WASHINGTON -- U.S. Congressional Democrats said testimony given by a current White House official in a presidential impeachment inquiry “corroborated the central facts of the story we’ve heard,” whereas Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump, and his backers downplayed the witness’s remarks.
Alexander Vindman, an Army lieutenant colonel and director for European affairs at the National Security Council, appeared in uniform at a closed-door deposition on October 29 as part of an inquiry in the House of Representatives to determine whether Trump’s actions have constituted impeachable offenses.
Vindman is the only person to testify about who sat in on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during which Trump suggested that Kyiv investigate presidential hopeful Joe Biden and an energy company tied to his son, Hunter.
“I was concerned by the call,” Vindman said, according to his prepared remarks. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support to Ukraine.”
Born in Soviet Ukraine, Vindman came to the United States aged three in 1979 and is a 20-year military officer who since 2008 has served as a foreign area officer specializing in Eurasia that saw assignments in Moscow and Kyiv.
In July 2018, he entered the Trump White House to serve on the National Security Council.
Vindman’s testimony, according to Democratic lawmakers, added to evidence from other witnesses who verified the initial whistle-blower’s complaint against Trump and provided new details before the House votes on the impeachment probe.
"That's the story. There's not like a new headline out of all of these," Representative Tom Malinowski (Democrat-New Jersey) told AP. "Every single witness, from their own vantage point, has corroborated the central facts of the story we've heard."
"Every person has put it in higher resolution," said Representative Denny Heck (Democrat-Washington), during a break in the session.
Trump, a Republican, tweeted the same day decrying the inquiry as a “sham,” while calling Vindman a “Never Trumper.” Vindman was previously registered as a Democrat, according to voting records.
Some of the president’s allies downplayed Vindman’s testimony or questioned his loyalty to the United States.
Vindman’s patriotism was called into question, and some senior administration officials as cited by AP, said the national-security official had a “policy dispute” with the president over Ukraine.
Representative Sean Duffy (Republican-Wisconsin) said Vindman’s ties to Ukraine meant he has an “affinity” with the country so could skew his judgment.
At the time of the July 25 call, Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.
Vindman "is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense," Duffy said in a CNN interview. "I don't know about his concern [for] American policy, but his main mission was to make sure Ukraine got those weapons. I understand it: We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from.”
Other Republicans came to Vindman’s defense.
Representative Liz Cheney (Republican-Wyoming) said it was “shameful” to criticize his patriotism.
Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who worked with Vindman in Moscow, said the accusations were unwarranted.
Vindman "was 3 years old, for God's sake, and he was a Jewish émigré. That was a period of time when we were dedicated to religious freedom, trying to get ethnic Jews out of the Soviet Union," McFaul said. "The simplistic idea that he has loyalty to Ukraine is just insulting and naive, and I find it to be un-American."
Vindman has twice alerted the lead counsel of the National Security Council (NSC) over his concerns on U.S. policy toward Ukraine after the July 25 call.
In his first report, Vindman said he “was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”
He also alerted the NSC’s lawyer after a July 10 meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.
During that meeting, Sondland stressed the importance that Kyiv investigate the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Bidens, and Burisma, an energy firm where Hunter Biden was a board member.
“I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security,” Vindman said.