November 20, 2019 10:50:30
A White House official has told the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump that the US President’s “demand” for Ukraine to investigate a domestic political rival was “improper”.
- The White House Twitter account posted character attacks against the official
- A White House official never learned why aid to Ukraine was later released
- A Republican accused the Democrats of being out to “get” the President
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 on Tuesday.
During his testimony he fended off Republican efforts to cast doubt on his competence and loyalty to the United States.
Both he 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 Zelenskiy.
During the call, Mr Trump asked Mr Zelenskiy to carry out two investigations that would benefit him politically, including one targeting Democratic political rival Joe Biden. The other involved a debunked conspiracy theory embraced by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.
“It was inappropriate, it was improper for the President to request — to demand — an investigation into a political opponent, especially [from] a foreign power where there is at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation,” Lieutenant Colonel Vindman told the committee.
He 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, how this was likely to have significant implications for US national security,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Vindman said.
Character attacks on public servants ‘reprehensible’
Army Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, whose family fled the Soviet Union four decades ago and is now a US citizen, told the committee that “character attacks” against public servants testifying in the impeachment inquiry were “reprehensible”.
During his testimony, the White House’s official Twitter account was used to post attacks on Army Lieutenant Colonel Vindman’s judgment, while the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr, labelled him in a separate Twitter post as “a low level partisan bureaucrat and nothing more”.
A US official said Army Lieutenant Colonel Vindman had recently raised concerns over his personal security and the army had been carrying out security assessments.
The official said Army Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and his family could be moved to a military base if the security threat warrants such action.
Republican Representative Jim Jordan told Army Lieutenant Colonel Vindman that his White House bosses had questioned his judgment, but Army Lieutenant Colonel Vindman read from a July employee evaluation that called him “brilliant” and said he exercises “excellent judgment”.
Mr Jordan, who is one of Mr Trump’s most vociferous defenders, attacked the motives of Democrats, saying that “they’ve been out to get the President from the day he was elected”.
The investigation could lead the House to approve formal charges against Mr Trump that would be sent to the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial on whether to remove him from office.
Aid to Ukraine frozen
Ahead of the July call, Mr Trump froze $US391 million ($572 million) in US security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. Mr Trump sought a Ukrainian investigation into 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 Ukrainian energy firm Burisma.
Ms Williams told the committee that Mr Trump’s call with Mr Zelenskiy was unusual and inappropriate because “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter”.
She said the White House budget office said Mr Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had directed that $US391 million in security aid to Ukraine be put on hold and that she never learned why the assistance was later released in September.
November 20, 2019 09:51:19