U.S. adviser testifies about alarm over Zelensky call

Vindman, who appeared after receiving a subpoena from lawmakers, recounted listening in on the call.

Volodymyr Zelensky (photo credit: REUTERS)
Volodymyr Zelensky
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A top adviser to US President Donald Trump on Ukraine testified on Tuesday that after listening to Trump ask Ukraine’s president to investigate a domestic political rival, he was so alarmed that he reported the matter to a White House lawyer out of concern for US national security.
US Army Lt.-Col. Alexander Vindman, director of European affairs on the National Security Council, arrived at the US Capitol clad in his military dress uniform as he became the first current White House official to testify in the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry against Trump.
Vindman, a Ukraine-born American citizen and decorated Iraq War combat veteran, also became the first person to testify who listened in on the July 25 call at the heart of the Ukraine scandal. Even before his arrival, some allies of the Republican president, including Fox News host Laura Ingraham, sought to attack Vindman’s integrity and questioned his loyalty to the United States.
“I was concerned by the call,” Vindman said in his opening statement to the three House committees conducting the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the US government’s support of Ukraine.”
During the call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a Democratic political rival, and his son Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma. Trump also asked Zelensky to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.
Trump had withheld $391 million in US security aid to Ukraine approved by Congress to fight Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. Zelensky agreed to Trump’s requests. The aid was later provided.
Vindman, who appeared after receiving a subpoena from lawmakers, recounted listening in on the call.
“I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained,” he said in his testimony. “This would all undermine US national security.”
After the call, Vindman added, he reported his concerns to the National Security Council’s lead counsel. The call prompted a complaint from an intelligence community whistle-blower, whose identify has not been revealed, that triggered the impeachment inquiry. In his statement, Vindman denied being the whistle-blower or knowing the identity of the individual.
At a July 10 meeting in Washington with visiting Ukrainian officials, Vindman said US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a former Trump political donor, told the Ukrainian officials they needed to “deliver specific investigations in order to secure a meeting with the president.” At that point, Vindman said, then-national security advisor John Bolton cut the meeting short.
According to Vindman’s prepared remarks, Sondland told other US officials in a debriefing after the meeting that it was important that the Ukrainian investigations center on the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma.
“I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security,” Vindman said, adding that he also reported his concerns to the National Security Council’s lead lawyer.
Trump’s former Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, testified in the impeachment inquiry on October 14 that she too was alarmed by Sondland’s reference to a probe of Biden during that July 10 meeting and was advised to see NSC lawyer John Eisenberg, a person familiar with her testimony told Reuters.
Sondland gave a different account of the July 10 events in his own testimony in the inquiry, saying that “if [former US ambassador to the UN] Bolton, Dr. Hill or others harbored any misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me, then or later.”