Pence moves to distance himself from impeachment inquiry
Updated 5:40 p.m. ET
Pence’s office again sought to distance the vice president from the impeachment inquiry, including from the testimony of his senior advisor for Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams.
During Tuesday’s afternoon hearing, the office sent out a statement from Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, Pence’s national security advisor and Williams’ boss. Kellogg was also on the now-infamous July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky that Williams said she was troubled by.
Kellogg threw the weight of his 34-years of military service behind his assessment there was “nothing wrong or improper.”
“I had and have no concerns,” he said, adding that Williams, who reported to him, never mentioned any personal or professional concerns to him or any other member of the vice president’s staff.
Regarding a September meeting between Zelensky and Pence, Kellogg said the vice president was focused solely on anti-corruption efforts and Europe stepping up its support “and never mentioned former Vice President Joe Biden, Crowdstrike, Burisma, or investigations in any communication with Ukrainians.”
When asked by Rep. Adam Schiff about the push to get the Ukrainians to look into a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election and Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma, Williams earlier testified that the vice president “never brought up those investigations.”
A Pence spokeswoman made similar arguments in a memo to reporters Monday night, pointing to Williams’ deposition where she said she wasn’t sure Pence knew about the contents of the July 25 call, and that Pence and Zelensky didn’t discuss the aid being contingent on starting investigations when they met later in the summer.
Republicans on the Intelligence panel asked Williams if she was a “never Trumper” referring to a movement primarily made up of conservative Republicans to oppose Trump, seemingly to discredit her testimony. She denied it.
Given the opportunity to defend Williams, Pence chief of staff Marc Short deflected, saying later on Fox that he never asked her for her political beliefs.
Volker revises some of his early testimony
Updated at 5:06 p.m. ET
Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine, made several changes to his testimony before lawmakers on Tuesday, distancing himself from being one of the so-called three amigos responsible for the shadow foreign policy led by Rudolph W. Giuliani in Ukraine.
“I have learned many things that I did not know at the time of the events in question,” said Volker, who was the first witness to testify in the closed-door impeachment inquiry in October.
Volker previously insisted there was no direct linkage between the hold on U.S. security assistance to Ukraine and an announcement by Ukraine’s president to pursue investigations that Trump wanted into his political rivals.
On Tuesday, Volker did not dispute the linkage, but insisted he was unaware of it until after his Oct. 3 deposition.
“No one had ever said that to me — and I never conveyed such a linkage to the Ukrainians,” he said.
Volker also said he didn’t understand at the time that the Ukrainians viewed the request to investigate Burisma with an investigation into the Bidens. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was a director at Burisma.
Volker said Tuesday that the Ukrainians would have reasonably conflated the two.
Volker also revised his testimony about a July 10 meeting between U.S. officials and Ukrainians. Previously Volker said there was no discussion about the investigations.
Other witnesses testified that EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland brought up the investigations at that meeting briefly, disturbing then National Security head John Bolton and others.
On Tuesday, Volker recalled Sondland raising the investigations, adding, “All of us thought it was inappropriate.”
Kurt Volker undercuts some of the GOP claims
Updated at 4:58 p.m. ET
Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador, was summoned to testify by Republicans who believed he would bolster their case that there was no quid pro quo involving the exchange of U.S. funds and Kyiv’s public announcement of investigations that could politically benefit President Trump.
But Volker undercut some of those hopes in his opening statement and during the first round of questioning by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the chairman of the committee.
Volker testified he had been wrong when he did not see a link between the Ukrainians launching an investigation involving an energy company and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company, Burisma, as equivalent to investigating former Vice President Biden. I saw them as very different — the former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable. In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections,” he said.
He also spoke highly about the former vice president, saying, “He is an honorable man and I hold him in the highest regard.”
Republicans have sought to raise questions about Biden’s calls to fire a Ukrainian prosecutor who had once investigated Burisma.
Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, served on Burisma’s board from 2014 through April of this year. U.S. officials and Western allies had pushed for the prosecutor’s removal. The investigation of Burisma had nothing to do with Hunter Biden.
Volker also shot down Republican theories about Ukrainians’ meddling in the 2016 election and Joe Biden’s alleged role in the sacking of the prosecutor, saying that such assertions are outlandish and could hurt U.S. policy goals.
“These things I consider to be conspiracy theories that have been circulated by the Ukrainians, particularly the former prosecutor general …. They’re not things that we should be pursuing as part of our national security strategy with Ukraine,” Volker testified.
“We should be supporting Ukraine’s democracy reforms, its own fight against corruption domestically, its struggle against Russia, its defense capabilities. These are the heart of what we should be doing, and I don’t think pursuing these things serves a national interest.”
Republicans and White House sharpen attacks on Vindman
Updated 2:20 p.m. ET
Republicans sharpened their questioning of Army Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, an officer with the National Security Council, into attacks on his credibility, portraying him as inflating his importance, not respecting the chain of command and leaking information.
The White House got in on the act, tweeting from its official account: “Tim Morrison, Alexander Vindman’s former boss, testified in his deposition that he had concerns about Vindman’s judgment.”
Vindman, who denied ever leaking information, was prompted to read from his personnel file, including a sterling job review from Fiona Hill, President Trump’s former Russia advisor, who will testify in a public hearing on Thursday.
Morrison, the National Security Council’s director for Europe and Russia and Vindman’s direct boss, testifies later Tuesday, as requested by the Intelligence panel’s GOP minority. He and Vindman reportedly had disagreements.
Several of the GOP members’ questions also seemed to hint that Vindman may have dual loyalties. Critics responded that Republicans were deploying an old anti-Semitic and xenophobic slur against Vindman, who is a U.S. citizen born in Ukraine and is Jewish.
Steve Castor, the GOP lawyer, raised an incident in which Ukrainian officials suggested that Vindman consider serving as the Ukrainian defense minister. Vindman reported the attempt to U.S. officials, and called it “pretty funny” Tuesday, given his relatively low rank in the U.S. military.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) asked Vindman why he’d worn his dress uniform, including a Purple Heart, which Vindman said was awarded after he was injured in Iraq, and why he’d earlier asked Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) to address him by his rank, lieutenant colonel.
Vindman said he was emphasizing his military service in part to rebut right-wing attacks against him.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, said the questions stemmed from something else about Vindman.
“I’m concerned your loyalty has been questioned not just because you’re bringing forward incidents of wrongdoing,” said Krishnamoorthi, “but because you are an immigrant.”
Vindman says Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine ‘wasn’t helpful’
Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET
The involvement of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, in foreign policy “wasn’t helpful,” Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman testified Tuesday in the impeachment hearing.
Responding to a question from Rep. A. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) about whether it was normal for a private citizen such as Giuliani to be involved in foreign policy and foreign affairs, Vindman responded, “I don’t know if I have the experience to say that, but it certainly wasn’t helpful and it didn’t help advance U.S. national security interests.”
Vindman also said he didn’t know under whose authority Giuliani was acting and that pushing for an investigation into Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, “was not part of any process that I participated in.”
GOP seems to be softening its hearing tactics — so far
Updated at 11:54 a.m. ET
Republicans appear to have changed their tactics slightly Tuesday, raising fewer points of order or challenges to House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) than they did last week.
Friday’s hearing involved Republicans repeatedly raising issue with Schiff for not agreeing to call the whistleblower to testify, and ended with a contentious back-and-forth between Schiff and Rep. Michael K. Conaway (R-Texas).
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) told reporters that Schiff hasn’t recognized Republicans’ motions and it’s become clear that he doesn’t plan to. Republicans have criticized Schiff for interjecting during some of their questions, such as when he told Vindman that he didn’t have to answer a Republican lawmaker’s question if Vindman feared it would out the whistleblower.
“I think it’s pretty clear at this point that the chairman’s not going to allow certain questions, and certain discussions. That’s been made evident, and I think the American people know that. We don’t need to continue to belabor that point. It’s very clear,” Perry said.
Tense moment as Nunes presses Vindman over whistleblower’s identity
Updated at 11 a.m. ET
A heated exchange broke out when Rep. Devin Nunes seemed to veer his questions toward potentially identifying the whistleblower — a consistent point of contention between Republicans and Democrats in the impeachment proceedings.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman identified two individuals to whom he expressed concerns about the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: George Kent of the State Department, whose portfolio included Ukraine, and “an individual in the intelligence community.”
As Nunes drilled into Vindman’s hesitation to provide more detail about the individual, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff interjected.
“I want to make sure there is no effort to out the whistleblower in these proceedings,” Schiff said.
When Nunes turned back to Vindman but did not address him by his military rank, Vindman reminded Nunes he was a lieutenant colonel. Nunes suggested Vindman was contradicting his deposition, in which he said he did not know the identity of the whistleblower. Republicans suspect Vindman was one of the sources used by the whistleblower.
Vindman then cited his legal counsel, saying he’d been advised not to answer questions about the intelligence community.
Nunes reminded Vindman he was under oath. “You can even plead the 5th, but you’re here to answer questions and you’re under subpoena,” he said.
Ultimately Vindman’s lawyer stepped in, saying they were following the rules of the committee. “If there’s an alternative,” Vindman’s counsel told Nunes, “that’s up to you.”
Witnesses say they heard Trump mention Burisma on July 25 call, though White House account does not mention it
Updated at 10:20 a.m. ET
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and the State Department’s Jennifer Williams both confirmed their earlier testimony that they heard “Burisma” mentioned on the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, by their notes and recollection.
It’s a significant detail, because Burisma is the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden served. But the company name is not included in the rough transcript of the call released by the White House.
Williams said she does not know why Burisma did not appear on the White House summary of the call.
Vindman suggested that the omission was an honest mistake by transcribers of the call, who may have simply missed the word.
“I attribute that to the fact that this transcript as it was being produced may have not caught the word Burisma. … It’s not a significant omission,” he said.
Still, he added, “It was my responsibility to make sure the transcript was as accurate as possible, including putting that word back in, because I had it in my notes.”
Williams says she learned of Ukraine aid hold on July 3
Updated at 10:03 a.m. ET
Jennifer Williams, a State Department Ukraine expert, said in her opening statement that she learned of the hold on Ukraine aid on July 3, fifteen days earlier than other witnesses have said.
“According to the information I received, [the Office of Management and Budget] was reviewing whether the funding was aligned with the administration’s priorities,” she said.
Williams, a long-serving State Department employee who has participated in at least a dozen other presidential phone calls, said she told the committee that “I found the July 25 phone call unusual because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”
Williams said she never discussed the July 25 phone call with Vice President Mike Pence, and that a desire for investigations was not raised in the Sept. 1 meeting between Pence and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
She also declined to answer some questions in a public setting, offering to address them in a classified briefing.
Rep. Nunes attacks media but does not address Ukraine allegations
Updated at 9:42 a.m. ET
It wasn’t a new strategy to discredit the House Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, but Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, escalated attacks on the media in his opening remarks Tuesday.
Referring to last week’s public hearings, Nunes slammed news coverage as the “same preposterous reporting media offered for three years on the Russia hoax,” calling reporters “puppets of the Democratic Party.”
In another familiar attack line, he asked where the whistleblower, who initially prompted the opening of the inquiry, had gone.
“It’s as if the Democrats put the whistleblower in their own witness protection program,” he said.
He also sought to undermine the Democrats’ own rhetorical pivot, from describing the president’s actions not with the Latin phrase “quid pro quo,” but the more commonly understood “bribery” — which also happens to be explicitly listed in the Constitution as an impeachable offense.
In personal note, Vindman thanks father for fleeing Soviet Union
Updated at 9:37 a.m. ET
Sitting before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday in his full Army dress uniform, Vindman stressed that he reported his concerns about the requests out of a sense of duty.
“I privately reported my concerns, in official channels, to the proper authorities in the chain of command. My intent was to raise these concerns because they had significant national security implications for our country,” he said.
Vindman, who serves as the director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, ended his opening statement by thanking his father for choosing to flee the Soviet Union, noting that he could be killed in another country for raising such concerns.
“Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to 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.
A Capitol Hill staffer for the press gallery came around to the media tables to warn that Vindman’s identical twin brother, Yevgeny, would also be attending, in uniform, so that reporters would not confuse them.
Their family fled Ukraine when Vindman and his brother were 3 years old, and they were raised in Brooklyn. They both enlisted in the Army and are both serving on the National Security Council.
Vindman says Trump’s actions ‘had nothing to do with national security’
Updated at 9:37 a.m. ET
President Trump’s request that a foreign government investigate his political opponent was “improper,” Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told lawmakers in his opening statement as he appeared before the House impeachment inquiry.
“It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent,” Vindman said, according to a copy of his statement reviewed in advance.
Vindman, one of four witnesses testifying Tuesday, told lawmakers that he twice contacted the top lawyer for the National Security Council, John Eisenberg, with concerns upon hearing demands that Ukraine investigate Trump’s potential 2020 rival Joe Biden and unfounded theories that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Vindman told he was worried that an investigation by Ukraine “would be interpreted as a partisan play. This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermine U.S. national security and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region.”
Vindman also notified Eisenberg about a July 10 meeting at the White House with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Ukrainian officials in which Sondland said that the Ukrainian president would not be invited for a White House visit unless Ukraine conducted the investigations.
“I stated to Ambassador Sondland that this was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security,” Vindman said.
Hearing resumes Tuesday with four witnesses
Updated at 6 a.m. ET
Tuesday’s House impeachment inquiry hearings kick off a breakneck week of public testimony, with Democrats bringing in nine witnesses to testify before leaving Thursday for the Thanksgiving recess.
First up will be Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who said in his deposition that he repeatedly raised concerns in the White House about President Trump’s push on Ukraine for investigations into his political rivals during a July 25 phone call. Vindman was the first current White House official to give a deposition, and was one of the first witnesses to provide direct, firsthand confirmation of numerous details in an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint that first fueled the inquiry.
Alongside Vindman will be Jennifer Williams, a State Department Ukraine expert assigned to Vice President Mike Pence’s office. In her deposition, Williams testified that Trump’s request for specific investigations in the July 25 call struck her as “unusual and inappropriate” and “shed some light on possible other motivations” for Trump’s decision to freeze security aid to Ukraine.
Testifying in the afternoon is former Ambassador Kurt Volker and National Security Council official Tim Morrison, Trump’s top advisor for Russian and European affairs.
In his deposition, Volker spoke about how Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, pressed for a statement from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that employed former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, and into unfounded allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
“It was Mr. Giuliani who said, ‘If it doesn’t say Burisma and 2016, it’s not credible,’” Volker told lawmakers.
Like Vindman, Morrison told House investigators in his deposition that he immediately expressed concerns to National Security Council lawyers after the July 25 phone call, but he also told lawmakers that he did not believe anything illegal was discussed on the call.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee specifically requested that Volker and Morrison be brought in to publicly testify.
Times staff writer Jennifer Haberkorn in Washington contributed to this story.