7 key moments from today’s impeachment hearing

CBSN

For the first time, the House Intelligence Committee heard public testimony from witnesses who were on the July 25 call that prompted the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

On that call, which led to a whistleblower complaint, Mr. Trump urged Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running for president, and Biden’s son, Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. It is illegal to seek or accept foreign assistance in U.S. elections.

Tuesday morning’s witnesses were Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the director of European affairs at the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, who is Vice President Mike Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia.

Sarah Lynch and Caroline Cournoyer contributed to this report.

Here are some highlights from the hearing:

1. Schiff says Trump put his own interests “above those of the nation”

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

In his opening statement, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff condemned Mr. Trump for withholding aid and seemingly requesting Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens.

“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.

The witnesses’ closed-door testimonies, the chairman said, support this assertion.

“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 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 addressed a tweet on Sunday in which Mr. Trump attacked Williams, saying without evidence that she was a “Never Trumper” — an accusation the witnesses they each denied later in the hearing.

2. Nunes slams the media

Devin Nunes slams the media in opening statement

The committee’s top Republican, Devin Nunes, said little about the witnesses and instead began by criticizing the media.

Nunes compared media coverage of the impeachment inquiry to coverage of the Russia investigation, suggesting that the media’s performance during that investigation discredits its coverage of the impeachment inquiry.

Echoing Mr. Trump, who refers to traditional media outlets as “fake news,” Nunes said Americans have come to recognize “fake news” when they see it.

Nunes said the media are trying to “smother” and “dismiss” his questions, particularly regarding the whistleblower. Nunes said he wants to hear from the whistleblower directly. The whistleblower, whose identity is protected by federal law, has offered to answer Republicans’ written questions — but Republicans have rejected that idea.

Nunes also pushed the unfounded claim that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The Senate Intelligence Committee conc​luded that Russia interfered in the election to help Mr. Trump, and the U.S. intelligence community in 2017 assessed that Russia had meddled to aid Mr. Trump in the 2016 election, as well.

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

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

In her opening statement, Williams emphasized her career in foreign service and discussed Pence’s role in the withholding of aid to Ukraine.

She said that in May, she was told by a member of Mr. Trump’s staff that the president had decided Pence would not attend Zelensky’s inauguration.

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

Williams said that she found the July 25 call “unusual,” and that she prepared a brief for Pence about the call. But she did not know whether Pence ever read it and “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 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.

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

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

In his opening statement, Vindman describes Mr. Trump’s personal attorney 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.”

5. Vindman on July 25 call: “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing”

Vindman on July 25 call: “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing”

In reference to the July 25 call, Vindman said his first thought was: “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”

He said he felt “an element of shock” that his “worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out” and how it was “likely to have significant implications for U.S. national security.”

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

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

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” to mean opening investigations into Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that had employed Hunter Biden.

7. Williams and Vindman deny being “never-Trumpers”

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

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!”

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