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Two Senior U.S. Officials Describe Efforts To Press Ukraine For Biden Probes


Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia adviser, expressed concerns about U.S. officials' dealings with Ukraine.
Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia adviser, expressed concerns about U.S. officials' dealings with Ukraine.

Two senior figures in the U.S. administration have separately described efforts by U.S. officials to pressure Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son by withholding military aid and dangling a visit to the White House for the Ukrainian leader.

Chairpersons of the Democratic-led committees spearheading the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump on November 8 released another batch of transcripts from previous closed-door testimony ahead of planned public hearings next week.

In the latest transcripts, both Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia adviser, and Alexander Vindman, an Army officer assigned to the National Security Council (NSC), described their concerns that military aid and a potential White House invitation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had been linked to promises by Kyiv to investigate the Bidens.

Hill and Vindman said that in a July 10 meeting in the White House, Washington’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told Ukrainian officials that Trump would hold a meeting with Zelenskiy if they launched the investigations.

Vindman, a lieutenant colonel, said that "there was no ambiguity" that Sondland "was calling for something, calling for an investigation that didn’t exist into the Bidens and Burisma," referring to a Ukrainian gas company where Biden's son, Hunter, served on the board.

"My visceral reaction to what was being called for suggested that it was explicit," he added.

Vindman also testified that Sondland told the meeting that he was coordinating the probe request with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who is Trump's top aide as well as the director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

Democrats conducting the House inquiry subpoenaed Mulvaney on November 7, but he did not show up on November 8.

Hill, the former senior director for European and Russian affairs on the NSC, testified that she heard Sondland bring up Burisma at the same July 10 meeting, according to a transcript of her testimony.

Meanwhile, the former U.S. national security adviser, John Bolton, was "part of many relevant meetings and conversations" of interest to the impeachment inquiry that have not yet been made public, his lawyer said.

In a transcript of Hill’s interview, she described how Bolton had "immediately stiffened" when Sondland "blurted out" that he had worked out a trade with Mulvaney in which the Ukrainians would announce a probe of the Bidens in return for a White House visit.

Hill said Bolton later told her that "I am not part of whatever" activity Sondland and Mulvaney "are cooking up" and asked her to relay that message to a White House lawyer.

Bolton served as the U.S. president's national security adviser from April 2018 until Trump fired him on September 10. He has also been requested to appear before the House committees but he has so far resisted.

House Democrats are holding hearings that could lead to the impeachment of Trump over a 30-minute telephone call he had with Zelenskiy.

A memorandum about the phonecall written by White House notetakers and released by the Trump administration shows that the U.S. President specifically asked the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into the conduct of Biden and other Democrats at a time that he was withholding congressionally approved U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Democrats say asking a foreign power to target a U.S. political rival represents an abuse of power by Trump, who denies any wrongdoing.

The memorandum released by the White House was not a word-for-word transcript of the phone call.

Nevertheless, Trump has said that the White House will probably release a "second transcript" on November 12 of another phone call he had recently with Zelenskiy.

"We have another transcript coming out which is very important," Trump told reporters on November 9. "I will give you a second transcript, because I had two calls with the president of Ukraine."

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa
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