White House staffer twice raised concerns after listening to Trump's Ukraine call, testimony reveals

Alexander Vindman will tell lawmakers he was concerned that Trump's actions could "undermine" national security

Published October 29, 2019 10:41AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky  (Getty Images/AP Photo/Salon)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky (Getty Images/AP Photo/Salon)

The top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council will testify Tuesday in the House impeachment inquiry that he was so troubled by President Donald Trump's July 25 phone call with his European counterpart that he twice reported his concerns to a superior, according to a copy of his statement obtained by multiple news outlets.

The official, Army Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, is expected to tell congressional investigators that he felt Trump's request for Ukraine to pursue investigations into an energy company whose board once included former Vice President Joe Biden's son and alleged interference in the 2016 election could "undermine U.S. national security." Vindman will testify that he raised concerns to superiors about how Trump and his administration were interacting with Ukraine out of a "sense of duty."

"I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine," Vindman will reportedly say in his opening statement. "I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma (the energy company) 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 will be the first White House official who was on the mid-July call to testify in front of the congressional panels currently leading the impeachment inquiry into the president. He is scheduled to appear behind closed doors in front of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees.

The call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is at the heart of Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, which was launched by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after a whistleblower complaint accused Trump of soliciting Ukraine to dig up information about a domestic political rival — and the White House tried to cover it up. In the days before the call, the White House withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.

Describing himself as a "patriot," Vindman will tell lawmakers he believes it is his "sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country, irrespective of party or politics."

While the officer will assert that he is not the whistleblower, his opening statement will corroborate the whistleblower's report. According to VIndman, he never had direct contact or communications with Trump.

"In the spring of 2019, I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency," Vindman will tell impeachment investigators.

He also will recall how he confronted U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on July 10 after the diplomat spoke in a White House meeting with Ukrainian leaders about "Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure" a sought-after White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky. John Bolton, then the national security adviser, cut the July 10 meeting short, Vindman will recall.

At a scheduled debriefing after the meeting, the officer allegedly "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, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push."

After his alleged confrontation with Sondland, one of Vindman's superiors, Fiona Hill, who had previously testified behind closed doors that she and Bolton were angered by efforts to get the Ukrainians to investigate Trump's political opponents, "entered the room and asserted to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate."

Vindman will testify that after theat meeting, he reported his concerns to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer at the National Security Council. Hill also reported the incident to Eisenberg, according to Vindman.

Vindman will say he drafted a memorandum in mid-August at the direction of his superiors at the National Security Council, including Bolton, which would reinstate the military aid being withheld from Ukraine, but Trump refused to sign it. He will add that he drafted a letter in May congratulating Zelensky on his inauguration, but Trump did not sign it either.

Trump has repeatedly denied the existence of a link between the withholding of military aid and Zelensky launching the investigations. He has defended his dealings with Ukraine and decried the impeachment investigation as a "hoax."

The president went on a sustained Twitter offensive Tuesday morning after details surfaced of Vindland's testimony, retweeting numerous tweets shared by Republican lawmakers attacking the latest developments in the Democratic-led inquiry.

"Why are people that I never even heard of testifying about the call," Trump tweeted. "Just READ THE CALL TRANSCRIPT AND THE IMPEACHMENT HOAX IS OVER! Ukraine said NO PRESSURE."

In another tweet, he wrote, "Supposedly, according to the Corrupt Media, the Ukraine call 'concerned' today's Never Trumper witness. Was he on the same call that I was? Can't be possible! Please ask him to read the Transcript of the call. Witch Hunt!" (There is no evidence that Vindman has a personal bias against Trump.)

"Where's the Whistleblower? Just read the Transcript, everything else is made up garbage by Shifty Schiff and the Never Trumpers!" he tweeted Tuesday morning, referring to House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., one of the leaders of the impeachment inquiry.

"The Do Nothing Democrats are working hard to make everyone forget the Best Economy Ever, the monumental weekend raid, Tax Cuts, the Rebuilding of our Military, etc.," he also wrote, touting the U.S. military raid that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. "The Impeachment Hoax is a disgrace. Read the transcript!"

By Shira Tarlo

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