Friday 6 December 2019

Trump made 'improper demands of Ukraine', says official

Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for European and Russian affairs; and Alexander Vindman, director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, take their seats to testify before a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for European and Russian affairs; and Alexander Vindman, director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, take their seats to testify before a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Patricia Zengerle

A White House official testified in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump yesterday that the president's request that Ukraine investigates a domestic political rival was an improper "demand", as he fended off Republican efforts to cast doubt on his competence and loyalty to the United States.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the White House National Security Council's top Ukraine expert and a decorated Iraq war veteran, testified at the third public impeachment hearing before the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, wearing his blue dress military uniform and medals.

Both Lt Col Vindman and a second witness - Jennifer Williams, an aide to US vice-president Mike Pence - raised concerns about requests made by Mr Trump in a July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the heart of the impeachment investigation threatening Mr Trump's presidency.

During the call, Mr Trump asked Mr Zelensky to carry out two investigations that would benefit him politically, including one targeting Democratic political rival Joe Biden.

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The other involved a debunked conspiracy theory embraced by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.

Lt Col Vindman and Ms Williams were among the US officials who listened in during the call.

"Frankly, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was probably an element of shock that maybe, in certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukrainian policy could play out was playing out," Lt Col Vindman said.

Ms Williams told the committee that Mr Trump's call with Mr Zelensky was unusual and inappropriate because "it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter".

Ahead of the July call, Mr Trump had frozen $391m (€353m) in US security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Mr Trump was seeking a Ukrainian investigation of Mr Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Mr Trump in the 2020 presidential election, and Mr Biden's son Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm called Burisma.

Kurt Volker, a former diplomat who was involved in discussions to get Mr Zelensky's government to investigate corruption, said he did not know that was effectively a request to investigate Mr Biden.

"In retrospect, I should have seen that connection different, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections," he said in prepared testimony.

Lt Col Vindman, whose family fled the Soviet Union four decades ago when he was three years old and settled in the United States, told lawmakers that "character attacks" against public servants testifying in the impeachment inquiry were "reprehensible".

Even as he was testifying, the White House's official Twitter account attacked his judgment - even though he is a current White House official - and the president's son Donald Trump Jr assailed him in a separate Twitter post as "a low level partisan bureaucrat and nothing more".

Lt Col Vindman, a US citizen born in Ukraine, was asked by a Republican lawyer at the hearing whether he would consider becoming part of the Ukrainian government - an offer that was made by a Zelensky adviser.

Lt Col Vindman responded that he is an American and would not consider such an offer, calling it "comical".

Republican Representative Jim Jordan told Lt Col Vindman that his White House bosses had questioned his judgment, but Lt Col Vindman read from a July employee evaluation that called him "brilliant" and said he exercised "excellent judgment".

Mr Trump has attacked both Ms Williams and Lt Col Vindman on Twitter as "Never Trump" witnesses, a term he uses to describe Republicans who oppose him.

Some of Mr Trump's allies in the conservative media have questioned Lt Col Vindman's loyalty to the United States.

Irish Independent

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