WASHINGTON — President Trump is already rage-tweeting about this week's impeachment witnesses. Given the jam-packed testimony schedule of seven top people testifying, it could be a busy feed.
The House Intelligence Committee has packed this week’s hearings with eight more witnesses with intimate knowledge of the Trump administration’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. That includes a number of people who were listening in on the infamous July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and the person who appears to have been Trump’s main conduit to pressuring Ukraine: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
Here’s the crowded schedule — and what to watch for.
The morning hearing, starting at 9 a.m.: National Security Council member Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence
Vindman, a lieutenant colonel in the Army who serves as the director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, was listening in on the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call and said key words had been left out of the rough transcript released by the White House. He testified that he was alarmed enough by Trump’s behavior that he took his concerns to the NSC’s top attorney. He also said he confronted Sondland over “inappropriate” pressure he was putting on Ukraine.
Williams, a career foreign service officer, was also on the call and testified that she was surprised by the political nature of the conversation. Beyond her knowledge of the call, she could also shed more light on what Pence knew about the Ukraine effort. She testified that during a Sept. 1 meeting with Ukrainian officials, when they pushed Pence on why aid was being withheld, he said they should focus on “reforms” but didn’t specifically mention the declaration of investigations Trump was pushing through Sondland.
Williams has already drawn Trump’s scorn, and she hasn’t even testified yet. On Sunday, Trump attacked Williams, accusing her of being a “never Trumper.”
The afternoon hearing, starting at 2:30: Former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and outgoing National Security Council member Tim Morrison
Volker and Morrison are both tricky witnesses who could play a pivotal role in how the week shakes out.
Volker, a career diplomat, was a key player in both the “official” and “unofficial” diplomatic channels that acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor described, and according to his and others’ testimony sought to push Ukraine to appease Trump — but appears to have been trying to protect U.S.-Ukraine policy rather than simply do Trump’s bidding. Volker turned over reams of information to the impeachment inquiry that put the magnifying glass on Sondland and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and gave troubling testimony about what both were doing in the country.
Morrison, meanwhile, is a hard-line Republican national security hawk who until recently worked on the House Armed Services Committee, and in his opening testimony backed up some of the more damning facts in others’ testimony. He corroborated that Sondland said he was acting on Trump’s orders in Ukraine — including when he told a senior Ukrainian official that “what could help them move the aid was if the prosecutor general would go to the mic and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation” into the Bidens. He’s more of a GOP loyalist than many others who’ve come forward to testify, so his public appearance could be prove to be a wild card.
The morning hearing: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland
This could prove to be the biggest public moment of the entire impeachment process.
Sondland likely knows the most of anyone testifying about what Trump wanted — and has the most to lose, as he was the one trying to help the president get it. He proved a reluctant witness during his testimony, repeatedly forgetting key details that could prove incriminating.
But he also seems pretty keen on not giving any ground to be charged for perjury. His lawyer sent in an addendum to his testimony after others’ opening statements had become public that contained a bombshell — he admitted that he’d told a top Ukrainian official that they wouldn’t get military aid until the country's leaders went on television and announced investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election.
He has some more explaining to do, however. Taylor testified that his aid overheard a conversation between Trump and Sondland where Trump specifically asked about “the investigations” — and Sondland reportedly told them afterwards that the president was a lot more interested in the Bidens than Ukraine. Sondland conveniently forgot to mention that call during his testimony.
The afternoon hearing: Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper and Undersecretary of State David Hale
Cooper testified that the Ukrainians were alarmed by the stalled military aid, and knew about it a lot earlier than others have said, dispelling the GOP talking point that the money got released almost immediately after Ukraine found out it was being withheld.
Hale testified that he saw the aid being upheld purely for political reasons and gave information about how little Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did to defend the career diplomats Trump was attacking.
Dr. Fiona Hill, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia.
Hill could be the cherry on the impeachment sundae. She testified that then-National Security Adviser John Bolton was so alarmed by what Giuliani was doing he called it a “drug deal” and described the attorney as a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everyone up.” She also testified along with others that the military aid was upheld at the orders of White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Cover: In this Oct. 24, 2019 file photo, President Donald Trump stands during a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony for auto racing great Roger Penske in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)