Four key impeachment witnesses testify
Here are some of the key takeaways so far:
- About the call: The July 25 call was not “perfect” based on what Vindman and Williams told lawmakers about the improper politics of the asks by President Trump. The President was acting on his own in the July call in asking for the investigations and was provided with no talking points to back that up.
- Vindman describes July 10 meeting: This is the first public description by an eyewitness of a demand in the White House of a direct quid pro quo by Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
- The witnesses have been careful: Witnesses are being very careful and are working to make sure their bona fides are stated publicly. They are clearly conscious of revealing information improperly and inviting retribution.
- On the transcript edits: Vindman makes clear in his mind the edits of the call transcript were “no big deal." He also said he understood the reason for putting the transcript in the server to prevent leaking.
- The vice president's role is not clear: Williams provides some backing to Vic President Mike Pence, describing what occurred in a meeting between him and the Ukrainian president in Warsaw. But Pence's role is still not totally clear, and Williams didn’t know contents about a Trump-Pence call after Warsaw meeting.
- There was a flare-up about the whistleblower: Republican Rep. Devin Nunes is working hard to make it appear like Chairman Adam Schiff is "hiding something." Nunes was clearly trying to make Vindman look like a leaker. Vindman does acknowledge talking to two people outside the White House, someone at the State Department and someone in intelligence.
Republican attorney Steve Castor revealed a surprising fact during his line of questioning to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman: The witness was offered a job as the Ukrainian defense minister.
It’s a new piece of information, previously unknown, that did not arise during Vindman’s closed door testimony.
Vindman made light of the offer, which he said arose three separate times from the Ukrainian national security adviser. He said it was laughable someone of his rank would be offered such a senior position. And he said he was an American and never considered it.
So what was the Republican strategy in raising the offer? In theory, it could raise questions about Vindman’s loyalty — a risible notion, given Vindman’s heroic service in the US military, including in Iraq, where he was wounded (Vindman still has shrapnel in his body).
It could also set up soundbites for conservative media looking to undermine Vindman.
Castor also seemed to question how the offer was presented, asking Vindman whether the national security adviser asked in English or Ukrainian.
Vindman said the adviser is a flawless English speaker who asked in English, and said there were other US officials who heard the offer.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified that, at one point, former head of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Danylyuk offered him the position of Ukraine's defense minister, which he said he "dismissed."
Vindman testified that after receiving the offer he told his superiors and the "appropriate counterintelligence folks" about it and then "forgot about it."
"I'm an American... I immediately dismissed these offers," Vindman said.
Vindman said "the whole notion was rather comical."
Vindman said his bosses never raised the issue of a conflict of interest with him continuing his work with the National Security Council after this offer.
He added: "Frankly, if they were concerned about me being able to continue my duties, they would have brought that to my attention."
The Republicans' 45-minute round of question just wrapped up. The hearing is taking a quick break now.
When they come back, each member of the committee will get 5 minutes to ask questions.
Republican counsel Steve Castor just mentioned a photo showing US officials, including former national security adviser John Bolton and Ambassador to the European Union, with Ukrainian officials outside the White House.
Castor said Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide, took the "very nice photo" when he went to a meeting at Ward Room.
He then asked Vindman if he remembered what was discussed in the room.
"I believe it's in the deposition, the three elements: Burisma, Bidens, and the 2016 elections were all mentioned," the decorated service member responded.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries said during a press conference this morning that he is “going to reserve judgment, until all the witnesses have testified” on whether Democrats have seen enough evidence to draft articles of impeachment.
“The President has been given every opportunity to provide exculpatory information to explain away his behavior,” Jeffries added. “None has been forthcoming yet. But he's going to be given every due process opportunity to do so. And he might consider addressing the testimony of Ambassador Taylor, who indicated with respect to the withholding of the 390 million dollars in aide to the Ukraine that there was no good public policy reason, no good substantive reason, and no good national security reason. Why did he hold it up?”
Right now, Jeffries said, “The facts seem to suggest that it was part of some shakedown scheme connected to the President abusing his power to pressure a foreign government to target an American citizen.”
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman said Hunter Biden didn't appear to be qualified for a high-paying board seat on a prominent Ukrainian energy company named Burisma — but he added, "I don't know his qualifications."
The Republicans' lawyer, Steve Castor, asked, "Are you aware of any specific experience Hunter Biden has in the Ukrainian corporate government world?"
"I don't know much about Mr. Hunter Biden," Vindman said.
Then Castor alluded to the closed-door testimony Vindman perviously gave.
"We talked a little bit about, at your deposition, about whether Mr. Biden was qualified to serve on this board. And, you know, I believe you acknowledged that apparently he was not, in fact, qualified," he said.
"As far as I can tell, he didn't seem to be, but like I said, I don't know his qualifications," Vindman said.
What this is all about: From the start of the inquiry, Republicans have pointed out that Hunter Biden did not have any experience in corporate governance or in the energy sector before taking the job at Burisma.
Hunter Biden previously said that it showed “poor judgment” to take the job while his dad led US policy toward Ukraine, but he denied that there were any conflicts of interest.
Rep. Devin Nunes questioning of Lt. Col. Vindman — some of the tensest of any public hearing so far — illustrated Republicans’ goal of ferreting out how this impeachment process began in the first place.
His suggestion that Vindman brought concerns about President Trump’s phone call to the whistleblower was the closest anyone has gotten to probing the origins of the inquiry, which Republicans claim was politically motivated.
It prompted fraught moments — including when Vindman corrected Nunes after he addressed him as “mister.”
“It’s Lieutenant Colonel,” he said calmly.
It’s been a delicate balance for Republicans, many of whom are loathe to be the ones responsible for revealing the whistleblower’s name. Even President Trump, who has encouraged the media and GOP allies to reveal the person’s name, has stopped short of doing it himself.
(It’s not clear any of them knows with 100% certainty who the whistleblower is).
Rep. Adam Schiff was clear that Nunes questioning was coming too close to asking Vindman to name the whistleblower, a person whose identity Vindman says he doesn’t know.
He shut the questioning down, but not before Vindman revealed he discussed the call with someone from the intelligence community.
Vindman’s lawyer also interjected to protect his client from the questioning, saying they would stick to the rules of the committee.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff cut off Rep. Devin Nunes' questioning to "protect the whistleblower."
Nunes was asking Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman about who he spoke to about the July 25 Trump-Ukraine call. When Vindman said he spoke to a member of the intelligence community, Nunes pressed further, asking what agency the individual was with.
"If I could interject here, we don't want to use these proceedings," Schiff began, before Nunes interrupted and said it was "our time."
"I know, but we need to protect the whistleblower," Schiff said.
"I want to make sure that there's no effort to out the whistleblower through these proceedings," Schiff added.
Watch the exchange: