as an infant, sympathized with Vindman, telling him that he is being ‘smeared’ by the right because he is an immigrant.
The second week of impeachment hearings kicked off Tuesday with a stern warning from House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff that lawmakers not attack key witnesses providing live testimony.
Schiff set the tone for another confrontational hearing when he brought up President Donald Trump’s attacks on two witnesses appearing at the televised hearing: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams.
Schiff told Vindman, an Iraq war veteran who raised concerns about Ukraine policy with a national security lawyer: ‘We have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character.’
‘I note that you have shed blood for America and we owe you immense gratitude,’ Schiff told Vindman, after earlier bringing up his Purple Heart earned in Iraq.
He told Williams, who Trump slammed as a ‘Never Trumper’: ‘Ms. Williams we all saw the president’s tweet about you on Sunday afternoon and the insults he hurled at Ambassador [Marie] Yovanovitch last Friday.’
‘You are here today, and the American people are grateful,’ he told Williams, who testified despite White House instructions not to do so.
Vindman arrived in his full military dress uniform, as he did during his first closed-door deposition, but not his second Capitol appearance. As Schiff noted, he was born in the former Soviet Union, and came to the U.S. as a toddler.
‘I hope no one on this committee will become part of those vicious attacks,’ Schiff told Vindman.
‘It is improper for the president of the United States to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent,’ Vindman said during Tuesdays hearing
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, left, and ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes started the hearing on Tuesday with their opening statements
Trump faces more potentially damning testimony in the Ukraine scandal as a critical week of public impeachment hearings Tuesday in the House of Representatives (pictured)
During questioning, Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who immigrated to the U.S. as an infant, sympathized with Vindman, telling him that he is being ‘smeared’ by the right because he is an immigrant
‘The media have joined the Democrats in dismissing the importance of cross-examining this crucial witness now that the whistleblower has success fully kick started impeachment, he has disappeared from the story as if the Democrats put the whistleblower in their own witness protection program,’ Nunes claimed.
Vindman testified that when he raised his concerns about a White House Ukraine meeting and a presidential phone call, ‘ I did so out of a sense of duty.’
‘My intent was to raise these concerns because they have significant national security concerns for our country. I never thought that I would be sitting here testifying to this committee and the American public about my actions,’ Vindman told lawmakers.
He called ‘character attacks’ on ‘distinguished and honorable public servants’ reprehensible.
The Ukrainian-speaking Vindman spoke of his love of country, provided a sharp contrast with life in the U.S. compared to the country his parents fled, and even addressed comments to his father, who fled the Soviet Union.
‘I also recognize that my simple act of appearing here today just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this committee would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing concern to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offer in public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life,’ Vindman testified in his opening statement.
‘I’m grateful to my father for his brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant. Where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety,’ he continued. Then he addressed remarks to his father. ‘Dad, I’m sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected professionals, talking to our elected representatives, proof that you made the right decision to leave the soviet union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth,’ he said.
Connecticut Democratic Rep. Jim Himes referenced Trump’s attacks and asked Vindman if he would consider himself a ‘never Trumper.’
‘I’d call myself never partisan,’ Vindman responded.
Himes asked about some of the military decorations Vindman was wearing – including his Purple Heart and how he got it. ‘In 2014 in the ramp up to probably the largest urban operation in decades outside Fallujah,’ Vindman said he was on reconnaissance patrol. ‘My vehicle was struck by an improvise explosive device,’ he said, causing injury.
Then Himes turned on committee counsel Castor’s questioning about the job offer. ‘That may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language. That was designed exclusively to give the right wing media an opportunity to question your loyalties,’ Himes said.
President Trump ripped impeachment witnesses as virtual nobodies.
‘I don’t know him,’ Trump said of Vindman. ‘I never saw the man. I understand now he wears his uniform when he goes in. No, I don’t know Vindman at all. What I do know is that even he said that the transcript was correct,’ said Trump, who received multiple military deferments during Vietnam.
Vindman, I watched him for a little while this morning and I think he — I’m going to let other people make their own determination. But I don’t know Vindman. I never heard of him. I don’t know any of these people, other than I have seen one or two a couple of times, they’re ambassadors.’
‘I don’t know who Kent is. I don’t know who Taylor is,’ Trump said of U.S. Charge d’affairs in Ukraine William Taylor, the top U.S. official there after the firing of the ambassador. Kent is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the State Department.
Chariman Adam Schiff (center) said: ‘I want to make sure that there’s no effort to out the whistleblower in these proceedings. He then instructed that this was ‘not the purpose’ of the hearing, adding ‘I want to advise the witness accordingly’
Donald Trump bashed Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams after it was revealed Saturday she told Congress in a closed-door testimony that his call with the Ukrainian president was ‘unusual and inappropriate’
Trump tweeted a reminder that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his foreign minister said they felt there was no quid pro quo or pressure from Trump
Jennifer Williams, an aide to Mike Pence, arrives on Capitol Hill for her testimony (left). Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who earned a Purple Heart in Iraq, arrives on Capitol Hill to testify to the Democratic-run impeachment inquiry Tuesday morning
Officials testifying in public this week
Jennifer Williams: A State Department staffer detailed to VP Pence who was on the July 25 phone call and said it was ‘unusual’ for the Bidens to be mentioned
Alexander Vindman: The top Ukraine expert on the NSC; he was on the July 25 call and expressed his concerns about it to NSC lawyers
Kurt Volker: the former special envoy to the Ukraine whose text messages revealed a shadow foreign policy
Tim Morrison: an NSC official who told lawmakers Gordon Sondland acted at President Trump’s direction
Gordon Sondland: the EU ambassador who ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine with Rudy Giuliani and Rick Perry
Laura Cooper: a Pentagon official who testified about the hold put on U.S. money to the Ukraine
David Hale: a State Department official who testified about efforts to recall then-Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch
Fiona Hill: John Bolton’s former deputy at NSC who took her concerns about Sondland’s action in the Ukraine to the NSC’s lawyers
David Holmes: A State Department in Kiev who heard Sondland’s call with President Trump
On a lighter note, when asked which languages he speaks, Vindman jokes, ‘Russian, Ukrainian and a little bit of English’.
Vindman said of what he heard on Trump’s July 25 call: ‘I was concerned by the call. What I heard was inappropriate and I reported my concerns,’ he continued.
‘It is improper for the president of the United States to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent,’ Vindman said.
He also explained his reasons.
‘It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. Citizen and a political opponent. I was also clear that if the Ukraine pursued – it was also clear that if they pursued the investigation into the 2016 elections, the Bidens and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play and it would result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support from the U.S.’ he said.
‘What I heard was inappropriate and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg’ – a top national security counsel lawyer.
Vindman also revealed he spoke to Zelensky during his May inauguration in the Ukraine, which Vindman attended as part of the U.S. delegation, and offered the newly-sworn in president two pieces of advice.
‘To be particularly cautious with regards to Ukraine, to be particularly cautious with regards to Russia and its desire to provoke Ukraine and the second one was to stay out of U.S. domestic policy,’ he said.
Asked if he meant U.S. politics, Vindman said: ‘Politics, correct.’
Vindman said he issued the warning because it was consistent with U.S. policy but he also noted he was aware of outside actors pushing for the Ukrainians to launch an investigation.
‘In the March and April time frame, it became clear that there were actors in the U.S. – public actors, non-governmental actors that were promoting the idea of investigations and 2016 Ukrainian interference and it was consistent with U.S. policy to advise any country, all the countries in my portfolio, any country in the world, to not participate in U.S. domestic politics. So I was passing the same advice, consistent with U.S. policy,’ Vindman said.
Williams in her opening statement that she found Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president ‘unusual’ because ‘in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter. She noted she had served in the George W. Bush administration under Condoleezza Rice and Michael Chertoff.
Republican counsel Stephen Castor appeared to undertake efforts to undermine the decorated Army officer when he brought up a bizarre offer by the Ukrainians to make Vindman the Ukrainian Secretary of Defense.
Vindman testified that the offer had indeed been extended.
‘Every single time I dismissed it,’ he said, saying it came from Ukraine national security official Oleksandr Danylyuk.
‘Upon returning I notified my chain of command’ and the ‘appropriate counterintelligence’ official,’ he said. He said the offer was repeated on three separate occasions, prompting Castor to ask if he had left the door open to it.
‘I did not leave the door open at all,’ he said, calling the idea ‘rather comical.’
‘Lieutenant colonel – really is not that senior to be offered that illustrious position,’ he said, adding that he considered it an ‘honor.’
Castor asked if the Ukrainian spoke in English when he made the offer, and Vindman said he had. He said there were two U.S. officials with him at the time the offer was extended.
Of his reporting it up the chain, he said: ‘I was just making sure that I did the right thing in terms of reporting this.’ He denied any perception of a conflict, and said what matters to him is what U.S. security officials think.
Former US Special Envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker (left), will get grilled about his text messages about investigations and the Ukrainian government. White House national security official Tim Morrison (right) will also be questioned Tuesday afternoon
MUCH MORE THAN A HUNCH: A total of eight witnesses will testify in hearings overseen by Rep. Adam Schiff of California (center) this week
Vindman, in his closed-door testimony, claimed that Trump-appointed U.S. ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland’s push for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was ‘inappropriate’ and said he was ‘concerned’ by what he heard on Trump’s call.
Both Trump and Republicans have suggested he is against the president, which Democrats pushed back on. Democrats consider him their star witness.
Republican Congressman Doug Collins told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday night that Vindman’s uniform and compelling personal story will not protect him.
‘I don’t think it shielded Oliver North from hard questions,’ he said.
Williams defied White House instructions and testified behind closed doors, only to be savaged by Trump online.
Trump went after Williams this weekend despite being admonished during Friday’s impeachment hearing in real time after he attacked former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
‘Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released ststement (sic) from Ukraine,’ Trump posted to Twitter Sunday afternoon. ‘Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!’
Democrats plan to ask both if they believe President Trump was with holding nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid – along with a meeting at the White House – as a way to pressure the Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.
That allegation is the central tenant of the Democrats’ argument as the president committing an impeachable offense.
A third witness is longtime diplomat Kurt Volker, whose role has perplexed lawmakers running the inquiry.
Volker delivered testimony that in part helped the administration, saying the Ukrainians ‘never communicated a belief [to him] that there was a quid pro quo,’ and said he doesn’t believe Ukraine knew hundreds of millions of U.S. aid was being withheld.
But his texts and messages have contributed to the body of evidence of a pressure campaign that a series of senior diplomats have testified they considered odious.
‘Heard from white house – assuming president Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016 we will nail down date for visit to Washington,’ he wrote.
The message seemed to link the effort to get President Volodymyr Zelensky to agree to make a public statement on ‘corruption’ investigations Trump wanted in exchange for a White House meeting. The probe related to Trump rival Joe Biden, although Volker said he didn’t realize the company involved – Burisma – involved Biden. Hunter Biden won a lucrative spot on the energy company’s board.
Yet another witness is on tap for Tuesday afternoon: national security aide Tim Morrison, who told Congress he didn’t think the president’s call with the Ukrainian president was illegal or inappropriate. Republicans hope to feature his testimony, although they have grumbled it comes late in the day when attention may flag.
Republicans are expected to attack Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman’s credibility, despite being a Purple Heart veteran
The House Intelligence Committee announced Monday that David Holmes, who says he overheard Trump call about investigations, will testify Thursday. He will speak on a panel with Russia and Europe expert Fiona Hill on Thursday.
Republican lawmakers were ‘shaken’ by Holmes’ closed-door testimony on Friday, CNN reported.
Sondland spoke with Trump on July 26 – the day after the president’s phone call with Zelensky – and held his phone aloft in a Kiev restaurant so other’s could hear their conversation, Holmes’ testified.
Holmes said Sondland told Trump that Zelensky ‘loves your ass’ to which Trump responded: ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’
‘He’s gonna do it,’ Sondland replied, according to testimony Holmes gave lawmakers on Friday afternoon behind closed doors.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended the impeachment probe in a ‘dear colleague’ letter to lawmakers Monday on the ‘Latest Developments on For The People Agenda and the House’s Impeachment Inquiry.’
‘The facts are uncontested: that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests,’ Pelosi wrote.
‘The weak response to these hearings has been, ‘Let the election decide.’ That dangerous position only adds to the urgency of our action, because the President is jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections,’ she continued.
‘There are also some who say that no serious wrongdoing was committed, because the military assistance to Ukraine was eventually released. The fact is, the aid was only released after the whistleblower exposed the truth of the President’s extortion and bribery, and the House launched a formal investigation.’
A total of nine witnesses are due to testify in Week Two of the televised hearings.
They include Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, whose direct interactions with Trump are likely to be a main focus in the investigation of whether the president made security aid to Ukraine contingent on it agreeing to dig up dirt on a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
The latest round of hearings will stretch from Tuesday to Thursday before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. Seeking to build on last week’s testimony by three key witnesses, Democrats leading the inquiry – the first public impeachment drama in two decades – will continue trying to make the case that Trump abused the power of his office.
Denying any wrongdoing, Trump, who railed on Twitter and elsewhere against the proceedings and attacked witnesses by name last week and over the weekend, has shown no sign of a let-up in his confrontational approach. Some Democrats have accused him of witness intimidation but most Republican lawmakers have joined him in declaring the inquiry unfair.
Several witnesses testified last week that they were alarmed over the pressure tactics used against Ukraine, as well as the role of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
At the heart of the inquiry is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Zelensky to open a corruption investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
Among this week’s witnesses are several who listened in on the call.
Vindman, a Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, testified behind closed doors last month that he was so concerned about efforts to push Ukraine to investigate a Trump rival that he reported it to the NSC´s lawyer.
Fiona Hill, Trump´s former top Russia adviser, who also testified in private last month and is now set to appear on Thursday, previously recounted how U.S. policy on Ukraine got caught up in clashes between official and unofficial channels.
Former special envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison, the former Russian expert on the National Security Council, testify in the afternoon.
The hearings could pave the way for the Democratic-led House to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for Trump’s removal.
President Trump has attacked Vice President Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams as a ‘never Trumper’
SONDLAND’S TESTIMONY HIGHLY ANTICIPATED
Democrats are looking into whether Trump abused his power by withholding $391 million in aid to Ukraine as leverage to get Kiev to investigate Biden, who is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump in 2020. The money, approved by the U.S. Congress to help U.S. ally Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists, was later provided to it.
Most highly anticipated, however, will be Sondland, both because of the central role he has played as well as other witnesses´ statements about his dealings with Trump on Ukraine.
David Holmes, a U.S. embassy official in Kiev, told lawmakers in closed-door testimony, that he overheard a phone call between Trump and Sondland, a former political donor, in which the ambassador told the president his Ukrainian counterpart was ready to carry out the investigations. The phone call occurred on July 26, one day after the phone conversation between Trump and Zelenskiy.
The testimony by Holmes ties Trump more directly to the effort to pressure Ukraine. Holmes’ statement also appears to contradict Sondland’s previous sworn testimony, which he has already revised once, about his interactions with Trump.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told CNN on Sunday that Sondland ‘has to decide whether his primary loyalty is to America or to the president of the United States.’
Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, a member of the committee and staunch Trump defender, told CBS ‘Face the Nation’ about Sondland: ‘What I also know is he said there was never any quid pro quo (sought by Trump, according to Sondland’s text message with the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine) … So, we’ll have him in front of us and we’ll find out.’