The second week of House impeachment hearings kicked off Tuesday with a stern warning from House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff that lawmakers not attack key witnesses providing live testimony.
Schiff set the tone for another confrontational hearing when he brought up President Donald Trump’s attacks on two witnesses appearing at the televised hearing: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams.
Schiff told Vindman, an Iraq war vet who raised concerns about Ukraine policy with a national security lawyer: ‘We have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character.’
‘I note that you have shed blood for America and we owe you immense gratitude,’ Schiff told Vindman, after earlier bringing up his Purple Heart earned in Iraq.
He told Williams, who Trump slammed as a ‘Never Trumper’: ‘Ms. Williams we all saw the president’s tweet about you on Sunday afternoon and the insults he hurled at Ambassador [Marie] Yovanovitch last Friday.’
‘You are here today, and the American people are grateful,’ he told Williams, who testified despite White House instructions not to do so.
Vindman arrived in his full military dress uniform, as he did during his first closed-door deposition, but not his second Capitol appearance. As Schiff noted, he was born in the former Soviet Union, and came to the U.S. as a toddler.
‘I hope no one on this committee will become part of those vicious attacks,’ Schiff told Vindman.
Former special envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison, the former Russian expert on the National Security Council, testify in the afternoon.
Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, left, and National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, kick off a week of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill Tuesday
Adam Schiff told Williams: ‘You are here today, and the American people are grateful.’ Vindman testified: ‘My intent was to raise these concerns because they have significant national security concerns for our country’
Colonel Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams take the oath before they testify during the House Intelligence Committee hearing into President Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to tie US aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents
Top Republican committee Devin Nunes did go on the attack in his opening statement – but he targeted the media and the anonymous whistleblower who started the impeachment inquiry.
‘The media have fully accepted the Democrats’ stunning reversal on the need for the whistleblower to testify to this committee,’ Nunes, a Republican from California, charged.
Republicans have pushed for the whistleblower to testify but Democrats have argued that may not be needed because other witnesses have testified to events outlined in the whistleblower’s complaint.
Democrats are also concerned about Republicans will try to oust the whistleblower’s identity.
In Vindman’s close-door testimony, Democrats accused Republicans of trying to do just that – leading to a shouting match on both sides of the aisle, a scenario some lawmakers will repeat in the public eye in Tuesday’s hearing.
‘The media have joined the Democrats in dismissing the importance of cross-examining this crucial witness now that the whistleblower has success fully kick started impeachment, he has disappeared from the story as if the Democrats put the whistleblower in their own witness protection program,’ Nunes claimed.
Vindman testified that when he raised his concerns about a White House Ukraine meeting and a presidential phone call, ‘ I did so out of a sense of duty.’
‘My intent was to raise these concerns because they have significant national security concerns for our country. I never thought that I would be sitting here testifying to this committee and the American public about my actions,’ Vindman told lawmakers.
He called ‘character attacks’ on ‘distinguished and honorable public servants’ reprehensible.
The Ukrainian-speaking Vindman spoke of his love of country, provided a sharp contrast with life in the U.S. compared to the country his parents fled, and even addressed comments to his father, who fled the Soviet Union.
‘I also recognize that my simple act of appearing here today just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this committee would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing concern to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offer in public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life,’ Vindman testified in his opening statement.
‘I’m grateful to my father for his brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant. Where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety,’ he continued. Then he addressed remarks to his father. ‘Dad, I’m sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected professionals, talking to our elected representatives, proof that you made the right decision to leave the soviet union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth,’ he said.
Williams in her opening statement that she found Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president ‘unusual’ because ‘in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter. She noted she had served in the George W. Bush administration under Condoleezza Rice and Michael Chertoff.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, and ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes of Calif., start the hearing on Tuesday with their opening statements
Jennifer Williams, an aide to Mike Pence, arrives on Capitol Hill for her testimony (left). Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who earned a Purple Heart in Iraq, arrives on Capitol Hill to testify to the Democratic-run impeachment inquiry Tuesday morning
President Trump has attacked Jennifer Williams as a never-Trumper
Republicans are expected to attack Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman’s credibility
Donald Trump bashed Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams after it was revealed Saturday she told Congress in a closed-door testimony that his call with the Ukrainian president was ‘unusual and inappropriate’
Trump tweeted a reminder that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his foreign minister said they felt there was no quid pro quo or pressure from Trump
Vindman, in his closed-door testimony, claimed that Trump-appointed U.S. ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland’s push for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was ‘inappropriate’ and said he was ‘concerned’ by what he heard on Trump’s call.
Republican lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee are expected to try and discredit Vindman, who arrived on Capitol Hill in his full dress uniform on Tuesday morning.
Both Trump and Republicans have suggested he is against the president, which Democrats will push back on. Democrats consider him their star witness.
Republican Congressman Doug Collins told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday night that Vindman’s uniform and compelling personal story will not protect him.
‘I don’t think it shielded Oliver North from hard questions,’ he said.
Williams defied White House instructions and testified behind closed doors, only to be savaged by Trump online.
Trump went after Williams this weekend despite being admonished during Friday’s impeachment hearing in real time after he attacked former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
‘Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released ststement (sic) from Ukraine,’ Trump posted to Twitter Sunday afternoon. ‘Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!’
Democrats plan to ask both if they believe President Trump was with holding nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid – along with a meeting at the White House – as a way to pressure the Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.
That allegation is the central tenant of the Democrats’ argument as the president committing an impeachable offense.
A third witness is longtime diplomat Kurt Volker, whose role has perplexed lawmakers running the inquiry.
Former US Special Envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker (left), will get grilled about his text messages about investigations and the Ukrainian governmen. t White House national security official Tim Morrison (right) returns to the US House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into President Trump outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 06 November 2019
MUCH MORE THAN A HUNCH: A total of eight witnesses will testify in hearings overseen by Rep. Adam Schiff of California (center) this week
Volker will testify that he did not realize that others working for the president were tying the security aid to a commitment from the Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and another unproven theory that it was the Ukraine who interfered in the 2016 election and not Russia, The New York Times reported.
Volker delivered testimony that in part helped the administration, saying the Ukrainians ‘never communicated a belief [to him] that there was a quid pro quo,’ and said he doesn’t believe Ukraine knew hundreds of millions of U.S. aid was being withheld.
But his texts and messages have contributed to the body of evidence of a pressure campaign that a series of senior diplomats have testified they considered odious.
‘Heard from white house – assuming president Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016 we will nail down date for visit to Washington,’ he wrote.
The message seemed to link the effort to get President Volodymyr Zelensky to agree to make a public statement on ‘corruption’ investigations Trump wanted in exchange for a White House meeting. The probe related to Trump rival Joe Biden, although Volker said he didn’t realize the company involved – Burisma – involved Biden. Hunter Biden won a lucrative spot on the energy company’s board.
Yet another witness is on tap for Tuesday afternoon: national security aide Tim Morrison, who told Congress he didn’t think the president’s call with the Ukrainian president was illegal or inappropriate. Republicans hope to feature his testimony, although they have grumbled it comes late in the day when attention may flag.
The House Intelligence Committee announced Monday that David Holmes, who says he overheard Trump call about investigations, will testify Thursday. He will speak on a panel with Russia and Europe expert Fiona Hill on Thursday.
Officials testifying in public this week
Jennifer Williams: A State Department staffer detailed to VP Pence who was on the July 25 phone call and said it was ‘unusual’ for the Bidens to be mentioned
Alexander Vindman: The top Ukraine expert on the NSC; he was on the July 25 call and expressed his concerns about it to NSC lawyers
Kurt Volker: the former special envoy to the Ukraine whose text messages revealed a shadow foreign policy
Tim Morrison: an NSC official who told lawmakers Gordon Sondland acted at President Trump’s direction
Gordon Sondland: the EU ambassador who ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine with Rudy Giuliani and Rick Perry
Laura Cooper: a Pentagon official who testified about the hold put on U.S. money to the Ukraine
David Hale: a State Department official who testified about efforts to recall then-Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch
Fiona Hill: John Bolton’s former deputy at NSC who took her concerns about Sondland’s action in the Ukraine to the NSC’s lawyers
David Holmes: A State Department in Kiev who heard Sondland’s call with President Trump
Republican lawmakers were ‘shaken’ by Holmes’ closed-door testimony on Friday, CNN reported.
Sondland spoke with Trump on July 26 – the day after the president’s phone call with Zelensky – and held his phone aloft in a Kiev restaurant so other’s could hear their conversation, Holmes’ testified.
Holmes said Sondland told Trump that Zelensky ‘loves your ass’ to which Trump responded: ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’
‘He’s gonna do it,’ Sondland replied, according to testimony Holmes gave lawmakers on Friday afternoon behind closed doors.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended the impeachment probe in a ‘dear colleague’ letter to lawmakers Monday on the ‘Latest Developments on For The People Agenda and the House’s Impeachment Inquiry.’
‘The facts are uncontested: that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests,’ Pelosi wrote.
‘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,’ she continued.
‘There are also some who say that no serious wrongdoing was committed, because the military assistance to Ukraine was eventually released. The fact is, the aid was only released after the whistleblower exposed the truth of the President’s extortion and bribery, and the House launched a formal investigation.’
A total of nine witnesses are due to testify in Week Two of the televised hearings.
They include Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, whose direct interactions with Trump are likely to be a main focus in the investigation of whether the president made security aid to Ukraine contingent on it agreeing to dig up dirt on a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
The latest round of hearings will stretch from Tuesday to Thursday before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. Seeking to build on last week’s testimony by three key witnesses, Democrats leading the inquiry – the first public impeachment drama in two decades – will continue trying to make the case that Trump abused the power of his office.
Denying any wrongdoing, Trump, who railed on Twitter and elsewhere against the proceedings and attacked witnesses by name last week and over the weekend, has shown no sign of a let-up in his confrontational approach. Some Democrats have accused him of witness intimidation but most Republican lawmakers have joined him in declaring the inquiry unfair.
Several witnesses testified last week that they were alarmed over the pressure tactics used against Ukraine, as well as the role of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
At the heart of the inquiry is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Zelensky to open a corruption investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
Among this week’s witnesses are several who listened in on the call.
Vindman, a Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, testified behind closed doors last month that he was so concerned about efforts to push Ukraine to investigate a Trump rival that he reported it to the NSC´s lawyer.
Fiona Hill, Trump´s former top Russia adviser, who also testified in private last month and is now set to appear on Thursday, previously recounted how U.S. policy on Ukraine got caught up in clashes between official and unofficial channels.
Due to testify on Tuesday are Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine; Williams, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence; and Tim Morrison, an NSC aide. Wednesday will see Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, at the witness table.
The hearings could pave the way for the Democratic-led House to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for Trump’s removal.
SONDLAND’S TESTIMONY HIGHLY ANTICIPATED
Democrats are looking into whether Trump abused his power by withholding $391 million in aid to Ukraine as leverage to get Kiev to investigate Biden, who is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump in 2020. The money, approved by the U.S. Congress to help U.S. ally Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists, was later provided to it.
Most highly anticipated, however, will be Sondland, both because of the central role he has played as well as other witnesses´ statements about his dealings with Trump on Ukraine.
David Holmes, a U.S. embassy official in Kiev, told lawmakers in closed-door testimony, that he overheard a phone call between Trump and Sondland, a former political donor, in which the ambassador told the president his Ukrainian counterpart was ready to carry out the investigations. The phone call occurred on July 26, one day after the phone conversation between Trump and Zelenskiy.
The testimony by Holmes ties Trump more directly to the effort to pressure Ukraine. Holmes’ statement also appears to contradict Sondland’s previous sworn testimony, which he has already revised once, about his interactions with Trump.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told CNN on Sunday that Sondland ‘has to decide whether his primary loyalty is to America or to the president of the United States.’
Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, a member of the committee and staunch Trump defender, told CBS ‘Face the Nation’ about Sondland: ‘What I also know is he said there was never any quid pro quo (sought by Trump, according to Sondland’s text message with the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine) … So, we’ll have him in front of us and we’ll find out.’