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Day 3 of Public Impeachment Hearings Commences; Top Intelligence Committee Members Give Opening Statements; Key Witnesses Who Faced Trump Attacks Set to Testify in the Impeachment Probe. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired November 19, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Some of it is very real to the point where the military considers that a serious threat to him. And I think it's important to put that in the context of the broader Trump-GOP defense because it has evolved, one might say, over time. Right? Of course it started with the whistleblower complaint has not merit, it's based on hearsay. As that falls by, well, maybe it was firsthand but there is no quid pro quo. As that falls by, there may have been quid pro quo, but the Ukrainians weren't aware, now we know the Ukrainians were aware.
And you're getting to the point now where it's a combination of attack, those involved, question their integrity, and we're going to see some of that today. And particularly when you hear it from someone like a Ron Johnson who has this letter. Ron Johnson was very close to the Ukraine issue to the point where he himself raised questions about the delay in aid and called the president himself, and is now joining into what is the sort of 7th or 8th line of attack from Republicans to defend the president.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And how about the recent context. You know, it wasn't that long ago when we saw a similar kind of battle. You go back to the Iraq war and the Bush administration and the outing of CIA officer Valeria Plame. There were a lot of disagreements between the bureaucracy, between the State Department and the National Security Agency, and the Bush administration over Iraq.
There was an investigation and a special prosecutor. Never did you see this level of vitriol. And let me tell you, things got plenty hot within the Bush White House. They were really angry about the level of the investigation. Never have we seen it like this. And I think it's worth pointing out those differences.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and, you know, he is a very dangerous witness for the president because not only was he on that phone call, but he also was debriefed by Ambassador Sondland who made it very clear to him in a meeting in July, you know, the president -- the president really, really, you've got to do these investigations in order to release this aid. So not only did he hear the phone call, but he heard it from the Trump whisperer, Ambassador Sondland.
So he's heard it twice. And he's also registered complaint about it. So this is somebody that, you know, unfortunately the Republicans now are going to have to feel that if they are going to have to take him on and take his credibility on which I would argue is very, very, very difficult to do.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Especially -- especially because he is wearing a uniform. And --
BORGER: Well --
TOOBIN: And, you know, I was --
TOOBIN: I was involved in the Iran contra prosecutions. And there was a different lieutenant colonel assigned to the National Security Council named Oliver North who testified and became a national hero for many people. Now, he was a hero to the right. We'll see about Vindman. You know, he is someone Democrats are more sympathetic towards today. But, you know, when you testify in front of Congress, most Americans I think believe that the congressmen are clowns and that they think the witnesses are more sympathetic. And when you are wearing a uniform, it certainly helps. So I just think that that is a -- that is something Republicans are going to have to overturn.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Carrie, I want you to weigh in, but --
BLITZER: I just want to show our viewers that Devin Nunes is in his seat now. The ranking Republican. He will have an opening statement. He is joined there by Steve Castor who's sitting right next to him, the House Oversight Committee GOP counsel. Jim Jordan, he never wears a sport coat or a suit coat, he's always casual. But here is the Chairman Adam Schiff walking in right now. He'll open up this hearing, bring it to a start.
But go ahead, Carrie, made your point.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Just a quick point, to point out that these witnesses today are not leakers. And these allegations in Ron Johnson's letter that portrays them as people who are leaking and exposing things in this investigation, they are not leakers. Everyone from Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and I think you'll hear it in his testimony, to Jennifer Williams, to all of -- really the other witnesses who have appeared and going back to the whistleblowers, they all went through official channels and did not.
CORDERO: Specifically did not go to the media and leak information in an unauthorized way. These are all people who followed the rules. BORGER: But what Adam Schiff has said during the closed-door hearing,
and I think he believes that what the Republicans are going to try and do is figure out who the whistleblower is by asking Vindman with whom he spoke.
BORGER: And that they're going to try and do that in a kind of a circuitous way. And so he's going to be on the lookout for that to try and stop that before it really gets --
GREGORY: Or a Chairman Schiff might be. Right?
SCIUTTO: Right. And he's been very -- he's been very vigilant on that.
BLITZER: Anything specific, Ross, you're going to be looking for in the immediate minutes after this starts?
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I'm going to be very interested to see, you know, how heavily the Republicans do go after Vindman because I don't think they need to challenge his credibility. I don't think they need to go after him hard. I think the question could be whether he just simply had a disagreement with the president and a disagreement on this policy and ultimately at the end of the day the president's decision as long as it is lawful governs.
BLITZER: Yes. We're waiting for the two witnesses to walk into the hearing room. You see a lot of cameras, a lot of photographers. They're getting ready for that moment.
Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, U.S. Army, he'll be testifying. But we're also told now, Jeffrey, that Jennifer Williams, her opening statement will go first and then Vindman's opening statement. And then they begin the Q and A.
TOOBIN: You know, the opening statements have been very detailed so far. And very comprehensive, which makes the questioning more of a challenge.
BLITZER: Here he comes.
TOOBIN: Because the narrative is already laid out there. And the witnesses really get to tell their own story which I think is actually a good thing.
BLITZER: There is Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, U.S. Army. The top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. He will be sworn in as will Jennifer Williams. She'll walk in we're told momentarily as well.
TOOBIN: Right. And, you know, check out the uniform.
BLITZER: Yes. TOOBIN: Pretty impressive.
GREGORY: Also very hard I think to delegitimize folks like this who have made such a commitment to the United States to serve the country, to serve in the military, or as Ambassador Yovanovitch to serve the country overseas. This notion that they can be dismissed as a political -- bureaucracy and deep state figures doesn't really wash.
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And, you know, David, on that point, I think to Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and Miss Williams and all the others who served in anonymity, served without ever thinking that they would have this day being photographed, on television, testifying in front of Congress --
BLITZER: And need security.
MCCABE: And need security potentially for the rest of their lives. This is a -- this is the moment that they will look back upon that changed the course of their lives. I can tell you as someone who's been through a very similar experience, it is head spinning, it's completely disorienting. But it's incredibly admirable that they continue to --
BORGER: And -- after decades of public service. Right?
SCIUTTO: He was wounded in Iraq.
BLITZER: Got a Purple Heart.
SCIUTTO: And now the U.S. Military believes that he needs protection here at home. That's remarkable.
CORDERO: These are also individuals who are currently working for the government. They weren't -- they're young, they're middle of their career, really at the prime of their career. When you are a National Security professional and you get assigned detailed as we say over to the National Security Council, that is really one of the most incredible high points of your professional career.
And so these are people who were really on their way into leadership positions, they would have gone back to their agencies and been really well regarded in terms of their expertise and the experience they got, and now they are potentially not only looking at security or personal considerations, but also professional consequences of them coming to testify today. And I just think they're so brave.
BLITZER: And here comes Jennifer Williams as well, we're told, walking. And there she is right there. She will go first. She's worked -- she has been detailed from the State Department to work with the vice president on National Security specifically Russia, Ukraine, other Eurasian issues. They will both be sworn in.
We're about to -- once the photographers are escorted away from the tables over there, the chairman of the committee, Adam Schiff, will begin this process.
BORGER: And Wolf, can we say that both of these people have worked for Democrats and Republicans.
MCCABE: That's right.
BORGER: And it was, you know -- you know, Jennifer Williams has worked for two Republicans and one Democrat. She worked for Michael Chertoff at Homeland Security, a Republican. You know, these are people who are professionals no matter who is in the administration. They are there to carry out that administration's policies. And that's why they both had questions about this phone call. Different degrees of questions, but questions.
BLITZER: You can only imagine the pressure both of these witnesses are under.
(IMPEACHMENT HEARING BEGINS)
SCHIFF: The committee will come to order. Good morning, everyone.
This is the third in a series of public hearings the committee will be holding as part of the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry.
Without objection, the chair is authorized to declare a recess of the committee at any time. There is a quorum present.
We will proceed today in the same fashion as our first hearing. I will make an opening statement, and then Ranking Member Nunes will have the opportunity to make a statement. Then we will turn to our witnesses for their opening statements, and then to questions.
For audience members, we welcome you and respect your interest in being here. In turn, we ask for your respect as we proceed with today's hearing. It is the intention of the committee to proceed without disruptions. As chairman, I'll take all necessary and appropriate steps to maintain order and ensure that the committee is run in accordance with House rules and House Resolution 660.
With that, I now recognize myself to give an opening statement in the impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States.
Last week, we heard from three experienced diplomats who testified about President Trump's scheme to condition official acts -- a White House meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. military aid to fight the Russians -- on a deliverable by the new Ukrainian president, Zelensky: two politically motivated (ph) investigations that Trump believed would help his re-election campaign.
One of those investigations involved the Bidens, and the other involved a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine and not Russia was responsible for interfering in our 2016 election. As Ambassador Sondland would later tell career Foreign Service officer David Holmes immediately after speaking to the president, "Trump did not give a" -- he then used an expletive -- "about Ukraine. He cares about big stuff that benefits the president like the Biden investigation that Giuliani was pushing."
To press a foreign leader to announce an investigation into his political rival, President Trump put his own personal and political interests above those of the nation. He undermined our military and diplomatic support for a key ally and undercut U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.
How could our diplomats urge Ukraine to refrain from political investigations of its own citizens if the president of the United States was urging Ukraine to engage in precisely the same kind of corrupt and political investigations of one of our own citizens?
At the White House, career professionals became concerned that President Trump, through an irregular channel that involved his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Rudy Giuliani, was pushing a policy towards Ukraine at odds with the national interest.
This morning, we hear from two of the national security professionals who became aware of those efforts.
Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman, whose family fled oppression in the Soviet Union when he was a toddler, is a career Army officer, an Iraq War veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart, and an expert in Russia and Ukraine who has worked at the highest levels of the Pentagon. In July 2018, he was detailed to the White House in part to coordinate policy on Ukraine.
SCHIFF: Jennifer Williams is a career Foreign Service officer who is currently detailed to the Office of the Vice President and responsible for Europe- and Eurasia-related issues.
Following his initial and congratulatory phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky on April 21st, President Trump asked Vice President Pence to represent him at Zelensky's upcoming inauguration. Ms. Williams was working on logistics for the trip. Pence would be a coveted attendee, second in significance only to the president, and would have sent an important signal of support to the new Ukrainian president.
In early May, however, Rudy Giuliani had been planning to go to Ukraine to pursue the president's interest in having the Bidens investigated, but had to call off the trip after it became public. Among others, Giuliani blamed people around Zelensky for having to cancel and claimed that they were antagonistic to Trump.
Three days later, the president called off the vice president's attendance at Zelensky's inauguration. Instead, a lower-level delegation was named, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Ambassador Sondland and Ambassador Kurt Volker, the three amigos. Senator Ron Johnson and Lieutenant Colonel Vindman would also attend.
After returning from the inauguration, several members of the delegation briefed President Trump on their encouraging first interactions with Zelensky. They urged Trump to meet with the Ukrainian president, but Trump instead criticized Ukraine and instructed them to "work with Judy -- work with Rudy."
A few weeks later on July 10th, Ambassador Sondland met at the White House with a group of U.S. and Ukrainian officials, including Colonel Vindman, and informed the group that, according to Chief of Staff Mulvaney, the White House meeting sought by the Ukrainian President with Trump would happen if Ukraine undertook certain investigations. National Security Advisor Bolton abruptly ended the meeting and said afterwards that he would not be "part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this."
Undeterred, Sondland brought the Ukrainian delegation downstairs to another part of the White House and was more explicit, according to witnesses. Ukraine needed to investigate the Bidens or Burisma if they were to get a White House meeting with Trump. After this discussion, which Vindman witnessed, he went to the National Security Council's top lawyer to report the matter. Vindman was told to return in the future with any concerns. He would soon find the need to do so.
A week later on July 18th, the representative of the Office of Management and Budget announced on a video conference call that Mulvaney, at Trump's direction, was freezing nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine, which was appropriated by Congress and enjoyed the support of the entirety of the U.S. national security establishment.
And one week after that, Trump would have the now-infamous July 25th phone call with Zelensky
During that call, Trump complained that the U.S. relationship with Ukraine had not been reciprocal. Later, Zelensky thanks Trump for his support in the area of defense, and says the Ukraine was ready to purchase more javelins and anti-tank weapons, that was among the most important deterrents of further Russian military action.
Trump's immediate response, I would like you to do us a favor though. Trump then requested that Zelensky investigate the discredited 2016 conspiracy theory and even more ominously look into the Bidens. Neither was part of the official preparatory material for the call, but they were in Donald Trump's personal interests and in the interests of his 2020 re-election campaign.
And Ukrainian president knew about both in advance because Sondland and others had been pressing Ukraine for weeks about investigations into the 2016 election, Burisma and the Bidens. Both Colonel Vindman and Ms. Williams were on the July 25th call. Vindman testified that due to the unequal bargaining position of the two leaders, and Ukraine's dependency on the U.S., the favor Trump asked of Zelensky was really a demand.
After the call, multiple individuals including Vindman were concerned enough to report it to the National Security Council's top lawyer. It was the second time in two weeks that Vindman had raised concerns with NSC lawyers. For her part, Williams also believed that asking Zelensky to undertake these political investigations was inappropriate, and that it might explain something else that she had become aware of, the otherwise inexplicable hold on U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.
Both Colonel Vindman and Ms. Williams also took note of the explicit use of the word Burisma by Zelensky. In fact, conspicuously left out of the record of the call, now locked away on an ultra-secure server. Colonel Vindman believed that Zelensky must have been prepared for the call to be able to make the connection between Biden and Burisma, a fact that other witnesses have now confirmed.
In the weeks that followed the July 25th call, Colonel Vindman continued to push for a release of the military aid to Ukraine and struggled to learn why it was being withheld. More disturbing word of the hold had reached Ukrainian officials prior to it becoming public. By mid August, the Ukrainian deputy ambassador asked Vindman why the United States was withholding the aid?
Although, Vindman didn't have an answer, Sondland made it explicit to Ukrainians at a meeting in Warsaw. They needed to publicly commit to these two investigations if they hoped to get the aid. Ms. Williams, we all saw the president's tweet about you on Sunday afternoon and the insults he hurled at Ambassador Yovanovitch last Friday.
You are here today and the American people are grateful. Colonel Vindman, we have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character, and watched certain personalities on "Fox" have questioned your loyalty. I know that you have shed blood for America, and we owe you an immense debt of gratitude.
I hope no one on this committee will become part of those vicious attacks. Today's witnesses like those who testified last week are here because they were subpoenaed to appear, not because they are for or against impeachment. That question is for Congress, not the fact witnesses.
If the president abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his re-election campaign and did so by withholding official acts, a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid, it will be up to us to decide whether those acts are compatible with the office of the presidency.
I now recognize Ranking Member Nunes for any remarks he would like to make.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): I thank the gentleman. I'd like to address a few brief words to the American people watching at home. If you watched the impeachment hearings last week, you may have noticed a disconnect between what you actually saw and the mainstream media accounts describing it.
When you saw three diplomats who disliked President Trump's Ukraine policy, discussing second-hand and third-hand conversations about their objections with the Trump policy. Meanwhile, they admitted they had not talked to the president about these matters. And they were unable to identify any crime or impeachable offense the president committed.
But what you read in the press were accounts of shocking, damning and explosive testimony that fully supports the Democrats' accusations. If these accounts have a familiar ring, it's because this is the same preposterous reporting the media offered for three years on the Russian hoax.
On a nearly daily basis, the top news outlets in America reported breathlessly on the newest bombshell revelations showing that President Trump and everyone surrounding him were Russian agents. It really wasn't long ago that we were reading these headlines. From CNN, "Congress investigating Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials." This was false.
"New York Times", "Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence." Also false. "Slate", "was a Trump server communicating with Russia." This was false. "New York Magazine", "will Trump be meeting with his counterpart or his handler? This was false. "The Guardian", "Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian Embassy." Also false.
"BuzzFeed", "President Trump directed his attorney to lie to Congress about the Moscow Tower project." All of these were false. There was no objectivity or fairness in the media's Russia stories just as a fevered rush to tarnish and remove a president who refuses to pretend that the media are something different from what they really are, puppets of the Democratic Party.
With their biased misreporting on the Russia hoax, the media lost confidence of millions of Americans and because they refused to acknowledge how badly they botched the story, they've learned no lessons, and simply expect Americans will believe them as they try to stoke yet another partisan frenzy.
In previous hearings, I've outlined three questions, the Democrats and the media don't want asked or answered. Instead of shedding light on these crucial questions, the media are trying to smother and dismiss them. Those questions start with, what is the full extent of the Democrats' prior coordination with the whistleblower, and who else did the whistleblower coordinate this effort with?
The media have fully accepted the Democrats' stunning reversal on the need for the whistleblower to testify to this committee. When the Democrats were insisting on his testimony, the media wanted it too. But things have changed since it became clear the whistleblower would have to answer problematic questions that include these -- what was the full extent of the whistleblower's prior coordination with Chairman Schiff, his staff and any other people he cooperated with while preparing the complaint?
What are the whistleblower's political biases and connections to Democratic politicians? How does the whistleblower explain the inaccuracies in the complaint? What contact did the whistleblower have with the media which appears to be ongoing? What are the sources of the whistleblower's information, who else did he talk to, and was the whistleblower prohibited by law from receiving or conveying any of that information?
The media have joined the Democrats in dismissing the importance of cross-examining this crucial witness now that the whistleblower has successfully kick-started impeachment, he has disappeared from the story as if the Democrats put the whistleblower in their own witness protection program.
My second question, what was the full extent of Ukraine's election meddling against the Trump campaign? In these depositions and hearings, Republicans have cited numerous indications of Ukraine meddling in the 2016 elections to opposes the Trump campaign. Many of these instances were reported including the posting of many primary source documents by veteran investigative journalist John Solomon.
Since the Democrats switched from Russia to Ukraine for their impeachment crusade, Solomon's reporting on Burisma, Hunter Biden and Ukraine election meddling has become inconvenient for the Democratic narrative. And so, the media is furiously smearing and libeling Solomon.
In fact, the publication, "The Hill" told its staff yesterday it would conduct a review of Solomon's Ukraine reporting. Coincidentally, the decision comes just three days after a Democrat on this committee told a "Hill" writer that she would stop speaking to "The Hill" because it had run Solomon's stories.
And she urged the writer to relay her concerns to "Hill's" management. So, now that Solomon's reporting is a problem for the Democrats, it's a problem for the media as well. I'd like to submit for the record, John Solomon's October 31st story entitled "debunking some of Ukraine's scandal myths about Biden and election interference".
I encourage viewers today to read this story and draw your own conclusions about the evidence Solomon has gathered. Ask unanimous consent that we put this into the record, Mr. Chair?
SCHIFF: Without objection.
NUNES: The concerted campaign by the media to discredit and disown some of their own colleagues is shocking. And we see it again in the sudden denunciations of "New York Times" reporter Ken Vogel as a conspiracy theorist after he covered similar issues including a 2017 "Politico" piece entitled "Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire".
My third question, why did Burisma hire Hunter Biden, what did he do for them, and did his position affect any U.S. government actions under the Obama administration? We have now heard testimony from the Democrats' own witnesses that diplomats were concerned about a conflict of interest involving Hunter Biden.
That's because he had secured a well paid position despite having no qualifications on the board of a corrupt Ukrainian company while his father was Vice President charged with overseeing Ukrainian issues. After trying out several different accusations against President Trump, the Democrats have recently settled on bribery.
According to widespread reports, they replaced their quid pro quo allegation because it wasn't polling well. But if the Democrats and the media are suddenly so deeply concerned about bribery, you would think they would take some interest in Burisma paying Hunter Biden $83,000 a month.
And you'd think they would be interested in Joe Biden threatening to withhold U.S. loan guarantees unless the Ukrainians fired a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma. That would be a textbook example of bribery. The media of course are free to act as Democrat puppets, and they're free to lurch from the Russia hoax to the Ukraine hoax at the direction of their puppet masters.
But they cannot reasonably expect to do so without alienating half the country who voted for the president they're trying to expel. Americans have learned to recognize fake news when they see it, and if the mainstream press won't give it to them straight, they'll go elsewhere to find it.
Which is exactly what the American people are doing. With that, I yield back.
SCHIFF: I thank the gentleman. Today, we are joined by Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and Jennifer Williams. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is an active duty military officer who joined the army after college and served multiple tours overseas, serving in South Korea, Germany and Iraq.
He was deployed to Iraq at a time of heavy fighting and was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded by a roadside bomb. Since 2008, Colonel Vindman has served as a foreign area officer specializing in Eurasia, serving both at home and in U.S. embassies in Ukraine and Russia.
He has served as a political military affairs officer for Russia for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He joined the Trump administration in July 2018 when he was asked to serve on the National Security Council. Jennifer Williams began her career in government service in 2005 shortly after graduating from college when she joined the Department of Homeland Security as a political appointee during the George W. Bush administration, and after working as a field representative on the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign.
She joined the foreign service the following year completing tours in Jamaica, Beirut and Lebanon. Prior to joining the office of the Vice President, she served at the U.S. Embassy in London as a public affairs officer.
In April 2019, Ms. Williams was detailed to the office of the Vice President Mike Pence where she serves as a special adviser on his foreign policy team, covering Europe and Russia issues. In that capacity, she keeps the Vice President aware of foreign policy issues in Europe and Russia, and prepares him for foreign policy engagements and meetings with foreign leaders.
Two final points before our witnesses are sworn. First witness depositions as part of this inquiry were unclassified in nature, and all open hearings will also be held at the unclassified level. Any information that may touch on classified information will be addressed separately.
Second, Congress will not tolerate any reprisal, threat of reprisal or attempt to retaliate against any U.S. government official for testifying before Congress, including you or any of your colleagues. If you would both please rise and raise your right hand, I will begin by swearing you in.
Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
SCHIFF: Let the record show the witnesses have answered in the affirmative. Thank you and you may be seated.
The microphones are sensitive, so please speak directly into them. Without objection, your written statement will be made part of the record.
With that, Ms. Williams, you are now recognized for your opening statement. And when you are concluded, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, you are recognized immediately thereafter for your opening statement.
WILLIAMS: Thank you Chairman Schiff, Ranking Member Nunes and other members of the committee, for the opportunity to provide this statement.
I appear today pursuant to a subpoena and am prepared to answer your questions to the best of my abilities. I have had the privilege of working as a Foreign Service officer for nearly 14 years, working for three different presidential administrations; two Republican and one Democratic.
I joined the State Department in 2006 after serving in the Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Michael Chertoff. It was with great pride and conviction that I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. Administered (ph) by a personal hero of mine, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
As a career officer, I am committed to serving the American people and advancing American interests abroad in support of the president's foreign policy objectives. I have been inspired and encouraged in that journey by the thousands of other dedicated public servants who I'm proud to call colleagues across the foreign service, civil service, military, and federal law enforcement agencies. WILLIAMS: I have served overseas tours in Kingston, Jamaica; Beirut, Lebanon; and London, United Kingdom. I have worked to implement humanitarian assistance programs to serve millions of victims of the Syria conflict and served as an adviser on Middle East issues to the Deputy Secretary of State. And this spring, it was the greatest honor of my career to be asked to serve as a special adviser to the vice president for Europe and Russia.
Over the past eight months, I have been privileged to work with the dedicated and capable men and women of the Office of the Vice President to advance the administration's agenda.
I have also worked closely with talented and committed colleagues at the National Security Council, State Department, Department of Defense and other agencies to advance and promote U.S. foreign policy objectives. In this capacity, I have advised and prepared the vice president for engagements related to Ukraine.
As you are aware, on November 7th, I appeared before the committee for a closed-door deposition pursuant to a subpoena. I would like to take this opportunity to briefly summarize my recollection of some of the events I expect the committee may ask me about.
On April 21st, Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidential election. On April 23rd, the vice president called to congratulate President-elect Zelensky. During the call, which I participated in, the vice president accepted an invitation to attend President-elect Zelensky's upcoming inauguration, providing that the scheduling worked out.
The vice president had only a narrow window of availability at the end of May, and the Ukrainian parliament would not meet to set a date for the inauguration until after May 14th. As a result, we did not expect to know whether the vice president would be -- could attend until May 14th at the earliest, and we made only preliminary trip preparations in early May.
On May 13th, an assistant to the vice president's chief of staff called and informed me that President Trump had decided that the vice president would not attend the inauguration in Ukraine. She did not provide any further explanation.
I relayed that instruction to others involved in planning the potential trip. I also informed the NSC that the vice president would not be attending so that it could identify a head of delegation to represent the United States at President-elect Zelensky's inauguration.
On July 3rd, I learned that the Office of Management and Budget had placed a hold on a tranche of security assistance designated for Ukraine. According to the information I received, OMB was reviewing whether the funding was aligned with the administration's priorities.
I subsequently attended meetings of the Policy Coordination Committee, where the hold on Ukrainian security assistance was discussed. During those meetings, representatives of the State and Defense Departments advocated that the hold should be lifted. And OMB representatives reported that the White House chief of staff had directed that the hold should remain in place.
On September 11th, I learned that the hold on security assistance for Ukraine had been released. I have never learned what prompted that decision.
On July 25th, along with several of my colleagues, I listened to a call between President Trump and President Zelensky, the content of which has since been publicly reported.
Prior to July 35th, I had participated in roughly a dozen other presidential phone calls. During my closed-door deposition, members of the committee asked about my personal views and whether I had any concerns about the July 25th call. As I testified then, I found the July 25th phone call unusual because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.
After the July 25th call, I provided an update in the vice president's daily briefing book, indicating that President Trump had a call that day with President Zelensky. A hard copy of the memorandum transcribing the call was also included in the book. I do not know whether the vice president reviewed my update or the transcript. I did not discuss the July 25th call with the vice president or any of my colleagues in the Office of the Vice President or the NSC.
On August 29th, I learned that the vice president would be traveling to Poland to meet with President Zelensky on September 1st. At the September 1st meeting, which I attended, President Zelensky asked the vice president about news articles reporting a hold on U.S. security assistance for Ukraine. The vice president responded that Ukraine had the United States' unwavering support, and promised to relay their conversation to President Trump that night.
During the September 1st meeting, neither the vice president nor President Zelensky mentioned the specific investigations discussed during the July 25th phone call.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide this statement. I would be happy to answer any questions.
VINDMAN: Mr. Chairman, ranking members, thank you for the opportunity to address the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence with respect to the activities relating to Ukraine and my role in the events under investigation.
I have dedicated my entire professional life to the United States of America. For more than two decades, it has been my honor to serve as an officer in the United States Army. As an infantry officer, I served multiple overseas tours including South Korea and Germany, and I was deployed to Iraq for combat operations.
Since 2008, I have been a foreign area officer specializing in European and Eurasian politico-military affairs. I served in the United States embassies in Kiev, Ukraine and Moscow, Russia. In Washington, D.C., I was the politico-military affairs officer for Russia, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where I drafted the Armed Forces Global Campaign Plan to counter Russian aggression and Russian malign influence.
In July 2018, I was asked to serve at the White House National Security Council. At the NSC, I'm the principal adviser to the national security adviser on Ukraine and other countries in my portfolio.
My role at the NSC is to develop, coordinate and implement plans and policies to manage the full range of diplomatic, informational, military and economic national security issues, the countries in my portfolio. My core function is to coordinate policy with departments and agencies.
The committee has heard from many of my colleagues about the strategic importance of Ukraine as a bulwark against Russian aggression. It is important to note that our country's policy of supporting Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, promoting Ukrainian prosperity and strengthening a free and democratic Ukraine as a counter to Russian aggression has been a consistent bipartisan foreign policy objective and strategy across various administrations both Democratic and Republican.
And that President Zelensky's election in April 2019 created an unprecedented opportunity to realize our strategy -- our strategic objectives.
In the spring of 2019, I became aware of two disruptive actors, primarily Ukraine's then-prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the president's personal attorney promoting false narratives that undermined the United States Ukraine policy.
The NSC and its interagency partners, including the State Department, grew increasingly concerned about the impact that such information was having on our country's ability to achieve our national security objectives.
On April 21st, 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine in a landslide victory on a unity, reform, and anti-corruption platform. President Trump called President Zelensky on April 21st, 2019, to congratulate him on his victory.
I was the staff officer who produced the call materials, and was one of the staff officers who listened to the call. The call was positive and President Trump expressed his desire to work with President Zelensky and extended an invitation to visit the White House.
VINDMAN: In May, I attended the inauguration of President Zelensky as part of the presidential delegation led by Secretary Perry.
Following the visit, the members of the delegation provided President Trump a debriefing, offering a positive assessment of President Zelensky and his team. After this debriefing, President Trump signed a congratulatory letter to President Zelensky and extended an -- another invitation to visit the White House.
On July 10th, 2019, Oleksandr Danylyuk, then Ukraine's national security advisor, visited Washington, D.C., for a meeting with National Security Advisor Bolton. Ambassador Volker and Sondland -- Ambassadors Volker and Sondland and Secretary Rick Perry also attended the meeting. I attended with Dr. Hill.
We fully anticipated the -- the Ukrainians would raise the issue of meeting -- of a meeting between the presidents. Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short when Ambassador Sondland started to speak about the requirement that Ukraine deliver specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with President Trump.
Following this meeting there was a short debriefing during which Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance of Ukraine delivering the investigations into the 2016 elections, the Bidens and Burisma. I stated to Ambassador Sondland that this was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security. Dr. Hill also asserted his comments, when proper. Following the meeting, Dr. Hill and I agreed to report the incident to NSC's lead counsel, Mr. John Eisenberg.
On July 21st, 2019, President Zelensky won a parliamentary election in another landslide victory. The NSC proposed that President Trump call President Zelensky to congratulate him. On July 25th, 2019, the call occurred. I listened on the -- in on the call in the Situation Room with White House colleagues. I was concerned by the call. What I heard was inappropriate, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg. It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent.
I was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation it was -- it was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 elections, the Bidens and Burisma it would be interpreted as a partisan play. This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing by bipartisan support, undermining U.S. national security and advancing Russia's strategic objectives in the region -- region.
I want to emphasize to the committee that when I reported my concerns on July 10th relating to Ambassador Sondland and on July 25th relating to the president, I did so out of a sense of duty. I privately reported my concerns in official channels to the proper authority in the chain of command. My intent was to raise these concerns because they had significant national security implications for our country. I never thought that I'd be sitting here testifying in front of this committee and the American public about my actions. When I reported my concerns, my only thought was to act properly and to carry out my duty.
Following each of my reports to Mr. Eisenberg, I immediately returned to work to advance the president's and our country's foreign policy objectives. I focused on what I have done throughout my military career: promoting America's national security interests.
I want to take a moment to recognize the courage of my colleagues who have appeared and are scheduled to appear before this committee. I want to state that the character attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible. It is natural to disagree and engage in spirited debate, and this has been the custom of our country since the time of our founding fathers, but we are better than personal attacks.
VINDMAN: The uniform I wear today is that of a United States Army -- is that of the United States Army. The members of our all-volunteer force are made up of a patchwork of people from all ethnicities, regions, socioeconomic backrooms -- backgrounds who come together under a common oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. We do not serve any political party; we serve the nation.
I am humbled to come before you today as one of many who serve in the most distinguished and able military in the world. The Army is the only profession I've ever known. As a young man I decided I wanted to spend my life serving this nation that gave my family -- that gave my family refuge from authoritarian oppression.
For the last 20 years it has been an honor to -- to represent and protect this great country. Next month will mark 40 years since my family arrived in the United States as refugees.
When my father was 47 years old, he left behind his entire life and the only home he had ever known to start over in the United States so his three sons could have a better and safer lives. His courageous decision inspired a deep sense of gratitude in my brothers and myself and has instilled in us a sense of duty and service.
All three of us have served or are currently serving in the military. My little brother sitting behind me here today -- our collective military service is a special part of our family's history -- story in America.
I also recognize that my simple act of appearing here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world.
In Russia, my act of expressing concern to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions. And offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life.
I'm grateful to my father's -- for my father's brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free and -- free of fear for mine and my family's safety.
Dad, I'm sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected professionals -- talking to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.
Thank you again for your consideration. I will be happy to answer your questions. SCHIFF: Thank you, Colonel. Thank you, Ms. Williams.
Colonel, your brother and family are more than welcome here. We're grateful to have them with us.
We will proceed to the first round of questions as detailed in the memo provided to committee members. There will be 45 minutes of questions conducted by the chairman or majority counsel, followed by 45 minutes for the ranking member or minority counsel. Under House Resolution 660, that time may not be delegated to other members.
Following that, unless I specify an additional equal time for extended questioning, we'll proceed under the five-minute rule and every member will have a chance to ask questions.
I now recognize myself or majority counsel for the first 45 minutes.
Before we get into the substance of your testimony, Ms. Williams, I want to ask you about a phone call between Vice President Pence and President Zelensky of Ukraine on September 18th. Were you on that call?
WILLIAMS: I was.
SCHIFF: And did you take notes of the call?
WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.
SCHIFF: Is there something about that call that you think may be relevant to our investigation?
(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman? As we previously discussed with the committee, the Office of the Vice President has taken the position that the September...
SCHIFF: Could you -- sir, could you move the microphone a little closer to you?
(UNKNOWN): As we've previously discussed with both majority and minority staff of the committee, the Office of the Vice President has taken the position that the September 18th call is classified. As a result, with respect to the call, I'd refer the committee to the public record, which includes Ms. Williams' November 7th testimony, which has been publicly released, as well as the public readout of that call, which has previously been issued by the White House.
Beyond that, given the position of the Vice President's Office on classification, I've advised Ms. Williams not to answer further questions about that call in an unclassified setting.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Counsel.
Ms. Williams, I would only ask you in this setting whether you think there's something relevant to our inquiry in that call and whether, if so, you'll be willing to make a classified submission to the committee? WILLIAMS: I would also refer to my -- my testimony that I gave in the closed session. And I'm very happy to appear for a classified setting discussion as well.
SCHIFF: It may not be necessary for you to appear if you'll be willing to submit the information in writing to the committee.
WILLIAMS: I would be happy to do so.
SCHIFF: I thank you.
Colonel Vindman, if I could turn your attention to the April 21st call, that is the first call between President Trump and President Zelensky, did you prepare talking points for the president to use during that call?
VINDMAN: Yes, I did.
SCHIFF: And did those talking points include rooting out corruption in Ukraine?
SCHIFF: That was something the president was supposed to raise in the conversation with President Zelensky?
VINDMAN: Those were the recommended talking points that were cleared through the NSC staff for the president, yes.
SCHIFF: Did you listen in on that call?
VINDMAN: Yes, I did.
SCHIFF: The White House has now released the record of that call. Did President Trump ever mention corruption in the April 21st call?
VINDMAN: To the best of my recollection, he did not.
SCHIFF: On the April 21st call, President Trump told President Zelensky that he would send a high-level U.S. delegation to the inauguration. Following that call, Ms. Williams, was it your understanding that the president wanted the vice president to attend the inauguration in Kyiv?
WILLIAMS: Yes, that was my understanding.
SCHIFF: And did the president subsequently tell the vice president not to attend the inauguration?
WILLIAMS: I was informed by our chief of staff's office, by the vice president's chief of staff's office that the president had told the vice president not to attend. I did not witness that conversation.
SCHIFF: And am I correct that you learned this on May 13th, is that right?
WILLIAMS: That's correct.
SCHIFF: Am I also correct that the inauguration date had not been set by May 13th?
WILLIAMS: That's correct.
SCHIFF: Do you know what accounted for the president's decision to instruct the vice president not to attend?
WILLIAMS: I do not.
SCHIFF: Colonel Vindman, you were a member of the U.S. delegation to the inauguration on May 20th, is that correct?
VINDMAN: Yes, Chairman.
SCHIFF: And during that trip, did you an opportunity to offer any advice to President Zelensky?
VINDMAN: Yes, Chairman.
SCHIFF: What was the advice that you gave him?
VINDMAN: During a bilateral meeting in which the whole delegation was meeting with President Zelensky and his team, I offered two pieces of advice: to be particularly cautious with regards to Ukraine -- to be particularly cautious with regards to Russia and its -- its desire to provoke Ukraine, and the second one was to stay out of U.S. domestic policy.
SCHIFF: You mean politics?
VINDMAN: Politics -- correction.
SCHIFF: And why did you feel it was necessary to advise President Zelensky to stay away from U.S. domestic politics?
VINDMAN: Chairman, in the March and April time frame, it became clear that there were -- there were actors in the U.S., public actors, non- governmental actors, that were promoting the idea of investigations and 2016 Ukrainian interference. And it -- it was consistent with U.S. policy to advise any country, all the countries in my portfolio, any country in the -- in the world, to not participate in U.S. domestic politics. So, I was passing the same advice consistent with U.S. policy.
SCHIFF: I know Mr. Goldman will have more questions about that when I turn to him. But let me turn, if I can, to the hold on security assistance, which I think you both testified you learned about in early July.
Am I correct that neither of you were provided with a reason for why the president put a hold on security assistance to Ukraine?
WILLIAMS: My understanding was that OMB was reviewing the assistance to ensure it was in line with administration priorities, but it was not made more specific than that.
SCHIFF: And Colonel Vindman?
VINDMAN: That is consistent. We had (ph) -- the view was to ensure it was -- remained consistent with administration policies.
SCHIFF: Colonel Vindman, you attended a meeting in John Bolton's office on July 10th, where Ambassador Sondland interjected to respond to a question by senior Ukrainian officials about a White House visit. What did he say at that time?
VINDMAN: To the best of my recollection, Ambassador Sondland said that in order to get a White House meeting, the Ukrainians would have to provide a deliverable, which is investigations -- specific investigations.
SCHIFF: And what was Ambassador Bolton's response or reaction to that comment?
VINDMAN: The -- we had not completed all of the agenda items and we still had time for the meeting, and Ambassador Bolton abruptly ended the meeting.
SCHIFF: Did you report this incident to the National Security Council lawyers?
VINDMAN: Yes, I did.
SCHIFF: Based on Ambassador Sondland's remark at the July 10th meeting, was it your clear understanding that the Ukrainians understood they had to commit to investigations President Trump wanted in order to get the White House meeting?
VINDMAN: It may have not been entirely clear at that moment. Certainly, Ambassador Sondland was calling for these meetings and he had -- he had stated that his -- he had this -- this was developed per a conversation with the Chief of Staff, Mr. Mick Mulvaney, but the connection to the president wasn't clear at that point.
SCHIFF: But the import of what Ambassador Sondland said during that meeting was that there was an agreement with Mick Mulvaney that Zelensky would get the meeting if they would undertake these investigations?
VINDMAN: That is correct.
SCHIFF: About two weeks after that July 10th meeting, President Trump and President Zelensky had their second call, the now-infamous July 25th call. Colonel Vindman, what was your real-time reaction to hearing that call?
VINDMAN: Chairman, without hesitation, I knew that I had to report this to the White House counsel. I had concerns and it was my duty to report my concerns to the proper -- proper people in the chain of command.
SCHIFF: And -- and what was your concern?
VINDMAN: Well, Chairman, as I said in my statement, it was inappropriate -- it was improper for the president to request -- to demand and investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power where there's, at best, dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation. And that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge and it would be perceived as a partisan play. It would undermine our Ukraine policy and it would undermine our national security.
SCHIFF: Now, colonel, you -- you've described this as a demand, this favor that the president asked. What it is about the relationship between the president of the United States and the president of the Ukraine that leads you to conclude that, when the president of the United States asks a favor like this, it's really a demand?
VINDMAN: Chairman, the culture I come from, the military culture, when a senior asks you to do something, even if it's polite and pleasant, it's -- it's not -- it's not to be taken as a request, it's to be taken as an order.
In this case, the power disparity between the two leaders, my impression is that in order to get the White House meeting, President Zelensky would have to deliver these investigations.
SCHIFF: Ms. Williams, I think you described your reaction, in your deposition, as -- when you listened to the call, as you found it, "unusual and inappropriate."
But I was struck by something else you said in your deposition. You said that, "It shed some light on possible other motivations behind a security assistance hold." What did you mean by that?
WILLIAMS: Mr. Chairman, I was asked during the -- the closed-door testimony, how I felt about the call. And in reflecting on what I was thinking in that moment, it was the first time I had heard, internally, the president reference particular investigations that previously I had only heard about through Mr. Giuliani's press interviews and press reporting.
So in that moment, it was not clear whether there was a direct connect or linkage between the ongoing hold on security assistance and what the president may be asking President Zelensky to undertake in -- in regard to investigations. So it was -- it was noteworthy in that regard. I did not have enough information to -- to draw any firm conclusions.
SCHIFF: But it raised the question in your mind as to whether the two were related?
WILLIAMS: It was the first I had heard of any requests of Ukraine which were that specific in nature. So it -- it was noteworthy to me in that regard.
SCHIFF: Both of you recall President Zelensky in that conversation raising the issue or mentioning Burisma. Do you not? WILLIAMS: That's correct.
SCHIFF: And yet, the word Burisma appears nowhere in the call record that's been released to the public, is that right?
WILLIAMS: That's right.
SCHIFF: Do you know why that's the case? Why that was left out?
WILLIAMS: I do not. I was not involved in the -- in the production of that transcript.
VINDMAN: I attribute to -- that to the fact that this transcript that is being produced may have not caught the word Burisma. And it was -- in -- in the transcript that was released, it was released as the company, which is -- which is accurate, it's not a significant omission.
SCHIFF: Colonel, you pointed out the fact that that word was used, did you not?
SCHIFF: And yet, it was not included in the record released to the public?
VINDMAN: That's right. It's -- I'd say it's informed speculation that the folks that produce these transcripts do the best they can and they just didn't catch the word. And that was my -- my responsibility to -- to then make sure that the transcript was as accurate as possible. And that's what I attempted to do by putting that word back in, because that was in my notes.
SCHIFF: I think, Colonel, you testified in your deposition that you found it striking that Zelensky would bring up Burisma. That it indicated to you that he had been prepped for the call, to expect this issue to come up. What -- what led you to that conclusion?
VINDMAN: It seemed unlikely that he would be familiar with a -- with a single company in the context of a call that had -- that was on the broader bilateral relationship.