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Takeaways from the impeachment hearing with Vindman, Volker

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) at the public impeachment hearings on Tuesday. Credit: EPA/Shawn Thew

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker on Tuesday said he should have realized calls to investigate a Ukrainian energy company meant a probe of former Vice President Joe Biden, saying he would have objected to it had he known.

As the second week of public hearings by the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry began, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a White House national security adviser, faced Republican questions about his credibility as he called President Donald Trump’s request to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 call to investigate Biden “inappropriate.”

The inquiry, chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), held two hearings Tuesday: a morning session with Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, who both heard Trump’s call; and an afternoon session with Volker and Timothy Morrison, a former senior adviser on the National Security Council.

Here are some takeaways from the long day of hearings.

Volker changes earlier testimony

Volker said he had learned “a great deal of additional information” since his Oct. 3 deposition and corrected some of that testimony. Earlier, he had said he didn’t remember that Ambassador Gordon Sondland mentioned, in a July 10 meeting with a Ukrainian delegation, the investigations Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani wanted into Biden and his son Hunter and into Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election. On Tuesday, he said he heard Sondland mention “investigations,” prompting then-National Security Adviser John Bolton to abruptly end the meeting. “I think all of us thought it was inappropriate,” Volker said. He also said he misunderstood Sondland. “In hindsight, I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company Burisma, as equivalent to investigating Vice President Biden,” Volker said. “I saw them as very different — the former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable.” 

Morrison feared impact of release of Trump call

After hearing the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, Morrison went to the National Security legal adviser John Eisenberg and recommended that “we restrict access” to the call memo because he was concerned it would set off a political storm in the highly partisan world of Washington — not because he thought it was illegal or inappropriate. Democratic counsel Adam Goldman asked if he would agree that “asking a foreign government to investigate a domestic political rival is inappropriate.” Morrison replied, “It’s not what we recommended the president discuss.” Instead, Morrison said in his opening statement, “I feared at the time of the call on July 25 how its disclosure would play in Washington’s climate,” he said. “My fears have been realized.” 

Williams, Vindman describe Trump July 25 call as 'unusual,' 'improper'

Vindman and Williams testified that they reacted with concern when they heard Trump ask Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. “It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent,” Vindman said in his opening statement. Asked why he called Trump’s request a demand, Vindman said, “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.” Williams, who had listened to a dozen presidential calls, said, “I found that 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.”

Republicans raise doubts about Vindman

Republicans repeatedly raised questions about Vindman, citing his superiors doubting his judgment and his breaking of his chain of command and highlighting an unusual offer to him to be Ukraine’s minister of defense. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pointed out that Vindman’s new superior, Morrison, said in a deposition that he and his former superior Fiona Hill had concerns about Vindman's judgment. In response, Vindman read from Hill’s final evaluation of him: “He is brilliant, unflappable and exercises excellent judgment.” Later, Republican counsel Steve Castor asked if Oleksandr Danyliuk, director of Ukraine’s national security council, offered "you a position of defense minister with the Ukrainian government?” Vindman said he did, three times. But Vindman dismissed it as “comical” and said he reported it to his superiors. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) later called out Republicans, saying Castor’s question “may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, but that was designed exclusively to give the right-wing media an opening to question your loyalties.”

Vindman says he spoke to unnamed intel agent

Vindman revealed he spoke to a member of the intelligence community about the July 25 phone call before it was made public but refused to identify him — and Republicans jumped on the disclosure. Nunes asked if he had talked to anyone outside the White House about the call, and Vindman said, “I spoke to two individuals with regards to providing some sort out of readout of the call.” Asked who they were, Vindman said they were cleared “with the appropriate need to know” basis: Assistant Secretary State George Kent and “an individual from the intelligence community.” Nunes asked from which agency the unnamed person came, and Schiff intervened. “If I could interject here,” Schiff said, “We need to protect the whistleblower.”

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