'Have you seen what Giuliani is saying now?' Trump aides air concern on Ukraine policy - impeachment probe latest




  • In Business
  • 2019-11-08 21:48:02Z
  • By USA TODAY
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\'Have you seen what Giuliani is saying now?\' Trump aides air concern on Ukraine policy - impeachment probe latest  

WASHINGTON - The transcripts of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Fiona Hill, two key witnesses in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

Vindman is a Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, is one of several officials who listened to Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25. Hill, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia, expressed concerns over the shadow Ukraine policy led by Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Also on Friday, Mulvaney defied a House subpoena Friday for closed-door testimony before the three committees investigating Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

Witnesses who testified earlier before the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform panels have placed Mulvaney at the middle of the controversy over the pressuring of Ukraine to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, while withholding of nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine.

Mark Sandy, the White House Office of Management and Budget's associate director for national security programs has also been summoned for testimony. But Acting OMB Director Russ Vought said his office won't be cooperating with the investigation.

Here is the latest in the impeachment inquiry today, including updates on what is Vindman and Hill's testimonies:

Jim Jordan moved to House Intelligence

In a move to bolster President Donald Trump's defense ahead of public impeachment hearings next week, House Republicans moved Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a close ally of the president, to the House Intelligence Committee.

Currently the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, Jordan has been a vocal defender of the president during the closed-door depositions. During State Department official George Kent's testimony, Jordan's opening statement assailed the "rushed, closed-door, unprecedented impeachment inquiry."

"Jim Jordan has been on the front lines in the fight for fairness and truth. His addition will ensure more accountability and transparency in this sham process," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in a statement announcing the appointment.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., stepped aside on the committee to make way for Jordan, as the House rules only allow for a certain number of Republicans to sit on the Intelligence Committee.

Hill says Ukraine election meddling was 'fiction'

"Because if you're also trying to peddle an alternative variation of whether the Ukrainians subverted our election, I don't want to be part of that, and I will not be part it," Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia, told Steve Castor, Rep. Jim Jordan's chief investigative counsel for the House Oversight Committee, in a deposition released Friday.

Castor questioned Hill about her knowledge of a January 11, 2017 Politico article which asserted Ukrainian operatives had attempted to sabotage Trump's campaign and influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, although as Hill pointed out several times during the line of questioning that she had joined the NSC on April 2017, three months following the article's publication.

Despite that, Castor asked Hill about the veracity of the article's claims.

"I'm trying to figure out whether this is just complete fiction that was pitched to a reporter and has been completely debunked based on information you have or whether there's any other explanation for this," Castor said.

"It is a fiction that the Ukrainian Government was launching an effort to upend our election, upend our election to mess with our Democratic systems," Hill said.

However, Castor continued, asking Hill whether it was possible that Ukrainian individuals could have had an interest in injecting information.

"I'm not sure where we're going with this line of inquiry here," Hill said, "Because if you're also trying to peddle an alternative variation of whether the Ukrainians subverted our election, I don't want to be part of that, and I will not be part of it."

Castor said he wasn't "trying to peddle anything" but "simply trying to understand the facts that are discounted or recounted in this story."

'Have you seen what Giuliani is saying now?'

Fiona Hill, who served as President Trump's adviser on Russia, confirmed that key administration officials were so in the dark about Rudy Giuliani's involvement in Ukraine that they learned what he was up to by watching his frequent appearances on television.

"Every single day, it seemed that he was on television, you know, basically spouting off, you know, one thing after another," Hill told House investigators.

Giuliani's television pronouncements clearly annoyed her.

"I worked extraordinarily long days, so the last thing I wanted to do when I went home was watch television," she said. "…Just to be kind of clear, I'm an omnivore when it comes to watching the news. But I would have to go home in the evening and try to look on the news to see what Giuliani was saying.

"And then I would have to go onto YouTube or whatever else I could find, you know, kind of replays of things because people were constantly saying to me: 'My, God, have you seen what Giuliani is saying now?'

"And it was clearly starting to create this, you know, meta-alternate narrative about Ukraine."

Hill said she grew increasingly concerned about the politicization of Ukraine, calling it "my worst nightmare."

Hill thought Mueller made a 'mistake' by focusing only on Trump

Hill told lawmakers she thought former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election should have focused on what Russia was doing to target Americans overall and that it was a "mistake" to narrow the scope to just the Trump campaign.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on several occasions pressed Hill on the so-called Steele dossier, an unverified 2016 document compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele alleging ties between Trump and the Kremlin

Hill said she believed Russians may have planted some disinformation that was included in the dossier, but said it was one of many pieces of kompromat, or compromising information on individuals, compiled on presidential candidates including Trump and Hillary Clinton. She emphasized the Russians wanted to cast doubt on whoever was elected to office.

When Jordan tried to say the dossier was used to target someone who just won an election, Hill pointed out it was compiled when Trump was a candidate - along with other kopromat compiled on U.S. presidential candidates.

"I would like to flag to make sure that we're all aware that everyone is a target because their goal was to discredit the Presidency. Whoever was elected President, they wanted to weaken them," she said. "So if Secretary Clinton had won, there would have been a cloud over her at this time if she was President Clinton."

Hill details Bolton's fury over planning of Trump-Zelensky meeting

Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia, told the House impeachment inquiry that former National Security Adviser John Bolton was furious with efforts to arrange a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for political investigations.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, met with Ukrainian officials July 10 in Bolton's office. At one point, Sondland, leaned over to speak toward the Ukrainians, with his back to Bolton, and said that a meeting had been scheduled, according to Hill.

"I mean, he was basically and you can imagine, you would all be annoyed as well that he was basically countermanding what Ambassador Bolton had just said," Hill testified.

Bolton then ended the meeting abruptly, but told Hill to participate in a subsequent meeting to determine plans between the countries going forward.

"And that's when Bolton was just, you know, I wouldn't say apoplectic, but pretty furious," Hill said.

Previous reports about Hill described how Bolton criticized the efforts that Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, guided to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens.

"He directly said: Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up," Hill said.

After the meeting, Bolton told Hill to report the incident to National Security Council lawyer John Eisenberg.

"You go and tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and (Acting Chief of Staff Mick) Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you've heard and what I've said," Hill quoted Bolton as saying.

'It doesn't take a rocket scientist'

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, said "it doesn't take a rocket scientist" to see why President Donald Trump would urge for a foreign government to investigate his political rival.

But Vindman said he was so concerned listening to the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that he reported it to his superiors, including John Eisenberg, the council's lawyer.

Vindman testified that if Ukraine pursued an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and the energy company where his son worked, Burisma, that "it would be interpreted as a partisan play, which undoubtedly would result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained."

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where the gain would be for the president in investigating the son of a political opponent," Vindman said.

Trump has insisted that the July 25 call was "perfect" and that he was justified in urging Ukraine to fight corruption. But the House is investigating whether the call and efforts to conceal the demands are worthy of impeachment.

But Vindman said he had "deep concerns" about the call.

"I thought this was wrong," Vindman said. "Frankly, any foreign power to advance its own national security interest could do whatever they think they need to, but in this case it was a concern about a call for a foreign power to investigate a U.S. citizen."

Vindman, Hill confronted Sondland over Ukraine meeting

Vindman described a meeting in Washington D.C. in which Oleksandr Danylyuk, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council for Ukraine, met with national security advisor John Bolton, ambassadors Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

The meeting went well, Vindman testified, until the Ukrainians brought up the subject of Zelensky meeting Trump.

"The Ukrainians saw this meeting as critically important in order to solidify the support for their most important international partner," Vindman said.

Sondland then began to speak about "Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with (Trump)," Vindman testified, at which point, "Bolton cut the meeting short."

In a debriefing following the meeting, Vindman testified he told Sondland "that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate the Bidens and his son had nothing to do with the national security, and that such investigations were not something that the NSC was going to get involved in or push."

Vindman said Fiona Hill entered the room shortly thereafter and also told Sondland "that his statements were inappropriate."

Following that debriefing, both Hill and Vindman reported their concerns to the NSC's lead legal counsel.

Bolton had a 'pained reaction' to the attacks on Yovanovitch

Hill told lawmakers that Bolton had concerns about Giuliani's role in former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch's ouster. Giuliani amplified claims that Yovanovitch was undermining the administration's Ukraine policy.

Hill said "there was no basis for removal. The accusations against her had no merit whatsoever." When asked if she had discussed the attacks on Yovanovitch with Bolton, Hill said he had a "pained reaction."

Vindman said he did not know the reasons for the attacks on Yovanovitch.

"I am unaware of any factual basis for the accusations against Ambassador Yovanovitch, and I am, frankly, unaware of any authoritative basis for Ukrainian interference in 2016 elections, based on my knowledge," Vindman said in his testimony of the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine published in op-eds and news media.

Vindman stressed allegiance to US

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman stressed his allegiance to the U.S. and his sense of duty, according to transcripts of his testimony released Friday.

At the beginning of his testimony, Vindman detailed his life as an immigrant, describing how his family fled the Soviet Union when he was 3 years old and landed in New York City. His father worked multiple jobs, while learning English at night, Vindman said, and "he stressed to us the importance of fully integrating into our adopted country."

"For many years, life was difficult. In spite of our challenging beginnings, my family worked to build its own American Dream. I have a deep appreciation for American value and ideals and the power of freedom. I am a patriot."

When Vindman's opening statement was released Oct. 29, his motives were questioned by some on the right, most notably former Rep. Sean Duffy.

"He has an affinity for the Ukraine. He speaks Ukrainian, he came from the country," Duffy, R-Wisconsin, said on CNN the following day.

But he was also defended. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the third-ranking House Republican, said after Duffy's comments that attacks on Vindman's patriotism were "shameful" and said Republicans "should not be involved" in the attacks.

Mulvaney fails to appear

Mulvaney did not appear on Friday morning for his testimony. The House Intelligence Committee had issued a subpoena on Thursday in an attempt to compel his testimony in Friday's deposition, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry.

One minute before Mulvaney was scheduled to testify Friday, his lawyer notified the committee that the White House directed him not to comply with the subpoena and that Mulvaney had "absolute immunity" from testifying, according to an official working on the inquiry.

Democratic lawmakers have dismissed absolute immunity, a protection for the executive branch from being compelled to testify before Congress that has been disputed in federal courts. Democratic lawmakers have said defiance of subpoenas could be considered for potential articles of impeachment as obstruction of Congress.

The Trump administration, however, has ignored the committee's subpoenas and instructed officials not to appear.

Trump addressed Mulvaney's non-appearance while speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.

"I don't want to give credibility to a corrupt witch hunt," he said. "I'd love to have Mick go up frankly."

Mulvaney's role

State Department official Catherine Croft had told members of Congress and staff on Oct. 30 that she had first learned of the withholding of security assistance during a July 18 video conference, where she was told Mulvaney had placed a hold on the security assistance. The reason she was given was that "the order came at the direction of the President."

Mulvaney said during an Oct. 17 press conference that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in order to encourage an investigation into U.S. domestic politics, though he later issued a statement saying there was no quid pro quo to provide aid in exchange for an investigation of the 2016 election.

Karen Pence: Second lady embraces bigger role on 2020 campaign trail

Bolton also failed to appear

The scheduled appearances come a day after former national security adviser John Bolton failed to appear for a scheduled meeting with the committees, though Jennifer Williams, a State Department staffer to Keith Kellogg, the national security adviser for Vice President Mike Pence, arrived under subpoena to testify.

The House Intelligence Committee said Bolton's lawyer informed the lawmakers that he would take the panel to court if it subpoenaed him, according to a committee official who requested anonymity to describe the situation. Three other National Security Council officials have testified under subpoena.

Impeachment witnesses: Who are the witnesses in the Trump impeachment inquiry and what have they said?

Contributing: David Jackson

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Live Trump impeachment probe updates: Aides air concerns on Giuliani

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