US security officer ‘twice raised concerns over Trump’s Ukraine push’
A national Security Council military official will tell the Donald Trump impeachment probe of his concerns about phone calls to Ukraine.
A US Army officer at the National Security Council who twice raised concerns over the Trump administration’s push to have Ukraine investigate Democrats and Joe Biden has given evidence behind closed doors, against White House orders, in the impeachment inquiry.
Alexander Vindman, a lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq and later as a diplomat, told House of Representatives investigators that he listened to Donald Trump’s July 25 call with new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and reported his concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel, according to an advance copy of his evidence.
His arrival in military blue, with medals, created a striking image as he entered the Capitol and made his way to the secure briefing room.
“I was concerned by the call,” Mr Vindman was saying, according to the evidence obtained on Monday night by The Associated Press.
“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.”
Mr Vindman, a 20-year military officer, was the first official who listened in on that phone call to give evidence as the impeachment inquiry reaches deeper into the Trump administration and Democrats prepare for the next, public phase of the probe.
He was also the first current White House official to appear before the impeachment panels. With the administration directing staff not to appear, he was issued a subpoena to give evidence.
The inquiry is looking into Mr Trump’s call, in which he asked Mr Zelenskiy for a “favour” — to investigate Democrats — that the Democrats say was a quid pro quo for military aid and could be an impeachable offence.
Mr Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to denounce the probe as a “sham”, adding: “Read the call transcript and the impeachment hoax is over!”
Why are people that I never even heard of testifying about the call. Just READ THE CALL TRANSCRIPT AND THE IMPEACHMENT HOAX IS OVER! Ukrain said NO PRESSURE. https://t.co/VYmW8bYcgS— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2019
Mr Vindman, who arrived in the US as a three-year-old from the former Soviet Union, wrote that it was his “sacred duty” to defend the States.
Some Trump allies, looking for ways to discredit Mr Vindman, questioned the colonel’s loyalties because he was born in the region, but the line of attack was rejected by some Republicans, including Liz Cheney, who said it was “shameful” to criticise his patriotism.
His appearance came a day after House speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House will vote on a resolution to affirm the impeachment investigation, set rules for public hearings and outline the potential process for writing articles of impeachment against Mr Trump. The vote is expected on Thursday.
Mr Vindman said that in spring this year he became aware of “outside influencers” promoting what he called a “false narrative of Ukraine” that undermined US efforts.
Ukraine, in trying to become a vibrant democracy integrated with the West, is a bulwark against overt Russian aggression, he said in his opening statement.
Other officials have given evidence that Ukraine policy was increasingly being handled by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and others in the administration outside regular policy-making channels. One diplomat said it was “highly irregular”.
Mr Vindman said he first reported his concerns after a meeting on July 10 in which US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland stressed the importance of having Ukraine investigate the 2016 election as well as Burisma, a company linked to the family of Mr Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Mr Vindman says he told Mr Sondland “his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push”.
That account differs from Mr Sondland’s, a wealthy businessman who donated a million dollars to Mr Trump’s inauguration and testified before the impeachment investigators that no one from the NSC “ever expressed any concerns”.