WASHINGTON — A White House official will testify he was so alarmed by the actions of President Trump and a top U.S. diplomat that he took his concerns to National Security Council lawyers.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer and National Security Council official responsible for Ukraine policy, confronted Trump’s EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland about Sondland’s push for Ukraine to launch “inappropriate” politically motivated investigations, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by VICE News. Sondland has testified under oath that no such complaint was ever raised with him.
Vindman is scheduled to testify before Congress Tuesday as part of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry into Trump. He’s the first White House official to appear, but joins an ever-growing list of past and present administration officials who’ve defied Trump’s blanket ban on cooperating with the impeachment inquiry. His testimony adds yet more detail to allegations that the Trump administration pressured Ukraine to investigate Trump’s 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden and the 2016 U.S. election.
Vindman was on the now-notorious July 25 phone call when Trump asked to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to “look into” Biden — and plans to tell investigators he was disturbed by what he heard.
“I was concerned by the call,” Vindman plans to say. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen.”
The July Meeting
Sondland raised the prospect of swapping investigations for a meeting with Trump during a meeting with officials from Ukraine in the White House on July 10, according to Vindman’s account. But former National Security Advisor John Bolton “cut the meeting short.”
Afterwards, during a scheduled debriefing, “Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma,” Vindman’s opening statement says, referring to the Ukrainian natural gas company that employed Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
“I stated to Amb. Sondland that 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,” Vindman plans to say.
Fiona Hill, who was Vindman’s boss and Trump’s top advisor for Europe and Russia, also confronted Sondland, according to Vindman.
“Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate,” Vindman’s statement reads.
Sondland, under oath, has painted a very different picture of that meeting — and said that no one raised any objections with him.
“If Ambassador 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,” Sondland testified, according to a copy of his own opening statement to his Oct. 17 testimony.
The Phone Call
Vindman is also the first person to testify who was on the fateful July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. What he heard “concerned” him enough to prompt him to reach out to the NSC’s lead attorney.
Vindman doesn’t get into the details of the call, although he says that the public record released by the White House corresponds with what he heard. According to that record, Trump asked Zelensky to “look into” former Vice President Joe Biden and pursue a conspiracy theory that suggests Russia might not really have interfered in the 2016 election.
“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,” Vindman’s statement reads. “This would all undermine U.S. national security.”
Cover: President Donald Trump walks from Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and waves as he arrives following a trip to Chicago to attend the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference and Exposition, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)