Busy day on the hill. But here were the key takeaways:
Colonel Vindman and Ms. Williams both testified that they were never aware of any other national security officials in the United States government who supported the decision to withhold nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine, which both said was directed by the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.
Both witnesses said withholding the military assistance from Ukraine was damaging to relations between the two countries and to Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian aggression. Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois asked Colonel Vindman whether anyone else supported the decision to freeze the aid.
“No one from the national security?” Mr. Quigley asked.
“None,” Colonel Vindman said.
“No one from the State Department?”
“No one from the Department of Defense?
Ms. Williams testified that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine told Vice President Mike Pence during a Sept. 1 meeting that continuing to withhold the aid would indicate that United States support for Ukraine was wavering, giving Russia a boost in the ongoing conflict between the two countries.
“Any signal or sign that U.S. support was wavering would be construed by Russia as potentially an opportunity for them to strengthen their own hand in Ukraine,” Ms. Williams said, relating what Mr. Zelensky told Mr. Pence.
Colonel Vindman testified that he was so disturbed by the call that he reported it to the council’s top lawyer.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” he said under questioning about his first thoughts when he heard Mr. Trump’s mention of investigations into Mr. Biden and an unproven theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election. “It was probably an element of shock, that maybe in certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out, and how this was likely to have significant implications for U.S. national security.”
Earlier, Colonel Vindman explained why he felt it was his “duty” to report his concerns to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer at the National Security Council. “It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent.”
Ms. Williams, a national security aide to Mr. Pence, said she found the president’s call unusual because it included discussion of a “domestic political matter.”
Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the committee, sought to turn the focus away from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden, leading the witnesses through a series of questions intended to suggest that the former vice president had intervened in Ukraine’s domestic affairs to benefit his son, Hunter Biden, despite the lack of evidence.
Mr. Biden, as vice president, pressured Ukrainian officials to fire a prosecutor who was seen as tolerating corruption in keeping with the policy of the United States, European allies and international financial organizations at the time. But Mr. Nunes suggested that Mr. Biden was acting to benefit his son, who was on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that had been investigated for corruption.
“Did you know that Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Poroshenko at least three times in February 2016 after the president and owner of Burisma’s home was raided on February 2 by the state prosecutor’s office?” Mr. Nunes asked, referring to Petro O. Poroshenko, then the president.
“Not at the time,” Ms. Williams answered. She added: “I’ve become aware of that through this proceeding.”
Mr. Nunes asked a series of similar questions and then repeated them for Colonel Vindman. Neither witness was working on the issue at the time, so neither could offer information to about it. But Mr. Nunes used the opportunity to introduce his allegations, anyway. He also tried repeatedly to extract information from Colonel Vindman about the identity of the whistle-blower who filed a complaint about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, drawing objections from the colonel’s lawyer.
At one point, things turned testy when Mr. Nunes addressed Colonel Vindman as “Mr. Vindman.”
“Ranking member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please,” he shot back.
Democratic lawmakers responded angrily to attacks on Colonel Vindman, who testified during the morning session, as the White House and Republicans sought to discredit the colonel in real time during his appearance before the committee.
“There’s been a lot of insinuations and there’s been a lot suggestions, maybe, that your service is somehow not to be trusted,” said Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York. He accused Republicans of trying to “air out some allegations with no basis and proof, but they just want to get them out there and hope maybe some of those strands of spaghetti I guess will stick on the wall if they keep throwing them.”
His angry remarks came after the official, taxpayer-funded Twitter account of the White House posted a critical quote about Colonel Vindman from Mr. Morrison, his former boss at the National Security Council, who testified later in the day on a separate panel.
The afternoon session had Republican witnesses. Republican witnesses. It did not go well for the GOP.
Mr. Volker portrayed himself as left out of key moments and unaware that others working for Mr. Trump were linking the release of American security aid to Ukraine committing to investigations of Democrats.
In his opening statement, Volker testified that he did not understand until recently that a proposed Ukrainian investigation of the gas company Burisma — where Hunter Biden formerly served on the board — was equivalent to an investigation of the Bidens. He added that if he had known that was the case, he would have raised objections.
Volker testified that allegations by Ukraine’s former prosecutor general against Joe Biden and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch are baseless, and that he knows both to be honorable people.
Volker also said in his opening statement that he was not aware of a linkage between military aid and Zelensky’s announcement of investigations, and that he opposed the hold on security assistance. He said that he warned Zelensky that Rudy Giuliani was negatively influencing Trump’s view of Ukraine.
In a major change from his closed-door testimony, Volker said that Sondland raised “investigations” in a meeting with Ukrainian officials in the White House, and that he and others present thought it was inappropriate. Volker said that it would be appropriate to ask Ukraine to investigate the 2016 election and Burisma, but that the meeting at the White House was not the right time or place for Sondland to do so.
At this point, Volker said he had made a “distinction” between an investigation of Burisma and an investigation into the Bidens.
This strains credulity. Look at this NY Times article from May.
Morrison testified that he recommended that access to the Trump-Zelensky call transcript be restricted, but that its placement onto a highly classified computer system was an “administrative error.”
Morrison testified that Sondland informed him on Sept. 7 that a hold on Ukraine military aid would be released if Zelensky announced investigations into Biden and the 2016 election. Morrison stated that he got a “sinking feeling” and reported his concerns to then-national security adviser John Bolton, who told him to notify White House lawyers.