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WH Officials to Testify This Week      11/19 06:11

   Two top national security aides who listened to President Donald Trump's 
call with Ukraine are preparing to testify in the impeachment hearings, 
launching a week of back-to-back sessions as Americans hear from those closest 
to the White House.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two top national security aides who listened to President 
Donald Trump's call with Ukraine are preparing to testify in the impeachment 
hearings, launching a week of back-to-back sessions as Americans hear from 
those closest to the White House.

   Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer at the National Security 
Council, and Jennifer Williams, his counterpart at Vice President Mike Pence's 
office, both say they had concerns as Trump spoke on July 25 with the newly 
elected Ukraine president about political investigations into Joe Biden.

   After they appear Tuesday morning, the House will hear in the afternoon from 
former NSC official Timothy Morrison and Kurt Volker, the former Ukraine 
special envoy.

   In all, nine current and former U.S. officials are testifying in a pivotal 
week as the House's historic impeachment inquiry accelerates and deepens. 
Democrats say Trump demanded that Ukraine investigate his Democratic rivals in 
return for U.S. military aid it needed to resist Russian aggression and that 
may be grounds for removing the 45th president. Trump says he did no such thing 
and the Democrats just want him gone.

   "I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government 
investigate a U.S. citizen," said Vindman, an Iraq War veteran. He said there 
was "no doubt" what Trump wanted from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

   It wasn't the first time Vindman, a 20-year military officer, was alarmed 
over the administration's push to have Ukraine investigate Democrats, he 
testified.

   Earlier, during an unsettling July 10 meeting at the White House, Ambassador 
Gordon Sondland told visiting Ukraine officials that they would need to 
"deliver" before next steps, which was a meeting Zelenskiy wanted with Trump, 
the officer testified.

   "He was talking about the 2016 elections and an investigation into the 
Bidens and Burisma," Vindman testified, referring to the gas company in Ukraine 
where Hunter Biden served on the board.

   "The Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens," he 
said. "There was no ambiguity."

   On both occasions, Vindman said, he took his concerns about the shifting 
Ukraine policy to the lead counsel at the NSC, John Eisenberg.

   Williams, a longtime State Department official who is detailed to Pence's 
national security team, said she too had concerns during the phone call, which 
the aides monitored as is standard practice.

   When the White House produced a rough transcript later that day, she put it 
in the vice president's briefing materials. "I just don't know if he read it," 
Williams testified in a closed-door House interview.

   Sondland, the wealthy donor whose routine boasting about his proximity to 
Trump has brought the investigation to the president's doorstep, is set to 
testify Wednesday. Others have testified that he was part of a shadow 
diplomatic effort with the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, outside 
of official channels that raised alarms.

   Pence's role throughout the impeachment inquiry has been unclear, and the 
vice president's aide is sure to be questioned by lawmakers looking for answers.

   The White House has instructed officials not to appear, and most have 
received congressional subpoenas to compel their testimony.

   Trump has already attacked Williams, associating her with "Never Trumpers," 
even though there is no indication the career State Department official has 
shown any partisanship.

   The president wants to see a robust defense by his GOP allies on Capitol 
Hill, but so far so far Republicans have offered a changing strategy as the 
fast-moving probe spills into public view.

   That is likely to change this week as Republicans mount a more aggressive 
attack on all the witnesses as the inquiry reaches closer into the White House 
and they try to protect Trump.

   In particular, Republicans are expected to try to undercut Vindman, 
suggesting he reported his concerns outside his chain of command, which would 
have been Morrison, not the NSC lawyer.

   Those appearing in public have already given closed-door interviews to 
investigators, and transcripts from those depositions have largely been 
released.

   Under earlier questioning, Republicans wanted Vindman to disclose who else 
he may have spoken to about his concerns, as the GOP inch closer to publicly 
naming the still anonymous whistleblower whose report sparked the inquiry.

   GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, who was deeply involved in other White House meetings 
about Ukraine, offered a sneak preview of this strategy late Monday when he 
compared Vindman, a Purple Heart veteran, to the "bureaucrats" who "never 
accepted Trump as legitimate."

   "They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort 
to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is 
entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile, said Johnson, R-Wis.

   Vindman told the House investigators in his earlier testimony he was not the 
government whistleblower.

   The witnesses are testifying under penalty of perjury, and Sondland already 
has had to amend his earlier account amid contradicting testimony from other 
current and former U.S. officials.

   Morrison has referred to Burisma as a "bucket of issues" --- the Bidens, 
Democrats, investigations --- he had tried to "stay away" from.

   Sondland met with a Zelenskiy aide on the sidelines of a Sept. 1 gathering 
in Warsaw, and Morrison, who was watching the encounter from across the room, 
testified that the ambassador told him moments later he pushed the Ukrainian 
for the Burisma investigation as a way for Ukraine to gain access to the 
military funds.

   Volker provided investigators with a package of text messages with Sondland 
and another diplomat, William Taylor, the charge d'affaires in Ukraine, who 
grew alarmed at the linkage of the investigations to the aid.

   Taylor, who testified publicly last week, called that "crazy."

   A wealthy hotelier who donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration, Sondland 
is the only person interviewed to date who had direct conversations with the 
president about the Ukraine situation.

   Morrison said Sondland and Trump had spoken about five times between July 15 
and Sept. 11 --- the weeks that $391 million in U.S. assistance was withheld 
from Ukraine before it was released.

   Trump has said he barely knows Sondland.

   Besides Sondland, the committee will hear on Wednesday from Laura Cooper, a 
deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, a State Department 
official. On Thursday, David Holmes, a State Department official in Kyiv, and 
Fiona Hill, a former top NSC staff member for Europe and Russia, will appear.


(KR)

 
 
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