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Impeachment hearings live updates: As Trump allies attack Vindman, he rejects claims that he is partisan

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/19/2019 John Wagner

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As the White House and allies of President Trump sought to undermine the credibility of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official, he rejected claims that he is partisan during testimony Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee.

Vindman, a key witness in the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry, testified that he was alarmed by Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which Vindman called “improper.” Vindman testified alongside Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Vice President Pence. Tim Morrison, another senior NSC official, and Kurt Volker, a former envoy to Ukraine, are scheduled to testify later Tuesday afternoon.

Democrats are seeking to prove that Trump leveraged military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for investigations of former vice president Joe Biden, his son Hunter and other Democrats.

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Slideshow by photo services

●Ukrainians ‘came to understand’ what Trump wanted, State Department aide David Holmes testifies.

●House is investigating whether Trump lied to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, its general counsel told a federal appeals court.

●Attacking witnesses is Trump’s core defense strategy in fighting impeachment.

What’s next in the inquiry | Who’s involved in the impeachment inquiry | Key documents related to the inquiry 

3:10 p.m.: Danylyuk says offer for Vindman to become Ukraine’s defense minister was ‘just a joke’

Oleksandr Danylyuk, Ukraine’s former national security and defense council chairman, said that he was not serious when he asked Vindman about potentially becoming Ukraine’s defense minister.

Danylyuk said that in context, the offer was a joke, as Vindman suggested it might have been.

“We had much more serious issues to discuss with different people,” Danylyuk said. “Clearly this was just a joke.”

3:00 p.m.: Senate Republicans accuse Democrats of bringing Congress to a standstill with impeachment

Senate Republican leadership accused Democrats — particularly those in the House — of disrupting Congress’s legislative business on everything from the appropriations process to a pending trade deal with Canada and Mexico due to their ongoing impeachment hearings.

“There are things we have to do that we are not making any progress on because of the impeachment obsession over in the House,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

His comments came as the House was voting on legislation to keep the government open through Dec. 20

McConnell said it was “way too early” to discuss whether, during a potential impeachment trial, the Senate would call witnesses who have not been summoned by the House.

2:55 a.m.: Impeachment inquiry refocuses on ‘inappropriate’ call where Trump pressed Ukraine for Biden investigation

House Democrats returned the focus of their impeachment inquiry Tuesday morning to a July phone call in which Trump pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, summoning two White House officials to Capitol Hill to publicly describe their surprise and discomfort as they listened in on the conversation between the two world leaders.

Vindman and Williams heard the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, and were struck by what Trump was asking.

2:35 p.m.: Morrison arrives at the Capitol

Morrison arrived at the Capitol ahead of the second round of Tuesday’s hearing. The proceedings are expected to resume after House votes at approximately 3:15 p.m.

2:30 p.m.: Trump White House, campaign respond to morning’s hearings

In separate statements, the White House and the Trump campaign derided the hearings — except for the part when Vindman and Williams said the transcript of the July 25 call was accurate.

“We have learned nothing new in today’s illegitimate ‘impeachment’ proceedings. However, buried among the witnesses’ opinions and conjecture about a call the White House long ago released to the public, both witnesses testified the July 25 transcript was ‘accurate’ and nothing President Trump has done or said amounts to ‘bribery’ or any other crime,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

“Vindman confirmed that the transcript of the Ukraine phone call is accurate, was forced to admit that the President alone makes U.S. foreign policy, and testified that Burisma was a corrupt company which employed the son of then-Vice President Joe Biden. This could not have gone worse for Democrats, and could not have gone better for Americans sick to death of this concocted, bogus circus,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said.

11:10 a.m.: Vindman’s dress uniform reveals a tug of war using troops as political totems, experts say

In his opening remarks at the impeachment hearing Tuesday, Vindman casually mentioned the other part of Washington’s intense focus.

“The uniform I wear today is of the U.S. Army,” said Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council who raised alarms over whether President Trump asked Ukraine for political help in exchange for military aid.

But Vindman and his dress uniform, adorned with a Purple Heart, Ranger Tab and Combat Infantry Badge, have become proxy symbols, either bolstering claims of Democrats or used as evidence by Republicans that Vindman is using his service as a shield from criticism.

And while active-duty service members routinely wear their full dress uniforms to testify on Capitol Hill, security experts say the scrutiny of Vindman’s uniform has become another data point in the politicization of the space between civil society and the military.

2:00 PM: Trump claims Pelosi trying to use trade deal to get votes on impeachment 

Trump claimed on Tuesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is using negotiations over a new North America trade deal to try to get votes for impeachment.

The president offered no evidence for making this claim, which appears to have no basis in reality.

“The woman is grossly incompetent,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting, referring to the House speaker. “All she wants to do is focus on impeachment, which is just a little pipe dream she’s got, and she can keep playing that game.

“And I’ve been told, and who knows if this is so but it I think it’s so, I have pretty good authority on it, that she’s using USMCA because she doesn’t have the impeachment votes, so she’s using USMCA to get the impeachment vote,” Trump said.

Read more here.

1:40 PM: Schiff gavels first round of testimony to a close

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) has gaveled the first round of testimony to a close.

The committee is scheduled to hear from two more witnesses, Morrison and Volker, Tuesday afternoon.

By John Wagner

1:30 PM: ‘Right matters,’ Vindman says, triggering applause

Vindman drew applause late in Tuesday’s hearing when he explained why he told his father not to worry as he testifies in the impeachment inquiry.

Vindman had addressed his father, who emigrated from the Soviet Union, in his opening statement, telling him that he would be “fine for telling the truth.”

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked Vindman why he had “confidence that you can do that and tell your dad not to worry.”

“Congressman, because this is America. It is the country that I have served and defended and all of my brothers have served, and here, right matters,” Vindman said, triggering the applause.

By Elise Viebeck

1:25 PM: Heck contrasts Trump’s criticism of Vindman to his pardons of war criminals

Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) said he was disturbed by the White House’s treatment of Vindman, a lieutenant colonel, within days of the president issuing pardons to service members accused or convicted of war crimes.

The lawmaker called it a “rich but incredibly painful irony that within a week of the president’s pardons, which Heck said were issued “contrary to all advice of senior military officials,” Trump and his allies are engaged in an effort to “demean” Vindman’s record of service and sacrifice.

Vindman was wounded in Iraq in 2004 when an improvised explosive device detonated near the vehicle in which he was riding.

“What is at peril is our Constitution, and the very values upon which it is based,” said Heck. “I want to say thank you for your service, but you know thank you doesn’t cut it please know that it comes from the bottom of my heart and from the hearts of countless other Americans.”

By Devlin Barrett

1:20 PM: White House tweets attack on Vindman during hearing

The White House tweeted from its official account an attack on Vindman during the hearing, citing an out-of-context quote from former National Security Council official Tim Morrison about Vindman.

“Alexander Vindman’s former boss, testified in his deposition that he had concerns about Vindman’s judgment,” the White House social media account said.

During the hearing, several Republicans brought up the closed-door deposition of Morrison, in which he says that he and others at the NSC were concerned that Vindman might leak information about the call between Trump and Zelensky.

Moments after the White House tweeted, Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) referenced it during his remarks.

“I can only conclude, sir, that what we thought was just the president as the subject of our deliberations in this inquiry isn’t sufficient to capture what is happening here,” Heck said. “What is at peril is our constitution and the very values upon which it is based.”

Last week, Trump tweeted an attack on former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovonavitch during her hearing and this morning he tweeted about Williams, calling her a “Never Trumper.”

By Colby Itkowitz

1:15 PM: Jordan misstates timeline in attempt to catch Vindman out about unnamed intelligence official

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) suggested that Vindman defied orders from a White House lawyer when he spoke about the July 25 phone call with an official from the intelligence community, contradicting Vindman’s testimony that the lawyer’s guidance came after his conversation with that official took place.

“I managed to speak to two folks in the interagency and speak to two other people before I received the instructions that I should not talk to anybody further,” Vindman said.

“So you said that you didn’t go to your boss, but you went to your lawyer, then your lawyer told you not to go to your boss?” Jordan asked.

Vindman said there was a “period of time” after which the White House lawyer John Eisenberg “circled back around.”

“It is not that long of a period of time, but it is enough time for me to — ” Vindman said.

Cutting him off, Jordan said: “Enough time for you to go talk to someone who you won’t tell us who it is, right?”

“I have been instructed not to, Representative Jordan,” Vindman said.

Earlier in the hearing, Vindman said he discussed the call with George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, and an intelligence official whom he declined to name.

The whistleblower whose complaint set in motion the impeachment inquiry has been identified in news reports as a CIA employee. The Washington Post has not identified the person by name, and Vindman said that he does not know who the whistleblower is.

By Elise Viebeck

12:55 PM: Donald Trump Jr. blasts Vindman as a ‘low level partisan bureaucrat’

The president’s eldest son spent the morning tweeting and retweeting attacks on Vindman as he testified.

“Anyone listening to Vindman stammer through this seemingly trying to remember the Catch Phrases he was well coached on should get that. He’s a low level partisan bureaucrat and nothing more,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted.

Earlier he’d similarly written, “You can tell how partisan this is because of Vindman’s stammering looking for the right catch word that I imagine #FullOfSchiff has coached him on to make as he apparently did switch so many others. Terrible acting.”

Trump Jr. was referring to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).

Trump Jr. also accused Vindman of perjury — a felony — over his refusal to say to whom he spoke about the July 25 call, which Republicans say proves it was the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry. Vindman has testified that he doesn’t know who the whistleblower is.

“Didn’t he testify he had no idea who the whistleblower was?” Trump Jr. tweeted. “Sounds like perjury to me... but don’t worry he will get away with it because he’s pushing the Democrat’s agenda.”

By Colby Itkowitz

12:50 PM: Trump is known to veer off script, Vindman says

Vindman told Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) that he wasn’t particularly surprised that the president did not keep to the talking points that Vindman had written for Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky.

“Is President Trump known to stick to the script?” Hurd asked.

“I don’t believe so,” Vindman replied.

“So is it odd that he didn’t use your talking points?” Hurd asked.

“No it is not,” Vindman said.

Hurd’s line of questioning aimed to show Trump’s departure from the conversation planned by his underlings isn’t that unusual. But Vindman previously testified that he thought it was improper for the president to seek a favor from a foreign leader for Trump’s personal political benefit.

By Devlin Barrett

12:45 PM: Rep. Stewart seeks to undercut Vindman with comments on uniform, request to be called by his rank

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) sought to undercut Vindman with a series of backhanded compliments and questions that implied that Vindman was overplaying his affiliation with the military and letting it color his judgment.

Stewart began by noting that Vindman’s dress uniform was a “great reminder of your service,” while noting that “you wear a suit” to the White House.

Stewart then asked about Vindman’s previous request that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) called him by his rank, lieutenant colonel. The moment had received considerable attention online.

“Do you always insist on civilians calling you by your rank?” Stewart said.

“The attacks I’ve had in the press, [on] Twitter have kind of ... marginalized me as a military officer,” Vindman said.

Stewart also challenged Vindman’s conclusion that Zelensky would have perceived Trump’s request for a political favor as an “order,” accusing him of projecting his values and experience as a military officer onto the July 25 call.

Earlier in the hearing, Vindman said he came to his conclusion based on his interpretation of the power imbalance between the two leaders.

“Representative, I made that judgment. I stick by that judgment,” Vindman told Stewart.

“I gotta tell you — I think that’s nonsense,” Stewart said.

By Elise Viebeck

12:30 PM: Trump says he doesn’t know witnesses who are testifying

Trump, at a Cabinet meeting at the White House, took questions about the ongoing impeachment hearing, telling reporters that he’s never met or barely knows Vindman and other witnesses who have testified.

“I never saw the man, I understand now he wears his uniform when he goes in,” Trump said. “No, I don’t know Vindman at all. What I do know is that even he said the transcript was correct.”

Trump said he watched the hearings for a bit this morning and started to say something about them before cutting himself off and instead saying, “I’m going to let people make their own determination.”

He said he’s seen acting Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, a few times but doesn’t know them.

“These are names, like Taylor, like Kent with the bowtie, the wonderful bowtie. Maybe I’ll get one for myself one day,” Trump said. “All these people are talking about they heard a conversation of a conversation of another conversation that was had by the president. What is going on is a disgrace.”

Earlier, he called impeachment “a little pipe dream” of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and said the Republicans “are absolutely killing it.”

By Colby Itkowitz

Vindman told investigators that he has been left out of certain events since coming forward to testify, prompting Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to ask if he considered these “reprisals” for his testimony in the impeachment hearings.

Vindman demurred on categorizing them, noting that “it was out of the course of normal affairs to not have me participate in some of these events.”

He did not go into greater detail. Vindman still serves on the NSC, despite pushback against his testimony from Trump’s allies and a campaign in some parts of conservative media to question his loyalties.

Earlier Tuesday, Vindman concluded his opening statements by speaking openly to his father, telling him: “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

By Karoun Demirjian

12:15 PM: Ratcliffe focused on ‘bribery’

During his questioning, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) maintained that none of the witnesses used the word bribery to describe Trump’s actions.

“None of them,” said Ratcliffe, who used the word bribery 18 times in his comments.

Ratcliffe said Democrats have shifted from “quid pro quo” to “bribery” to criticize the president.

Schiff pushed back.

“Bribery does involve a quid pro quo,” Schiff said. “Bribery involves the conditioning an official act for something of value.”

“The reason we don’t ask fact witnesses to make a judgment about whether a crime of bribery has been committed ... is, you’re fact witnesses. It will be our job to decide whether the impeachable act of bribery has occurred. That’s why we don’t ask you those questions,” Schiff said.

By Donna Cassata

12:10 PM: Ukrainians were concerned by Giuliani’s push for politically-charged investigations, Vindman says

Vindman said that Ukrainian officials understood that Trump personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was advancing politically-charged investigations that could have implications for domestic policy in the United States and were concerned about them.

Vindman said he had counseled the Ukrainians not to get involved in U.S. domestic politics previously. As he and others have testified in private, however, Ukrainian leaders saw Giuliani as a conduit to Trump, with whom the new administration desperately wanted to have a good relationship.

Vindman said he never met Giuliani. But his activity in Ukraine “wasn’t helpful, and it didn’t help advance U.S. national security interests,” Vindman said.

By Karoun Demirjian

12:05 PM: Vindman, Williams say they are not ‘never Trumpers’

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) asked Vindman and Williams whether they had political reasons for testifying in the impeachment inquiry and whether they would describe themselves as “never Trumpers.”

Both said no.

“Representative, I would call myself ‘never partisan,’ ” Vindman said.

The questions responded to widespread accusations of political bias from Trump and his allies against impeachment witnesses.

Himes spoke not long after a lawyer for Republicans, in a line of questioning that recalled those attacks, pressed Vindman about whether he considered offers from a Ukrainian official to become the country’s minister of defense.

“That may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and parliamentary [language] but that was designed to give the right-wing media an opening to question your loyalty,” Himes said of Castor’s question.

“I want people to understand what that was all about,” he added, calling it “the kind of thing you say when you’re defending the indefensible.”

Himes also read a tweet from Sunday in which Trump told Williams to “meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!”

Asked to respond to the tweet, Williams said: “It certainly surprised me. I was not expecting to be called out by name.”

Himes said the president’s message “looked an awful lot like witness intimidation and tampering” aimed at getting her to “perhaps shape your testimony today.”

By Elise Viebeck

11:55 AM: Vindman testifies that Trump’s requests for investigations mirrored those of Giuliani

Vindman testified that Trump personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was publicly trying to push for the same investigations that Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to pursue, as Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) made the case that Trump’s lawyer was likely not “acting out of the zone” or as a “freelancer.”

Schiff asked questions of Vindman to illustrate how not just Giuliani, but U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Trump himself were all pushing for the same investigations into the 2016 elections, Biden and Burisma, the company that employed Hunter Biden on its board.

Schiff also pointed out, in a series of questions to Williams, that other administration officials were not pushing for those probes through other more public channels. In Pence’s Sept. 1 meeting with Zelensky, which took place in front of dozens of others, “he did not bring up those investigations,” Williams testified. “He’s never brought up those investigations.”

By Karoun Demirjian

11:50 AM: Vindman uses employee evaluation to push back on character attack

Vindman was prepared with a glowing peformance evaluation when Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked why his supervisor at the NSC, Tim Morrison, testified that he questioned Vindman’s judgment and that colleagues felt Vindman leaked information.

Vindman read from his July employee evaluation from Fiona Hill, an NSC official specializing in Russian and European affairs, wherein she wrote: “Alex is a top 1 percent military officer and the best I’ve worked with in my 15 years of government service. He’s brilliant. Unflappable and exercises excellent judgement.”

So, Jordan continued, “You never leaked information?”

“I never did, never would,” Vindman said. “That is preposterous that I would do that.”

By Colby Itkowitz

11:45 AM: Vindman says he dismissed offers to become Ukraine’s defense minister under questioning from GOP

Before the break, Vindman said under questioning from Republicans that he dismissed three offers to become Ukraine’s defense minister and reported the approaches from a Ukrainian official to his superiors.

“I’m aware of servicemembers who have left service to help nurture the developing democracies in that part of the world. But I am an American. I came here when I was a toddler. I immediately dismissed these offers. I did not entertain them,” Vindman said.

The topic was raised by a lawyer for GOP lawmakers, who repeatedly pressed Vindman about whether he considered joining the Ukrainian government and which U.S. officials he told about the offers from Oleksandr Danylyuk, then a national security adviser to Zelensky.

The lawyer, Steve Castor, also asked whether Danylyuk made the offers in Ukrainian or English. Vindman said Danylyuk spoke in English. He repeated that he reported the offers up his chain of command.

“I did the right thing in terms of reporting, yes,” Vindman said, calling the notion of becoming Ukraine’s defense minister “rather comical.”

“I did not leave the door open at all,” he said. “It is pretty funny for a lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Army [who] is really not that senior to be offered that illustrious of a position.”

The line of questioning recalled attacks on Vindman’s patriotism from the right in the wake of his closed-door testimony for the impeachment inquiry. A native of Ukraine, Vindman fled the country with his family at age 3 and was raised in Brooklyn.

When Castor asked if Vindman was concerned that the offers “might create at least the perception of a conflict,” Vindman said it’s “more important” what his “American chain of command” thinks of his job performance.

By Elise Viebeck

11:20 AM: Schiff grants a short break

With questioning from House lawyers over, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) has granted the witnesses a short break.

When the hearing resumes, questions will be posed to Vindman and Williams by members of the committee.

10:55 AM: Vindman testifies that he spoke to intelligence official about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian leader

Vindman said he discussed Trump and Zelensky’s July 25 call with two people: George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, who testified last week, and one other individual in the intelligence community, whom he declined to name.

Vindman said both Kent and that individual had the appropriate security clearances to discuss the matter and a “need to know” about the call.

Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, pressed Vindman to identify the person in the intelligence community.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) then interrupted.

“I want to make sure that there is no effort to out the whistleblower through these proceedings,” Schiff said. “If the witness has a good-faith belief that this may reveal the identity of the whistleblower, that is not the purpose we’re here for.”

The whistleblower whose complaint set in motion the impeachment inquiry has been identified in news reports as a CIA employee. The Washington Post has not identified the person by name.

Vindman said that he does not know who the whistleblower is. Nunes questioned why then he could be outing the whistleblower by saying who in the intelligence community he talked to about the call.

“I’ve been advised not to provide any specifics on who I spoke to inside the intelligence community,” Vindman said. “What I can offer is that these were properly cleared individuals or was a properly cleared individual with a need to know.”

Nunes reminded Vindman he was under oath, appearing under a subpoena, and advised Vindman that he could either give the person’s name or decline to answer citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

It was not clear why Vindman’s testimony on the matter would be incriminating.

By Shane Harris

10:45 AM: Vindman says he believes transcript was moved to separate server intentionally

Vindman testified that he believed the transcript of the July 25 call was moved to a separate server intentionally, contradicting NSC senior Russia and Europe director Tim Morrison’s earlier testimony that it had been moved to that server by accident.

“It was an on-the-fly decision to kind of segregate it to this other system,” Vindman told lawmakers, adding that while he thought “it was intended … it was intended to prevent leaks and limit access.”

Vindman noted that he didn’t take the decision to limit access “as anything nefarious.” He also added that while he believed there were “two substantive items” missing from the transcript – a reference to Burisma and “recordings” – their omission was “not a big deal.”

Vindman said he reported the July 25 call to John Eisenberg, the top legal adviser for the National Security Council, in July because he believed Trump was making direct reference to an “alternative false narrative” about Ukraine in the investigations he mentioned to Zelensky.

Vindman also reported a July 10 meeting between senior administration officials and Ukrainian leaders at the White House, in which U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland “referred to specific investigations that Ukrainians would have to deliver in order to get these meetings, a White House meeting,” citing investigations into the Bidens, Burisma and 2016.

Vindman said he retorted that “these requests were inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security policy.”

By Karoun Demirjian

10:40 AM: Vindman describes contentious July 10 meeting with Ukrainians 

Vindman told Congress that an early July meeting with Ukrainian officials at the White House marked the first time he learned that U.S. government officials were pressing Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

Vindman said Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key figure in the impeachment inquiry, referred to specific investigations into the Bidens, Burisma — the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden served as a board member — and the 2016 elections.

The discussion was halted, but Sondland resumed the conversation in another room, Vindman said, though he could not recall how much of the disagreement among U.S. officials was aired out in front of the Ukrainians.

“I believe there was some discussion, prior to the Ukrainians leaving, when it was apparent there was some discord between the senior folks,” Vindman said.

Vindman said that he felt the July 10 discussion veered far away from U.S. policy on Ukraine and that he later reported his concerns to senior NSC officials.

“I said this request to conduct these meetings was inappropriate, these investigations were inappropriate, and had nothing to do with national security policy,” he told Congress.

By Devlin Barrett

10:30 AM: Zelensky dodges question about Burisma investigation, says Ukrainians are tired of it

Zelensky refused to confirm or deny Tuesday whether he was prepared to publicly announce an investigation into Burisma after his call with Trump.

Zelensky, in a video posted by CNN, is seen narrowing his eyes and then subtly rolling them, before brushing off the question.

“I think everybody in Ukraine is so tired about Burisma. We have our country. We have our independence, we have our problems and questions. That’s it,” he said and then walked away from the cameras.

By Colby Itkowitz

10:20 AM: Kremlin following impeachment hearings, but won’t comment

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government said the Kremlin is following the impeachment inquiry but won’t discuss it because “we never interfered in their domestic affairs and are not going to do that now.”

The comments, reported by TASS, the Russian News Agency, were made after reporters asked spokesman Dmitry Peskov about allegations during the hearings that Trump was acting in a way that would benefit Russia over U.S. interests.

“We prefer not to interfere. Each time an electoral exercise approaches, Americans get highly susceptible to growing Russophobic sentiments, this time is no different. The whole world is hugely interested in the developments there, including our country. However, we do not wish to comment [on them],” Peskov said.

Peskow also said it’s Americans’ “domestic issue” to deal with and that Russia doesn’t interfere with U.S. domestic politics.

The U.S. intelligence community has found that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and is looking to do so again in 2020.

By Colby Itkowitz

10:15 AM: Vindman says Burisma omission in White House transcript was a mistake

Vindman and Williams said that Zelensky mentioned the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden served as a board member during his July 25 call with Trump — a mention that was not reflected in the transcript summary of the call released by the White House.

Vindman attributed the omission of the word “Burisma” to a mistake by the staff that produces transcripts.

“I’d say it’s informed speculation that the folks that produce these transcripts do the best they can and they just didn’t catch the word,” he said.

The omission does not detract from the importance of Zelensky purportedly mentioning Burisma. Vindman said the Ukrainian president was either tracking the issue in the press or was “otherwise prepped” for a call in which his staff thought the matter would come up with Trump.

“It seemed unlikely that [Zelensky] would be familiar with a single company in the context of a call that was on the broader bilateral relationship,” he said.

By Elise Viebeck

10:10 AM: Vindman describes concerns over July 25 call

Vindman said he knew he had to report Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky to White House lawyers once it concluded, calling it “inappropriate” and “improper for the president to demand an investigation into a political opponent.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) focused on the call during his initial questions to Vindman and Williams at Tuesday’s hearing. Both officials listened to the conversation between Trump and Zelensky, which has become central to the impeachment inquiry.

Vindman said he was concerned that Trump’s request for investigations would undermine U.S. national security and policy toward Ukraine. He said he believed Zelensky would have interpreted the request as “an order” given the “power disparity between the two leaders.”

Williams said that at the time of the July 25 call, she did not have enough information to discern whether the investigations were linked to military aid. But she called the request “noteworthy” and unusual.

“It was the first I had heard of any requests of Ukraine that were specific in nature,” she said.

By Elise Viebeck

10:00 AM: Vice President’s office instructs aide not to discuss Pence call with Zelensky

Pence spoke with Zelensky on Sept. 18 — but Pence aide Williams has been instructed not to testify about the contents of the call.

Under questioning Tuesday from Schiff, Williams confirmed that she listened in to a Pence-Zelensky call that day. But before she could answer additional questions about the call, Williams’s attorney, Justin Shur, stepped in to explain that the vice president’s office has said that the call is classified and instructed Williams not to answer questions about it.

By Sept. 18, military assistance that had been frozen to Ukraine had been released. A whistleblower complaint about Ukraine had been submitted to the Intelligence Community Inspector General but was not yet public. That day, The Washington Post first reported that the complaint dealt with a phone call to a foreign leader and a “promise” that was sought on the call but did not name Ukraine as the country involved.

Schiff proceeded to ask Williams if she would be willing to provide information about the call in a classified session, meaning the committee would have access to the information but it would not likely be released publicly.

“I would be happy to do so,” she responded.

By Rosalind S. Helderman

9:40 AM: Vindman’s prepared testimony emphasizes his American story

Vindman’s prepared testimony appears designed to address, in part, the polarized debate about his character and credibility.

His opening statement emphasizes his up-by-the-bootstraps American story: His family fled the Soviet Union four decades ago to start a new life in the United States, an experience that built in him a sense of dedication to his new country. Today, he and his twin brother serve in the U.S. military, both assigned to the NSC at the White House.

Vindman’s five-page prepared statement moves quickly to the important role played by Ukraine as a bulwark against Russian aggression, with repeated emphasis on the importance of the bipartisan support Ukraine has received in the past from Washington — and his fear that could change undermining U.S. national security.

The testimony contains moments of personal emotion, as Vindman takes time to herald his father’s decision 40 years ago to flee the Soviet Union and take his family to a place where his children could grow up without fear — and express themselves freely.

“In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions,” Vindman says in the opening statement, adding that “offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life.” Vindman then expresses personal thanks to his father for “his brave act of hope 40 years ago” taking him and his siblings to America to start a new life.

“Dad,” he says in the statement, “my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America,” he says. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

While his prepared testimony extolls the bipartisan support Ukraine has received in the past from the U.S., he says he recently “became aware of two disruptive actors — primarily Ukraine’s then-Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney.” The statement says the two were “promoting false information that undermined the United States’ Ukraine policy,” including promoting the idea that the Ukrainian government should investigate actions of the Biden family as a condition for receiving U.S. government support.

“It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent,” Vindman says in his statement. He reported these “improper” requests on July 10 and July 25 this year to White House lawyers.

He emphasizes that he “did so out of a sense of duty.” He says he moved privately to report his alarm to the proper authorities in the chain of command.

“My intent was to raise these concerns because they had significant national security implications for our country,” he says, adding, “I never thought I would be sitting here testifying in front of this committee and the American public, about my actions.”

By Tom Hamburger

9:30 AM: Williams and Vindman sworn in, testifying under subpoenas

Williams and Vindman have both been sworn in By House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and are delivering opening statements.

Both are testifying under subpoena, according to Schiff and committee aides.

The subpoenas are meant to protect the witnesses who were instructed by the White House not to participate in the impeachment proceedings.

By John Wagner and Colby Itkowitz

9:25 a.m.: Nunes questions whereabouts of whistleblower

Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the top ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, used his opening to again bring up the intelligence community whistleblower as someone who should be called to testify.

“Now that the whistleblower has successfully kick-started impeachment, he has disappeared from the story,” Nunes said. “It’s like the Democrats put him in their own witness protection program.”

Democrats have said the whistleblower’s testimony is no longer needed because there are many witnesses who have corroborated the details of the whistleblower’s complaint.

Nunes also accused the media of being “puppets of the Democratic Party.”

By Colby Itkowitz

9:20 AM: In opening statement, Schiff slams GOP and White House attacks on witnesses

In his opening statement, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) referred to a tweet from Trump calling Williams a “Never Trumper,” likening it to Trump’s attack on Ambassador Marie Yovanovich during her Friday testimony, which some Democrats said amounted to witness intimidation.

“Ms. Williams, we all saw the president’s tweet about you on Sunday afternoon and the insults he hurled at Ambassador Yovanovich last Friday. You are here today, and the American people are grateful,” Schiff said.

Schiff also brought up the Republican strategy to discredit Vindman as anti-Trump and therefore not a credible witness.

“Col. Vindman, we have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character, and watched as certain personalities on Fox have questioned your loyalty. I note that you have shed blood for America, and we owe you an immense debt of gratitude,” Schiff said. “I hope no one on this committee joins those vicious attacks.”

Schiff went on to defend the witnesses as not being “for or against impeachment.”

Schiff said it is for Congress to decide whether Trump “abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts.”

By Colby Itkowitz

9:15 AM: Three Republicans on panel are also military veterans

Vindman, a combat veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart, who will again testify in his uniform as he did during his closed-door deposition, will face a panel that includes three other veterans – all Republicans.

Mike Conaway (Tex.) served in the Army for two years from 1970 to 1972. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio) is in the Army Reserve and is an Iraq War veteran. And Chris Stewart (Utah) served in the Air Force for 14 years.

With the Republican strategy to discredit Vindman as a “Never Trumper,” it remains to be seen if the three GOP veterans will join the attacks.

By Colby Itkowitz

9:08 AM: Hearing gaveled open

House Intelligence Committee Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) has gaveled the hearing open. Williams and Vindman are expected to testify shortly.

By John Wagner

9:05 AM: Williams will say Trump-Zelensky call was ‘unusual,’ dealt with ‘domestic’ politics

Williams, a State Department official detailed to Pence’s office who listened to Trump’s July phone call with Zelesnky will testify that she found the call “unusual” because it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”

Williams’ assessment is significant because Trump has argued that the call, which sparked the whistleblower complaint that spurred Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, was “perfect.”

Williams is scheduled to testify publicly alongside Vindman, who also listened to the call and was so alarmed by Trump pressing Zelensky to open an investigation into Biden that he immediately reported his concerns to a NSC lawyer.

Republicans would like to isolate Vindman and suggest his poor judgment and policy disagreements with Trump over Ukraine were the true sources of his displeasure with the call. They have noted that other Trump officials who listened in as the two presidents spoke were not similarly distressed. That effort, however, could be complicated by Williams’ similar, though milder, response to hearing Trump’s request.

In a closed door deposition earlier this month, she said she found the call’s reference to issues of domestic interest to Trump to be “inappropriate.” She said she was not surprised when the call proved controversial when its contents became public.

Unlike Vindman, however, Williams also said she did not report her concerns to her superiors or other officials. Still, coverage of her earlier comments prompted Trump to attack the career foreign service officer on Twitter over the weekend.

In an opening statement Williams plans to deliver Tuesday, she will say that in April 2019, around the time of a first friendly phone call between the two presidents, she listened as Pence also had a good conversation with Zelensky to congratulate him on his recent election.

She will say that Zelensky invited Pence to attend his upcoming inauguration and that plans began to be made for Pence to travel to Kyiv for the event at Trump’s instruction. Those plans ended, she will testify, on May 13, when she was informed that Trump had subsequently directed Pence to skip the event. She will tell Congress that she was never provided a rationale for the switch.

She will also testify that she learned on July 3 that security assistance money to Ukraine had been frozen but that she and other officials were never able to learn why.

When Pence was asked to fill in for Trump at a meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw on Sept. 1, Williams participated in briefings and discussions of the aid freeze in preparation for the discussion. But that no one ever suggested the money was being conditioned on the Ukrainians opening investigations into Biden or the 2016 election, Williams plans to testify.

Likewise, she will say that when Zelensky raised the issue directly with Pence at the meeting, which she attended, neither Pence nor Zelensky mentioned the issue. Pence instead responded that Ukraine had the United State’s “unwavering support” and “promised to relay their conversation to President Trump that night.”

By Rosalind S. Helderman

9:00 AM: Army is monitoring whether Vindman needs special protection, relocation

The Army has been monitoring security for Vindman and is ready to move him and his family to an Army base if necessary to protect them from threats, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

At the Army’s request, local police in the Virginia suburb where Vindman lives had stepped up drive-by patrols around his home last week, and Army officials continue to assess whether their national security aide needs to be relocated for additional protection.

Vindman sounded an early alarm about Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukraine president, and complained Trump’s request for an investigation of his political rival was improper and disturbing.

Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny and their families have been concerned about their personal safety in the wake of President Trump’s denouncing Vindman as a “Never Trumper witness” and Fox News host Laura Ingraham described Vindman as “a U.S. national security official . . . working inside the White House, apparently against the president’s interests. “

On Monday night, before Vindman was set to testify, Republican lawmakers attacked his credibility as a witness in the impeachment inquiry.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) said he suspected Vindman was a member of the “Deep State” of career bureaucrats trying to under Trump.

Vindman’s lawyer, Michael Volkov, on Monday called Johnson’s assertion “such a baseless accusation, so ridiculous on its face, that it doesn’t even warrant a response.”

“Lt. Col. Vindman is a patriotic veteran, awarded the Purple Heart, who has selflessly served this country for over 20 years,” Volkov added.

By Carol Leonnig

8:35 AM: Meadows characterizes controversy as a policy dispute between Trump and ‘the swamp’ 

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Trump ally, sought to blunt the impact of Tuesday’s upcoming testimony, characterizing the controversy as a policy dispute between Trump and long-serving government officials.

“He has the right to set foreign policy,” Meadows said of Trump during an appearance on Fox News. “What you’re seeing play out today is really all about the swamp trying to say, ‘We have a better idea than the president of the United States and the American people in terms of what should happen with foreign aid.’ ”

By John Wagner

8:30 AM: Williams arrives ahead of scheduled testimony

Williams has arrived at the Longworth House Office Building ahead of her scheduled 9 a.m. appearance before the House Intelligence Committee.

By John Wagner

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. © AP Photo/Julio Cortez Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

8:15 AM: Vindman arrives in advance of scheduled testimony 

Vindman has arrived at the Longworth House Office Building in advance of his scheduled 9 a.m. appearance before the House Intelligence Committee.

Vindman, a decorated combat veteran who serves as the Ukraine expert on the NSC and is considered a star witness by Democrats, will testify amid increased signs that Republican lawmakers will attempt to discredit him, despite his stirring personal story.

Some GOP members have suggested, as the president has said, that he is “an anti-Trumper,” inclined to resist the president’s policy objectives.

On Monday night, Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, challenged Vindman’s credibility and his willingness to cooperate with investigators who quizzed him last month behind closed doors about the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the inquiry, a well as other matters.

When asked whether Vindman’s uniform would shield him from tough questioning at Tuesday’s hearing, Collins told reporters: “I don’t think it shielded Oliver North from hard questions.”

He was referring to North’s role in the Iran-Contra scandal, which occurred during the presidency of Ronald Reagan and was investigated by Congress.

The complaints about Vindman from Republicans led a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) to issue a warning Monday evening to his GOP colleagues.

Cicilline told reporters: “If they attack the credibility of this patriot, they will suffer consequences in the eyes of the American people.”

By Tom Hamburger and Mike DeBonis

7:30 AM: Four witnesses scheduled for lengthy day of public testimony

The House Intelligence Committee expects to hear from four key witnesses over what is shaping up as a lengthy day of public testimony on Tuesday.

In a morning session, lawmakers are scheduled to hear from Vindman and Williams, two witnesses who listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky.

Vindman, the European affairs director at the NSC, testified in a closed-door deposition last month that he “did not think it was proper” for Trump to seek a Ukrainian investigation of a U.S. citizen. Vindman later reported his concerns to the lead counsel of NSC.

Republicans have signaled that they plan to try to discredit Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient and one of the most significant witnesses in the inquiry, by questioning his motives and his loyalty to the president.

In her deposition, Williams testified that she found Trump’s call with Zelensky “inappropriate” and politically motivated.

Williams is a State Department employee detailed to Pence’s staff and serves as his top Russia adviser. She also testified that it was her understanding Trump told Pence not to attend Zelensky’s inauguration, a move that deprived Ukraine's new government of a high-profile statement of support from the United States.

Trump attacked Williams as a “Never Trumper” in a tweet over the weekend.

Morrison and Volker are scheduled to appear before the House committee in the afternoon.

Morrison was the top Russia staffer on the NSC until he resigned on the eve of his closed-door testimony last month.

He also listened to the call between Trump and Zelensky. Morrison has said he heard directly from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that Sondland told Ukrainians that they would probably get withheld military assistance if the government announced investigations into Democrats.

Trump has said he does not know Sondland well and has tried to distance himself from the ambassador, a major Trump fundraiser whom the president gave a leading role on Ukraine policy even though Ukraine is not part of the European Union.

Volker is one of three men designated by Trump to steer Ukraine policy who dubbed themselves the “three amigos.” He testified behind closed doors that he knew Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani was pushing unsubstantiated theories about Biden in Ukraine.

By: John Wagner and Amber Phillips

7:15 AM: Trump has Cabinet meeting scheduled amid the impeachment proceedings

Trump has a Cabinet meeting scheduled at the White House at 11:30 a.m., in the midst of what is expected to be a dramatic day on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Typically, Trump opens at least part of these meetings to reporters and takes questions. The meeting is the only public event on the president’s schedule on Tuesday, so it is the most likely time that he will weigh in on impeachment proceedings in person.

By: John Wagner

7:30 AM: A bipartisan event scheduled on a day of partisan infighting

Amid what is expected to be an acrimonious day on the impeachment front, lawmakers from both parties plan to gather in Statuary Hall in the Capitol for a portrait unveiling ceremony in honor of former House speaker John A. Boehner.

The Ohio Republican held the gavel from 2011 to 2015.

Those scheduled to appear include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McConnell (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

By: John Wagner

7:00 AM: Trump bashes Pelosi for an impeachment quote that actually came from a Fox News reporter 

Trump lashed out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a tweet early Tuesday morning, misquoting her while characterizing the ongoing impeachment inquiry as a ploy to skirt around the 2020 election because “she thinks I will win.”

Trump weighed in on whether voters should decide his fate rather than Congress after Pelosi addressed that same argument against impeachment — a favorite among Republican lawmakers — in a letter Monday.

Stressing the importance of the impeachment hearings, Pelosi said in a “Dear Colleague” memo, “The weak response to these hearings has been, ‘Let the election decide.’ That dangerous position only adds to the urgency of our action, because the President is jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections.”

Tweeting from his iPhone shortly after midnight Tuesday, Trump attributed a quote about the 2020 election to the House speaker — but it appears the quote actually came from a Fox News reporter in a broadcast an hour earlier.

Read more here.

By: Meagan Flynn

6:45 AM: ‘I had never seen anything like that,’ Holmes says of Yovanovitch removal

The right-wing media attacks on then-Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and her abrupt removal by Trump were a source of confusion and concern to officials at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, a senior diplomat there testified.

“To have an ambassador removed because of this media campaign – I had never seen anything like that,” David Holmes, the top political officer at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv testified, according to a transcript of a deposition released late Monday.

Holmes also testified that a former Ukrainian prosecutor who worked with Trump personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to campaign for Yovanovitch’s ouster had been a target of U.S. criticism for his failures to follow through on corruption probes.

Yuri Lutsenko “was a big disappointment” to U.S. officials, Holmes testified. Seen as a potential reformer when he was given the job as Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Lutsenko was instead “just a politician” whose requests for meetings with senior officials in Washington were spurned by U.S. embassy officials, Holmes said.

By: Greg Miller

6:30 AM: Hales says he was unaware of Giuliani’s role until reading it in the news

David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said he did not become aware of the role of Trump personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani in Ukraine policy until after a whistleblower complaint was made public in late September.

Hale, according to the transcript of a deposition made public late Monday, said his knowledge of Giuliani’s role came only through public news stories.

Hale also said he never discussed the issue with other State Department officials at that point. Asked why not, he said, “It was clear that these were matters that were going to be under, or already were under investigation, and therefore I didn’t want to appear in any way to be influencing potential witnesses to this committee.”

Asked how common or uncommon it would be for a president to lean on a private person for public diplomacy, he said, “Well, it’s not unprecedented.”

When asked to name someone, he said, “It’s hard to think of an example that quite matches this particular one.”

By: Ellen Nakashima

6:00 AM: Hale says all agency deputies pushed for Ukraine aid, except OMB

Hale testified that at a so-called “deputy small group meeting” of agency No. 2s, all the representatives pushed for U.S. security aid to Ukraine to be released from its hold – except an official from the Office of Management and Budget.

“The lone objection came from the — directly from the representative of OMB,” Hale said, though he didn’t name the person.

In a the transcript of a deposition released late Monday, Hale said he was not given a reason for the hold but said that “there was information that came to me starting in late June that a hold had been placed on both Ukraine assistance and Lebanon military assistance without any explanation.”

By: Rachael Bade

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