White House aides testify about “unusual” Ukraine call at hearing

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What to know about Tuesday’s impeachment hearings

  • The second week of the House impeachment hearings is underway, with two hearings on Tuesday.
  • Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council expert on Ukraine, said they found President Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine “unusual” and “improper.”
  • Two other officials — Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison — will testify in the afternoon.
  • Download the free CBS News app to stream live coverage of all the impeachment hearings.

Washington — Two top White House aides told the House Intelligence Committee they found the president’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine “improper” and “unusual.”

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council expert on Ukraine, and Jennifer Williams, an adviser on Russia and Europe to Vice President Mike Pence, both listened in on the call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine.

In the first of two hearings in the impeachment probe on Tuesday, Williams said she found the call “unusual” because “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.” Vindman said he reported his concerns to his superiors “out of a sense of duty.”

On several occasions, Republicans on the committee asked Vindman to disclose the name of an intelligence official with whom he discussed the call, an apparent effort to get Vindman to name the whistleblower whose complaint in August sparked the impeachment inquiry. Chairman Adam Schiff rebuffed those efforts, saying there “no effort to out the whistleblower” at the proceedings.

Both Vindman and Williams denied being “never-Trumpers,” as alleged by the president. Vindman said he would instead identify as “never-partisan.”

In the afternoon, the committee will hear testimony from Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison. Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, was heavily involved in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals. Morrison told lawmakers in earlier closed-door testimony that he was concerned that details of the president’s July call would become public, but didn’t think “anything illegal was discussed” in the conversation.

The afternoon session is expected to begin around 3 p.m., depending on the timing of votes on the House floor.


US-POLITICS-CONGRESS-TRUMP-IMPEACHMENT
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams are sworn in before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on November 19, 2019. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

​Hearing with Williams and Vindman adjourns

1:40 p.m.: The first hearing of the day wrapped up after more than four hours of testimony. The second hearing will get underway after a series of votes on the House floor.


​Vindman receives applause his family’s service

1:23 p.m.: Vindman received applause in the hearing room after speaking about his family’s military service. At the request of Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, Vindman reread a powerful portion of his opening statement in which he thanked his father for emigrating from the Soviet Union to the U.S.

“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.” Vindman said. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine for telling the truth.”

Vindman then talked about how he and his brothers have served in the U.S. military, following in the footsteps of their father, who served in his home country.

Maloney asked Vindman why he was so certain he wouldn’t have to worry about reprisals over his testimony.

“Because this is America. This is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served. And here, right matters,” Vindman said. — Grace Segers


​Vindman says he asked Nunes to call him by his rank because of attacks on his character

Stewart asks Vindman if he always insists civilians call him by his rank

12:29 p.m.: Republican Congressman Chris Stewart asked Vindman why he requested that Nunes refer to him as “lieutenant colonel” instead of “Mr.”

“Do you always insist on civilians calling you by your rank?” Stewart asked.

Vindman explained he felt it was important to be referred to by his rank because he felt “marginalized” as a member of the military due to attacks on his character on social media and in right-wing media outlets. — Grace Segers


Trump: “I don’t know Vindman at all”

12:25 p.m.: Speaking to reporters during a cabinet meeting, Mr. Trump dismissed Vindman’s testimony, saying he had never met Vindman.

“I don’t know him. I don’t know, as he says, ‘lieutenant colonel.’ I understand somebody had him the misfortune of calling him ‘Mr.’ and he corrected them. I never saw the man. I understand now he wears his uniform when he goes in. No, I don’t know Vindman at all,” Mr. Trump said, referring to when Vindman requested that Nunes refer to him as “lieutenant colonel.”

“I never heard of him. I don’t know any of these people. Other than I have seen one or two a couple of times, they’re ambassadors,” Mr. Trump said.

He also praised performance by Republican members of the committee, saying Republicans “are absolutely killing it.” — Grace Segers


​Vindman says he’s been excluded from important meetings since testifying

12:25 p.m.: Vindman said he has been excluded from some meetings where he would normally be a participant since reporting his concerns about the July 25 phone call. When asked if he believed this was a form of reprisal, Vindman demurred.

“I’m not sure I can make that judgment, I’m saying it was out of the course of normal affairs,” Vindman said. — Grace Segers


​Republicans question why Vindman didn’t bring concerns to Morrison

12:23 p.m.: Republican Congressman Brad Wenstrup grilled Vindman about why he reported his concerns about the July 25 phone call to John Eisenberg, the counsel for the National Security Council, instead of to his direct superior, Tim Morrison.

Morrison had testified in a closed hearing that he thought Vindman had violated the chain of command by going to the NSC legal counsel. Vindman has testified he followed procedure. Wenstrup did not ask any questions about the apparent disparity.

When questioned next by Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Vindman said Eisenberg had told him after the July 10 meeting to come to him directly with any concerns. He said Eisenberg was a more senior member of the NSC and he was not violating the chain of command.

Morrison is set to testify this afternoon. — Grace Segers


​Vindman acknowledges he’s never met the president

12:08 p.m.: Republican Congressman Mike Turner sought to diminish Vindman’s importance in the White House, noting that Vindman has never spoken to Mr. Trump. He also implicitly criticized Vindman for describing himself as a coordinator for Ukrainian policy, saying the secretary of state and other officials don’t report to him.

However, Vindman noted his position as policy coordinator meant he was in charge of facilitating cooperation between agencies about Ukraine policy, not that he was in charge of making it. — Grace Segers


​Williams and Vindman deny being “never-Trumpers”

Williams and Vindman say they don’t consider themselves “never-Trumpers”

11:51 a.m.: Democratic Representative Jim Himes asked Williams if she considers herself a “never-Trumper.” After saying she wasn’t sure she could even define the term — typically used to refer to Republicans who vowed to never support Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign — Williams said she does not consider herself a never-Trumper.

Himes posed the same question to Vindman.

“Representative, I’d call myself, ‘Never partisan,'” Vindman responded.

Over the weekend, the president attempted to discredit this week’s witnesses before they spoke publicly.

“Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released statement from Ukraine,” the president tweeted. “Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!” — Kathryn Watson


​Vindman responds to testimony doubting about his judgment

11:44 a.m.: Republican Congressman Jim Jordan began his questioning by challenging Vindman’s credibility, noting that in a closed hearing, his superior Tim Morrison questioned Vindman’s judgment and said there were concerns that Vindman had leaked information.

Vindman responded to Jordan’s line of questioning by quoting a review from his former supervisor, Fiona Hill, where Hill called him “brilliant” and in the top “1%” of Army officers. He also denied he had ever leaked information.

“I never did, never would. That is preposterous that I would do that,” Vindman said.

He said it was unclear why Morrison had raised concerns about him. — Grace Segers


​5-minute questioning rounds get underway

11:40 a.m.: After a short break, the hearing has entered rounds of five minutes of questioning, alternating between parties. Members can give their time to colleagues or staff counsel.

Here is the expected order of questioning:

  • Adam Schiff, Democrat of California
  • Devin Nunes, Republican of California
  • Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut
  • Mike Conaway, Republican of Texas
  • Terri Sewell, Democrat of Alabama
  • Michael Turner, Republican of Ohio
  • Andre Carson, Democrat of Indiana
  • Brad Wenstrup, Republican of Ohio
  • Jackie Speier, Democrat of California
  • Chris Stewart, Republican of Utah
  • Mike Quigley, Democrat of Illinois
  • Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York
  • Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California
  • Will Hurd, Republican of Texas
  • Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas
  • John Ratcliffe, Republican of Texas
  • Denny Heck, Democrat of Washington
  • Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio
  • Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont
  • Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York
  • Val Demings, Democrat of Florida
  • Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois

​Vindman says he turned down offer to be Ukrainian defense minister

Vindman says Ukrainian officials offered him defense minister position

11:11 a.m.: Republican counsel Steve Castor asked Vindman about an interaction with a top security official in Ukraine, who offered him the position of defense minister when Vindman was in the country for the inauguration of Zelensky. Vindman said he was asked three times and he turned down the offer unequivocally each time.

“I am an American,” Vindman said, adding that “the whole notion is rather comical.” He said he “did not open the door at all” to the foreign minister’s offer.

Castor asked if he was concerned the offer could be seen as a conflict of interest. Vindman said he was more concerned about the opinion of his superiors in the National Security Council than anyone else.

“Frankly, if they were concerned about me being able to do my duties, they would have brought it up,” Vindman said. — Grace Segers


​Nunes pushes Vindman to disclose who he told about July 25 call

Schiff interrupts Nunes’ questioning to make sure there is “no effort to out the whistleblower”

10:53 a.m.: Nunes asked Vindman to identify other officials with whom he discussed the call, an apparent attempt to get Vindman to name the whistleblower. Vindman said he spoke with two people, one of whom was a State Department official. He declined to name the second one, saying only it was a member of the intelligence community.

“I do not know who the whistleblower is,” Vindman said, adding he was not answering specific questions about members of the intelligence community under the advice of his counsel. “What I can offer is that these were properly cleared individuals — properly cleared individual with a need to know.”

Schiff interrupted Nunes when he insisted Vindman name the second official. Schiff said there would be “no effort to out the whistleblower” at the hearing.

Nunes said Vindman could either say who he spoke with or plead the Fifth Amendment. Vindman’s counsel interjected, saying he was simply following the instructions of the chairman not to take any action which could reveal the whistleblower.

“This not call for an answer that is invoking the Fifth,” Vindman’s counsel said. “He’s going to follow the ruling of the chair.” — Grace Segers

​Nunes presses witnesses on whether they know anyone who discussed call with the media

10:36 a.m.: Nunes began his questioning by addressing what the witnesses know about the Bidens and Burisma, in what he called an attempt to establish a handful of facts.

He then asked Vindman and Williams if they ever discussed the July 25 phone call with anyone in the press, listing media outlets by name. When Vindman and Williams said they had not, Nunes pressed them on whether anyone they knew discussed the call with anyone in the media.

Nunes and other Trump allies have been pushing for the identity of the whistleblower. — Kathryn Watson


​Vindman discusses July 10 meetings with Sondland and Ukrainian officials

10:25 a.m.: Vindman discussed concerns he had about the July 10 meeting where Sondland indicated to Ukrainian officials that Ukraine needed to open investigations in order to get a meeting with the White House. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton abruptly cut the meeting short.

In a follow-up meeting, Vindman said Sondland brought up investigations again to Ukrainian officials. Vindman registered his concern with this request.

“I said that the request to conduct these meetings were inappropriate, these investigations were inappropriate, and had nothing to do with national security,” Vindman said.

Vindman then reported his concerns to John Eisenberg, the legal adviser for the National Security Council. — Grace Segers


​Vindman says decision to secure July 25 call summary was made “on the fly”

​Vindman discusses handling of July 25 call summary

10:19 a.m.: Vindman testified he didn’t find it “nefarious” that the summary of the president’s July 25 call with Zelensky was placed in a separate, secure server to prevent leaks and limit access to the call record.

Such a move wasn’t unprecedented, Vindman said, and NSC lawyers determined the call was sensitive enough to warrant the move. — Kathryn Watson


​Vindman says Zelensky seemed ready to discuss investigations on July 25 call

10:13 a.m.: Vindman testified that Zelensky appeared to have been prepared to discuss opening investigations before the July 25 call.

The Democratic counsel leading questioning then showed an image of a July 25 text conversation between Kurt Volker and Zelensky adviser Andriy Yermak shortly before the call, in which Volker told Yermak the White House would be willing to set a meeting at the White House if Zelensky convinced Mr. Trump he would pursue investigations. Vindman said it was possible that Zelensky saw the text to Yermak before the call.

Vindman highlighted the importance of a White House meeting between Mr. Trump and Zelensky, saying it would provide Zelensky, a new president, with legitimacy in his own country, and demonstrate the close relationship between Ukraine and the U.S. — Grace Segers


​Vindman says request to investigate political opponent was “inappropriate” and “improper”

10:07 a.m.: Vindman made it clear he interpreted Mr. Trump’s apparent suggestion to Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden as “inappropriate” and “improper.”

Williams, too, interpreted the president’s request as political in nature.

“The reference to Biden sounded political to me,” said Williams, who testified she found the call unusual because it entailed domestic politics. Williams said she’s listened to roughly a dozen calls between presidents and foreign leaders, none of which were like this one. — Kathryn Watson


​Vindman says exclusion of the word “Burisma” from July 25 call summary was “not a significant omission”

10:00 a.m.: Vindman, who reviewed the memo summarizing the July 25 call and provided some edits which were not included, said he did not believe it was “significant” that the word “Burisma” was excluded from the memo. The summary uses the word “company” in the place of “Burisma.”

However, Vindman chalked this disparity up to a simple error, or the transcribers not catching the word.

“It’s not a significant omission,” Vindman said. “The folks that produce these transcripts do the best they can.” — Grace Segers


​Vindman: Sondland told Ukrainians “deliverables” were needed for White House meeting

Vindman: Sondland said Ukranians would need “deliverable” to get White House meeting

9:57 a.m.: Vindman said Sondland told Ukrainian officials in a July 10 meeting that Ukraine would have to provide “deliverables” in order to get a White House meeting between Zelensky and Mr. Trump. Vindman understood “deliverables” meant opening investigations into the Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that had employed Hunter Biden.

Speaking about the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Zelensky, Vindman said he knew immediately that he should report his concerns about the call.

“Without hesitation, I knew that I had to report this to the White House counsel. I had concerns and it was my duty to report my concerns to the proper people in the chain of command,” Vindman said. “It was inappropriate, it was improper for the president to request — to demand — an investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power where there is at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation.”

Vindman said that these investigations would be seen as “a completely partisan play” and would “undermine our national security.” — Grace Segers


​Vindman says he learned outside “actors” were promoting investigations

9:47 a.m.: Kicking off questioning, Schiff asked Williams and Vindman about their knowledge of events regarding Ukraine over the last few months. Williams testified she came to understand the president told Pence not to attend Zelensky’s inauguration, although the reason was unclear to her.

Vindman testified he began to understand in spring that “actors” outside of normal channels were pushing for Ukraine to announced investigations related to the Bidens. Vindman said he advised Zelensky after his inauguration to “be particularly cautious with regards to Russia, and its desire to provoke Ukraine,” as well as to “stay out of U.S. domestic politics.” — Kathryn Watson


​Vindman says he reported concerns “out of a sense of duty”

Alexander Vindman says he reported concerns “out of a sense of duty”

9:37 a.m.: In his opening statement, Vindman describes Rudy Giuliani and Yuiry Lutsenko, the former prosecutor general in Ukraine, as “two disruptive actors” who were “promoting false information that undermined the United States’ Ukraine policy.”

“The NSC and its inter-agency partners, including the State Department, grew increasingly concerned about the impact that such information was having on our country’s ability to achieve our national security objectives,” he wrote in his prepared remarks.

He described participating in a meeting at the White House on July 10 with Ukraine’s national security adviser, which was cut short when U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland raised the issue of investigations.

“[White House national security adviser John] Bolton cut the meeting short when Ambassador Sondland started to speak about the requirement that Ukraine deliver specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with President Trump,” Vindman said.

He said he found the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Zelensky “improper” and reported his concerns to the top lawyer at the NSC, John Eisenberg, “out of a sense of duty.” Vindman is an active duty military officer detailed to the NSC.

“Following each of my reports to Mr. Eisenberg, I immediately returned to work to advance the President’s and our country’s foreign policy objectives,” he said. “I focused on what I have done throughout my career, promoting America’s national security interests.” — Stefan Becket


​Williams, in opening statement, says she found July 25 call “unusual”

​Jennifer Williams says she found Trump’s July 25 call “unusual”

9:32 a.m.: In her opening statement, Pence adviser Jennifer Williams emphasized her career in foreign service and discussed Pence’s role in the withholding of aid to Ukraine.

“I have served overseas tours in Kingston, Jamaica; Beirut, Lebanon; and London, United

Kingdom. I have worked to implement humanitarian assistance programs to millions of victims

of the Syria conflict, and served as an advisor on Middle East issues to the Deputy Secretary of

State,” Williams said, outlining her long career similarly to how former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch did in her open statement on Friday. “And this spring, it was the greatest honor of my career to be asked to serve as a Special Advisor to the Vice President for Europe and Russia.”

Williams briefly sketched out Pence’s relationship with Zelensky, including when she was told in May by a member of Mr. Trump’s staff that the president had decided Pence would not attend Zelensky’s inauguration.

Williams said that she learned of the hold on assistance to Ukraine in early July, and of its release on September 11, but said that she “never learned what prompted that decision.”

Williams, who participated in the July 25 call, also said that she found the call “unusual,” and that she prepared a brief for Pence about the call, but she did not know whether Pence ever read the memo summarizing the transcript of the call.

“I did not discuss the July 25 call with the Vice President or any of my colleagues in the Office of the Vice President or the NSC,” Williams said.

Williams said that during Pence’s meeting with Zelensky on September 1, Pence told Zelensky that Ukraine had the full support of the United States. She said the July 25 call was not mentioned. — Grace Segers


​Nunes begins by blasting the media

Devin Nunes slams the media in opening statement

9:29 a.m.: Top committee Republican Devin Nunes said little about Tuesday’s witnesses, and instead began by criticizing the media and its coverage of last week’s hearings, testimony he dismissed as second- or third-hand. Nunes compared media coverage of the impeachment inquiry to coverage of the Russia investigation, suggesting the media’s performance during that investigation discredits its coverage of the impeachment inquiry.

Nunes said the media are trying to “smother” and “dismiss” his questions, particularly regarding the whistleblower. Nunes said he wants to know the full extent of the whistleblower’s coordination, and hear from the whistleblower directly. Nunes said he also wants to know the whistleblower’s political connections, contact with the media and sources of the whistleblower’s information. The whistleblower, Nunes said, has disappeared from the storyline, like Democrats put the whistleblower in a “witness protection program.”

Nunes also pushed the idea that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Americans, Nunes said, have come to recognize “fake news” when they see it. — Kathryn Watson


​Schiff says Trump put own interests “above those of the nation”

Adam ​Schiff says Trump put his interests “above those of the nation”

9:19 a.m.: In his opening statement, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff condemned Mr. Trump for withholding aid and seemingly requesting Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and Hunter Biden on the July 25 phone call.

“To press a foreign leader to announce an investigation into a political rival, President Trump put his own political and personal interests above the nation,” Schiff said.

He also highlighted the long careers of service by both witnesses. Vindman and Williams both participated in the July 25 call.

“Vindman testified that due to the unequal bargaining position of the two leaders and Ukraine’s dependency on the U.S., the favor Trump asked of Zelensky was really a demand,” Schiff said about Vindman’s testimony in a closed hearing last month.

“For her part, Williams also believed that asking Zelensky to undertake these political investigations was inappropriate, and that it might explain something else she had become aware of — the otherwise inexplicable hold on U.S. military assistance to Ukraine,” Schiff said about Williams’ previous testimony.

Schiff also referred to a tweet on Sunday where Mr. Trump attacked Williams, saying without evidence that she was a “Never Trumper.” — Grace Segers


​Vindman and Williams arrive on Capitol Hill

Trump Impeachment
Alexander Vindman arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, November 19, 2019. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

8:32 a.m.: Vindman arrived, in uniform, on Capitol Hill roughly half an hour before his scheduled testimony. Williams arrived shortly behind him. — Kathryn Watson


​How Tuesday’s hearings will play out

8:00 a.m.: Tuesday’s proceedings will follow the same format as the previous two, and adhere to the rules adopted by the full House several weeks ago.

At the beginning of each hearing, Chairman Adam Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes will deliver opening statements. The witnesses will then be sworn in and allowed to read a statement of her own.

Schiff and Nunes will then each control a period of 45 minutes, when they can ask questions or delegate to staff members to do so. Last week, Schiff turned to Daniel Goldman, senior adviser and director of investigations on the committee, to ask question the witnesses. Nunes designated Steve Castor, the general counsel for the Republican minority on the House Oversight Committee.

After that, the hearing will move to questioning from individual members, alternating periods of five minutes between both parties. Schiff can add additional rounds at his discretion.

Witnesses can also request breaks in questioning if needed. — Stefan Becket

Who is Alexander Vindman?

5:45 a.m.: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman will be the first witness to testify who was on the line for Mr. Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, which prompted the initial whistleblower complaint. A Defense Department employee, he is currently the director for European affairs on the National Security Council (NSC).

He was so alarmed by the July 25 call that he reported his concerns to the top lawyer in the NSC, according to closed-door testimony he gave last month. He told lawmakers he “did not think it was proper” for the president to insist that Zelensky investigate Joe and Hunter Biden because “it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play, which would … undermine U.S. national security.” Joe Biden is one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Vindman also said the official summary of the call was missing portions of what Mr. Trump said about the Bidens.

Vindman also testified about a pivotal meeting he attended on July 10 with Ukrainian officials at the White House, in which Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, pressed them to investigate the Bidens “in order to secure the meeting with the president.” Vindman said “the request to investigate the Bidens and his son had nothing to do with national security” and wouldn’t be pursued by the NSC.

The national security adviser at the time, John Bolton, was so mad that he cut the meeting short. — Caroline Cournoyer


Who is Jennifer Williams?

Trump Impeachment
Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, arrives for a closed-door interview in the impeachment inquiry at the Capitol on Thursday, November 7, 2019. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Jennifer Williams is Vice President Mike Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia. She was also on the July 25 call, and testified to the House behind closed doors on November 7.

According to the transcript, Williams testified that Pence never discussed opening any investigations with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine. Pence and Zelensky met on September 1.

“I would say that, as I’ve spoken about earlier, that I did find a couple of the references in the President’s July 25th call unusual, and more of a political nature, and that is not something that the vice president has ever raised with the Ukrainians,” Williams said.

Read her earlier testimony here.


How to watch Tuesday’s impeachment hearings

  • Date: Tuesday, November 19, 2019
  • Time: First hearing begins at 9 a.m. ET; second hearing around 3 p.m. ET
  • Who: Jennifer Williams, Alexander Vindman, Kurt Volker, Tim Morrison
  • Online stream: CBSN, in the player above and on your mobile or streaming device
  • On TV: Your local CBS station

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