Four key impeachment witnesses testify
As today's second impeachment inquiry hearing draws to an end, President Trump tweeted "a great day for Republicans, a great day for our Country!"
The House Intelligence Committee is currently hearing testimony from Kurt Volker, a former US special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council aide. Both are witnesses the Republicans requested.
This morning, they heard from Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas, pointed out that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman used the same phrase as the whistleblower when describing President Trump’s actions toward Ukraine regarding investigations into the Biden.
Vindman was the first witnesses to describe Trump’s request as a “demand.” During the afternoon hearing with other witnesses, Ratcliffe pointed out that the whistleblower also used that same phrase.
Earlier in the day, Republicans teased out the possibility that Vindman provided information to the whistleblower, who is an official in the US intelligence community. Vindman testified that he doesn’t know who the whistleblower is, but he spoke to someone in the US intelligence community about Trump’s call.
What Vindman said in his closed-door deposition: “The power disparity between the President of the United States and the President of Ukraine is vast, and, you know, in the President asking for something, it became – there was — in return for a White House meeting, because that’s what this was about. This was about getting a White House meeting. It was a demand for him to fulfill his — fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting.”
Here's what Vindman said publicly this morning: “It was inappropriate — it was improper for the president to request — to demand an investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power where there's, at best, dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation,” And that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge and it would be perceived as a partisan play. It would undermine our Ukraine policy and it would undermine our national security.”
What the whistleblower complaint said: “Based on multiple readouts of these meetings recounted to me by various U.S. officials, Ambassadors Volker and Sondland reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelensky.”
During his questioning of Kurt Volker, Rep. Denny Heck asked the former US envoy to Ukraine to explain to people watching at home why support for Ukraine is so important.
Volker said the US is "not pushing back hard enough on Russia, and we owe Ukraine a great deal of support."
"Russia is trying to upend security in Europe. It's trying to reassert its domination of neighboring countries, whether it's Georgia, Ukraine or the Baltic states. It has led to war in Europe. The war in Ukraine has left more people dead in Europe than anything since the Balkans. More people displaced in the war in Europe since anything since World War II," he said.
Volker continued by saying that Ukrainians "want reform" and want to see their country as "successful."
"They are fighting a war of aggression against them designed to hold them back. And if we want to live in a world of freedom for the united States, we ought to be supporting freedom for people around the world," he said.
Former National Security Council aide Tim Morrison said he never asked his Ukrainian counterparts to investigate the Bidens because "it was not a policy objective."
Early in his line of questioning, Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, asked if the President "executes the foreign policy of the United States."
Morrison — who was on the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukraine's president — responded, "yes."
Here's how the rest of Swalwell's exchange with Morrison played out:
Swalwell: "How many times when you talked to your Ukrainian counterparts did you ask them to investigate the Bidens?"
Morrison: "Never, sir."
Swalwell: "Why not?"
Morrison: "Sir, it was not a policy objective that I was aware of."
Swalwell: "But with all due respect, Mr. Morrison, you're not in the White House to carry out your policy objectives. You just testified that the President sets the foreign policy objectives for the United States and the one call that you listened to between the President of the United States and the president of Ukraine, the President of the United States priorities were to investigate the Bidens and I'm asking you, sir, why didn't you follow up on the President's priorities when you talked to the Ukrainians?"
Morrison: "Sir, I did not understand it as a policy objective."
Rep. Mike Conaway asked Chairman Adam Schiff to put into the record “the federal statute that provides for absolute immunity or right to immunity that you've exerted over and over and over.”
Schiff responded that he was “happy to enter into the record the whistleblower statute that allows the whistleblower to remain anonymous.”
While Schiff did not specify which statute he was entering, no law explicitly prevents anyone, other than the inspector general and their staff, from revealing the name of a whistleblower. But that doesn't mean it's legal.
Under 2012 guidelines issued by President Obama, whistleblowers are protected from work-related retaliation, including "an appointment, promotion, or performance evaluation, or any other significant change in duties, responsibilities or working conditions."
Robert Litt, former general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence under Obama, argues it could be considered retaliatory if the individual disclosing the name is also a member of the intelligence community. But Litt notes that if a members of Congress identified the whistleblower on the floor of Congress, they would be protected from criminal prosecution under the Speech or Debate Clause.
Experts note that this situation is largely unprecedented, therefore the answer is not so cut and dried.
You can read more about the protections regarding anonymity that whistleblowers have here.
Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik used her time to ask Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison a series of rapid-fire questions about President Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Starting with Morrison, who was on the call, Stefanik asked him: "There was no mention of withholding aid on the call, correct?
"That is correct, congresswoman," he replied.
The exchange continued:
Stefanik: "And there was no quid pro quo, correct?"
Stefanik: "No bribery?"
Stefanik: "No extortion?"
She repeated the same line of questions for Volker whose answers mirrored those given by Morrison.
Tim Morrison said he "noted" concerns from staffers that Lt. Col Alexander Vindman may have leaked information — but he "didn't take them for face value."
This morning, Vindman, a National Security Council aide, testified under oath that he never leaked information.
Asked about Morrison's previous testimony — in which he said Vindman may have leaked information — Vindman said it was "preposterous" to think he'd leak.
Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, just asked Morrison about Vindman's response to his previous testimony.
"Now would you, therefore, want to maybe rearrange your comments about the references you made to Col. Vindman?" she asked.
"No, ma'am," Morrison responded.
"So even though under oath he said that he has never leaked, you're believing people who said to you that he may have leaked?" she asked.
"Ma'am, I didn't believe or disbelieve them. I'm relaying what they told me," he said.
"Those concerns were noted. I didn't take them for face value. I treated them as representations of others. I was on alert, but I formed my own judgements,"
Rep. Brad Wenstrup asked former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker if part of his job meant working "through any means available," including with the President's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in order to get his "message and advice" to Trump.
Volker said he believed "the messages being conveyed to Mr. Giuliani were a problem" because they were "at variance with our official message to the President" and "not conveying that positive assessment" that Volker and others had of the new Ukrainian president.
Volker added: "So I thought it was important to try to step in and fix the problem."
Democratic Rep. Jim Himes asked Kurt Volker to expand on his testimony about the President's July 25 call with the Ukrainian president.
In his latest testimony, Volker said he found the record of the call unacceptable.
Asked by Himes what he specifically found "unacceptable or troubling," Volker said, "It is — the reference to Vice President Biden."