White House official describes Trump call as ‘improper,’ as impeachment hearings resume
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A packed week of impeachment hearings kicks off Tuesday with back-to-back panels featuring a total of four witnesses, some expected to offer sharp criticism of President Trump’s interactions with Ukraine.
Tuesday’s sessions will include testimony from National Security Council (NSC) official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his counterpart at Vice President Pence’s office Jennifer Williams in the morning, as well as former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker and NSC outgoing senior director of European and Russian affairs Tim Morrison in the afternoon.
Questioning so far has focused on whether Trump made the release of military aid to Ukraine contingent on an agreement to help investigate his political opponents including former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden was a board member of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, which had been under investigation before then-Vice President Biden pressured Ukraine to fire the prosecutor in charge.
Suspicion over a possible link between the aid and investigations arose after a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky led to a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump was trying to pressure Ukraine into helping him. Trump insists that the call was "perfect," and Zelensky has also claimed that there was no pressure.
Vindman and Williams have said that they were uneasy as Trump talked to Zelensky about investigations of the Bidens. Vindman also said he reported the call to NSC lawyers.
Williams said she found it "unusual" and inserted the White House's readout of it in Pence's briefing book.
"I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen," Vindman said, adding there was "no doubt" what Trump wanted.
Vindman also said he recalled U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland saying during White House meetings on July 10 that Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens to receive the aid.
But, Sondland told a different version of the day. He said he didn’t recall mentioning Ukraine investigations or Burisma. The only conflict he described from that day was a disagreement on whether to schedule a call between Trump and Zelensky promptly. He was in favor.
Morrison previously told lawmakers during his own a closed-door session that he was not concerned that Trump’s phone calls with Zelensky were connected to political interests, and that the president did not want taxpayers funding Ukrainian corruption.
Thus far, none of the witnesses who have testified at the public hearings have had first-hand knowledge of the president's thinking, which Republicans have used to cast doubt on Democrats' allegations. Vindman, Williams, and Morrison all listened in on Trump's July 25 phone call.
Monday, President Trump indicated he may testify himself.
"Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!" Trump tweeted, referencing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's suggestion that Trump testify, and that he could do so in writing.