Politico

Impeachment hearings: Vindman says he told Zelensky not to meddle in U.S. politics

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman revealed that while he was in Ukraine as part of a high-level U.S. delegation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration, he directly offered Zelensky two pieces of advice during a bilateral meeting: “To be particularly cautious with regard to Russia and its desire to provoke Ukraine, and to stay out of U.S. domestic” politics, he testified.

Asked why he felt it was necessary to warn Zelensky against getting involved, Vindman replied that it had become clear to him by March of this year that “there were public actors, non-governmental actors that were prompting the idea of investigations into 2016 Ukrainian interference, and it is consistent with U.S. policy to advise any country to not participate in U.S. domestic politics. So I was passing the same advice that is consistent with U.S. policy.”

The revelation is jarring because it suggests that Zelensky was made aware by a U.S. official as early as May that there might be efforts to use him as a political pawn, shedding new light on recent reports that Zelensky raised concerns internally, with his staff, about the pressure he was feeling from Rudy Giuliani and other unofficial actors.

We’re posting the biggest developments from today’s hearing. Check back for updates.

Vindman reassures father: ‘I will be fine for telling the truth’

In his first public remarks as part of the impeachment inquiry, Vindman directly addressed his father, who fled the former U.S.S.R. four decades ago with his family “to start over” as refugees in the United States, “so that his three sons could have better, safer lives.”

That “courageous decision” led Vindman and his brothers to pursue American military service, which he said became “a special part of our family’s story” in their adopted country.

“Dad, [that] I’m sitting here today — in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected professionals — is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” Vindman said.

“Do not worry,” the Ukraine specialist with the National Security Council added, looking into the television cameras assembled in the committee room. “I will be fine for telling the truth.”

White House blocks Williams from speaking about Sept. call

The White House blocked Jennifer Williams, a State Department official on loan to the Vice President’s office as a special adviser for Russia and Europe, from speaking publicly about an additional call between Trump and Zelensky on Sept. 18, identifying the call as classified.

Williams’ counsel referred the committee to review public record including testimony made on Nov. 7 and the White House transcript of the call.

Schiff asked Williams to make a classified submission of any information relevant to the inquiry, to which Williams offered to appear in a closed session. Schiff applauded her compliance, but noted it would not be necessary for Williams to appear so long as she submitted the information in writing.

Williams gave Pence a copy of Trump’s July 25 call

Williams called her appointment to the White House the “greatest honor” of her career in her opening statement on Tuesday — but she outlined her concerns about the phone call between Trump and Zelensky on July 25, and testified that she gave Pence a hard copy of the transcript to review following the call.

Williams appeared at the impeachment hearing under subpoena, she said, and did not seem rattled by Pence’s recent attempts to distance himself from her and Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that she is a “Never Trumper.”

Her most explosive claim — that she gave Pence a record of the call, in which Trump urged Zelensky to investigate the Bidens — has so far gone unchallenged by the vice president, despite the implication that Pence would’ve been aware of Trump’s demands for political investigations when he met with Zelensky on September 1 and discussed the hold on military aid to Ukraine that Trump had directed.

Williams testified, however, that she did not know whether Pence ever reviewed the call record — which she said she found “unusual” given Trump’s discussion of domestic politics — and she said she never found out why the military aid had been withheld, which she learned about on July 3.

Schiff highlights Trump’s attacks on witnesses

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff opened the hearing by raising President Donald Trump’s attacks on impeachment inquiry witnesses, including ousted former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

“We all saw the president’s tweet about you on Sunday afternoon and the insults he hurled at Ambassador Yovanovich last Friday,” Schiff said to Jennifer Williams. He added to Vindman: “We have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character, and watched as certain personalities on Fox have questioned your loyalty

On Friday, Trump tweeted while Yovanovitch was testifying that the she caused damage during her diplomatic tours – an unfounded allegation. And on Sunday, he tweeted that Williams was a “Never Trumper.”

Attacks on Vindman include a White House statement criticizing the war veteran’s job performance, as well as conservative commentators questioning Vindman’s patriotism. On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson speculated without evidence that Vindman may be a part of a “deep state” rebellion that “never accepted President Trump as legitimate.”

Nunes slams last week’s witnesses and the media

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, used his opening statement Tuesday to blast the previous week’s impeachment witnesses as “three diplomats who dislike President Trump’s Ukraine policy.” The trio of State Department officials never spoke with the president about his foreign policy posture toward the Eastern European nation, Nunes said, and testified only about “second-hand and third-hand conversations.”

Nunes also derided media coverage of the impeachment proceedings thus far as akin to “the same preposterous reporting” that chronicled former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, proceeding to read aloud a series of news headlines related to that probe.

The congressman similarly attacked Hunter Biden and the anonymous intelligence official whose whistleblower complaint lies at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, while praising the work of John Solomon — a former columnist at The Hill who propagated unfounded allegations against Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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