Week 2 Of Public Impeachment Hearings: Who’s Testifying And When
After a whirlwind first week of public hearings in the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, the House Intelligence Committee is preparing to hear from a whopping eight more witnesses this week.
The committee will conduct several televised hearings from Tuesday through Thursday this week. Tuesday and Wednesday will feature two hearings each (one in the morning and one in the afternoon), and Thursday will have one hearing. All of the witnesses called to publicly testify have already spoken to investigators in closed-door depositions.
The busy impeachment week comes after the committee heard last week from Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine; George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasian affairs; and Marie Yovanovitch, who was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine before she was removed from her position earlier this year and replaced with Taylor. David Holmes, the aide that Taylor alleged overheard Trump talking about Ukraine investigations, also testified last week but in a closed-door deposition.
House impeachment investigators are looking into whether Trump abused the power of his office and put personal interests above national security. The president is accused of withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine until the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to publicly commit to investigating Trump’s 2020 political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as his son Hunter Biden. The impeachment inquiry began in September after an unnamed whistleblower from the intelligence community filed a complaint alleging that Trump and his allies tried to extort Ukraine in order to get himself reelected.
With the chaos that came from just three public witnesses in one week, this week’s eight witnesses are sure to test viewers’ stamina in keeping up with the investigation. Here is a brief look ahead of who is testifying this week and when, and what to keep an eye out on in their testimony:
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is the director for European affairs at the National Security Council, making him the White House’s top Ukraine expert. He’s also the first impeachment witness with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky because he was on the call.
The Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient privately testified to lawmakers in October that he twice reported the call to the NSC’s lead counsel because he felt it was his duty to share his concerns about the alleged attempted extortion. He also said that the White House’s summary of the phone call had key omissions that raise questions about its handling, but do not change the basic contents of the call.
Trump tried to dismiss Vindman’s testimony by calling him a “Never Trumper witness,” and many of the president’s allies questioned his patriotism accusing him of being a double agent. Several Republicans defended Vindman in the face of such criticism.
Vindman’s firsthand account is expected to throw off Republicans’ current argument that House Democrats are not conducting a credible investigation because every witness called to testify so far has not been a direct witness to wrongdoing by the president.
Jennifer Williams is a top special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for Europe and Russia affairs, and a career foreign service officer at the State Department. She was also on Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky, making Tuesday morning’s public impeachment hearing one where lawmakers will hear from two witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the incident.
In her Nov. 7 closed-door deposition, Williams testified that Trump’s insistence that Ukraine conduct politically sensitive investigations “struck me as unusual and inappropriate.” She also said she heard Zelensky on the call mention Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that Hunter Biden used to serve on the board of until earlier this year. The White House’s summary of the call did not include Zelensky’s mentioning Burisma, which Trump accused Joe Biden of inappropriately favoring while he was vice president.
Pence was originally supposed to attend Zelensky’s inauguration earlier this year but was ordered to skip it. Williams told lawmakers that she believed that order to have come directly from Trump.
On Sunday, Trump lashed out at Williams on Twitter, accusing her of participating in a “presidential attack” and calling her a “Never Trumper.” He also insinuated that he does not know who she is, despite being a high-level State Department official working under his vice president.
Kurt Volker was the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine until he handed in his resignation Sept. 27 in response to his name being mentioned in the whistleblower complaint.
Volker was the first witness called to privately testify in the impeachment investigation, in which he said he was not “fully in the loop” of Trump’s call with Zelensky. But text messages between him, Taylor and U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordan Sondland that Volker gave to Congress contradict that narrative, as the texts showed clear concern over the president’s withholding of military aid to Ukraine.
The former State Department official also testified that Ukrainian officials “asked to be connected” to Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani as a direct backdoor channel to Trump. The whistleblower complaint alleged that Volker set up the meeting between Giuliani and top Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak, and tried to advise Ukrainian officials on how to collaborate with Trump and his personal attorney.
Volker also personally told Giuliani that Yuriy Lutsenko, whose conspiracy theories were largely responsible for Yovanovitch’s ouster, was “not credible.”
Tim Morrison was one of the top Russia experts for the National Security Council until he resigned Oct. 30, a day before his closed-door deposition with impeachment investigators.
The former NSC official testified that he contacted then-national security adviser John Bolton, as well as the NSC’s legal office, about Trump’s July 25 call out of concern regarding potential leaks to the public. Morrison also said he first alerted Taylor to concerns over the call by telling him Trump did not want to provide any security assistance at all to Ukraine.
Morrison said he first heard of the call from Gordon Sondland, which he alleged gave him a “sinking feeling.” According to his deposition, Morrison said Sondland informed Ukrainian officials that a White House meeting and military aid were contingent on Zelensky publicly committing to an investigation into the Bidens. He also said Sondland was acting on Trump’s direct orders.
Gordon Sondland is a Republican donor-turned-U.S. ambassador to the European Union who quickly became one of the most important key players in the impeachment investigation after several other witnesses cited his involvement in Trump’s backchannel to Ukraine relations.
Sondland initially testified in his closed-door deposition that he didn’t recall having any discussions about the Bidens, or taking part in encouraging an investigation into them. But after Taylor and Vindman contradicted Sondland’s testimony, he significantly amended his narrative Nov. 5 to say he told Zelensky’s aide Yermak that military funding was contingent on Ukraine publicly announcing an investigation into the Bidens, and that he knew it was illegal.
Holmes, the political counsel at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, privately testified Friday that he was meeting with Sondland at a restaurant in Kyiv when the ambassador took a phone call from Trump on July 26 ― a day after the president’s now-infamous call with Zelensky. Holmes said he heard Trump asking if Ukraine agreed to investigate the Bidens, and Sondland responding that Zelensky will do “anything you ask him to.” Sondland reportedly told Holmes after the call that Trump “doesn’t give a shit about Ukraine.” The Associated Press later learned that a second U.S. Embassy staff member in Ukraine overheard Sondland’s call: Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv.
Holmes’ testimony appeared to also contradict Sondland’s deposition, as the ambassador never mentioned his July 26 call with Trump in his sworn testimony.
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that emails reviewed by the newspaper showed Sondland kept several Trump officials ― like acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry ― informed of his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Laura Cooper is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. Since the summer, Cooper pressured the Pentagon to get the military aid to Ukraine released and argued that withholding it was not in the U.S.’s national security interests.
The Pentagon also reportedly told the White House that the agency would not be able to spend all the military aid by Sept. 30 ― the end of the fiscal year ― if it was not released by Aug. 6, putting the Defense Department at risk of violating the Impoundment Control Act. It was reported Sept. 12 that the freeze on the aid was lifted.
In her closed-door deposition, Cooper said Volker led her to make a “very strong inference” that Ukrainian officials knew the U.S. was withholding military aid long before that was public information, and that Ukrainian leaders would not have committed to making a public statement on investigations unless they were doing so in exchange for “something valuable.”
“There were two specific things that the Government of Ukraine wanted during this time frame,” Cooper told lawmakers. “One was … a hosted visit at the White House. And the other was Ukraine security assistance.”
David Hale is the undersecretary of state for political affairs, making him the third-ranking official at the State Department.
In Hale’s closed-door deposition, the senior official told lawmakers that the State Department believed that publicly defending Yovanovitch when she was being disparaged and eventually recalled as ambassador to Ukraine would have hurt efforts to lift the freeze on nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. He also said that senior officials were concerned about Giuliani’s potential reaction to the State Department coming to Yovanovitch’s defense amid Trump’s smearing of the career diplomat.
Yovanovitch publicly testified about how Trump, Giuliani and conservative media launched a smear campaign on her reputation as a U.S. diplomat. She stressed that her ouster “had a chilling effect” on current department officials because it showed how diplomats and U.S. policy are vulnerable to foreign and private influence, and that the State Department “is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage.”
The former ambassador previously testified that when she went to senior State Department officials to seek a reaffirming public statement of support in response to the smear campaign, the department told her there was “caution about any kind of statement, because it could be undermined” by a Trump tweet.
Fiona Hill was the former top policy adviser on Russia for the National Security Council for about two years until she resigned in July. She was reportedly told as early as May that there was a pressure campaign by Sondland and Giuliani on Ukraine’s government, according to NBC News.
The former NSC official told lawmakers in her closed-door deposition that she considered Sondland to be a national security risk because of his inexperience as the Trump-appointed EU ambassador. She also said that Sondland had talked in front of her about how he had an agreement with Mulvaney for a meeting with Ukrainian officials.
Hill testified that Sondland had told her he was “in charge of Ukraine.” When she asked him who authorized such a change, she said Sondland told her: “the president.”
After learning about Sondland and Giuliani’s shadow diplomacy, Hill reportedly briefed Bolton, her boss at the time. Bolton later described what Hill told him as a kind of “drug deal.” Both Hill and Bolton were reportedly so alarmed by the shadow diplomacy that she alerted White House lawyers.
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