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Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council official in charge of Ukraine policy, told impeachment investigators he tried to make changes to the transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a source told CNN of his closed-door testimony before impeachment investigators Tuesday.
And while the White House initially said ellipses in the transcript did not represent omissions from the transcript, Vindman said one of them covered specific mentions by Trump of possible recordings of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Vindman also said he would have added “Burisma,” the name of the company that employed Hunter Biden and that Trump pushed to have Zelensky investigate, to the transcript, according to CNN’s reporting on Vindman’s testimony.
The New York Times followed CNN’s report by suggesting the changes that Vindman wanted in the July 25 call transcript but were ignored had resulted in the omission of “crucial details.”
Neither report suggests the changes would fundamentally alter anyone’s understanding of the call.
One of the Times’ examples of how Vindman wanted to adjust the transcript contradicts what the White House said about the transcript when it was released.
Asked in September why there were three ellipses, a senior White House official said they “do not indicate missing words or phrases” but “refer to a trailing off of a voice or pause. If there were missing words or phrases, they would be represented by brackets or redactions. This is the standard practice that is followed for all records of Presidential phone calls.”
However, the Times reports that one of the changes to the transcript sought by Vindman was regarding replacing an ellipses: “The rough transcript also contains ellipses at three points where Mr. Trump is speaking. Colonel Vindman told investigators that at the point of the transcript where the third set of ellipses appears, Mr. Trump said there were tapes of Mr. Biden.”
A source also tells CNN’s Manu Raju that that reference was to recordings of Biden.
Below are more details of Vindman’s deposition and other events Tuesday and coming up.
A screaming match behind closed doors
The impeachment inquiry is turning more acrimonious. Less than a week after Republicans stormed into the secure room where an impeachment witness was set to be deposed, Tuesday’s deposition of Vindman devolved into a shouting match between Republicans and Democrats.
What set it off? Democrats accused Republicans of trying to goad Vindman into revealing the identity of the whistleblower with their questions.
Trump’s rhetoric is also escalating. There is a knee-jerk attempt by President Donald Trump to discredit witnesses as Never Trumpers or nobodies. That effort backfired with Vindman, a decorated war veteran.
What Hill Republicans are saying. The rhetoric among Republicans is evolving on Capitol Hill. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana called it a “Soviet-style process.” Vindman, who testified Tuesday, and fled the Soviet Union as a 3-year-old, might be able to explain the flaws in that analogy.
What we learned from Vindman
Vindman emerged as another key witness, corroborating Fiona Hill and providing the latest twist in an impeachment inquiry that offers something new every day. He is the first witness to offer testimony in the inquiry who actually listened to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
He said he raised a red flag immediately afterward.
Immigrant patriot – Vindman’s testimony was preceded by a profile in The New York Times of his journey from Ukrainian refugee to the White House, where he works on the National Security Council along with his twin brother.
He arrived on Capitol Hill in uniform, with a chest full of medals, including a Purple Heart.
In his opening statement, he told of fleeing the Soviet Union as a child and how that made him an American. He proved it by serving in Iraq. Vindman never complains about it but still carries shrapnel in his body from Iraq IED attack, a source close to him told Jake Tapper.
“I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend OUR country, irrespective of party or politics,” he said.
Note: He said he’s never had contact with the President. He also said he is NOT the whistleblower.
Concerns after call – He did convey his own concerns at the White House about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine after the July 25 call.
Told Sondland pressure was inappropriate – Vindman detailed a confrontation with US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland weeks before Trump’s call with Zelensky at which he and Hill told Sondland that pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations was inappropriate.
“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. Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate,” Vindman said in his opening statement.
Contradiction – Sondland had said in his testimony that he had never heard any such concerns after that meeting.
“But if Amb. 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 said.
Who did Vindman tell? – If he and Hill notified the top lawyer on the National Security Council, that would seem to be a man named John Eisenberg, who CNN has also reported is the official who directed that the transcript of the call be placed in a more secure server.
Republicans defend Vindman’s service
Trump and some conservative allies, like former Republican Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, attacked the National Security Council official and Army officer. Duffy said, though he later clarified, that Vindman, who was born in Ukraine, might not be loyal to the US. Trump, although they’ve never met, called him a “Never Trumper.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, went out of their way to say that kind of behavior is not OK.
“We need to show that we are better than that as a nation,” Cheney said, adding, “Their patriotism, their love of country, we’re talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation, who have put their lives on the line. It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation, and we should not be involved in that process.”
Imagining Trump’s defense
Ross Garber has defended not one but FOUR Republican governors who faced impeachment. He outlined what a Trump impeachment defense could look like on Tuesday’s Impeachment Watch podcast with David Chalian and guest host Marshall Cohen.
Kudos to anyone who can correctly name all four governors. Submit answers in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. No googling.
Democrats plan for a Thursday vote on procedures
House Democrats released their resolution to codify the rules for the impeachment inquiry. It gives Republicans the ability to consult with Democrats to issue subpoenas, which will make no Republicans happy.
It also lists the Intelligence Committee first, directing that committee to hold hearings and issue a report on its findings. That suggests that in addition to seeking to quiet Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is officially designating Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, the head of the impeachment inquiry.
A vote on the resolution – the first House vote on the impeachment inquiry – is set for Thursday.
What else is coming?
Testimony In the impeachment inquiry
Wednesday -- Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, State Department Ukraine experts
Thursday – Timothy Morrison, Ukraine expert at the National Security Counsel and successor to Russia adviser Fiona Hill
Friday – Robert Blair, a top adviser to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney
In federal courts Thursday – CNN’s Katelyn Polantz reports there were to be not one but TWO court hearings Thursday afternoon on the White House’s efforts to stonewall the House impeachment probe.
Former White House counsel Don McGahn has refused to testify, and, finally, a judge will hear the Justice Department’s and the House’s arguments over his assertion of immunity beginning at 2 p.m. Former acting national security adviser Charles Kupperman has asked the court to decide if he, too, is immune from testifying, but on Tuesday the Justice Department and the House asked a federal judge to postpone that court hearing, which had been scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday, so they can attend the McGahn hearing. The judge, Richard Leon of the US District Court in Washington, has not yet responded.
If the court schedule doesn’t change, Obama-appointed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Bush-appointed Judge Richard Leon will weigh, within an hour of each other, very similar legal questions with major implications for the House’s impeachment inquiry.
Tuesday’s other headlines
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election.
Democrats want to impeach him for it.
It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.
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