What we learned from public testimony of officials on Trump’s July 25 call

What we learned from public testimony of officials on Trump’s July 25 call

AMNA NAWAZ: The third day of public impeachment
hearings brings four witnesses before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. For the first time, we hear testimony from
individuals on the call between President Trump and Ukraine’s leader at the center of
the inquiry. Again, we see criticism of a witness as they
testify, this time from the official White House Twitter account. There is a lot to unpack. And here to break it down and look at the
highlights and why they matter, our Lisa Desjardins. She is at the Capitol and was in the hearing
room today. Yamiche Alcindor is at the White House. And Nick Schifrin is with me at the table
now. Lisa, I want to turn to you first, because
those first witnesses we heard from today were both on that call in July between President
Trump and President Zelensky. It prompted the whistle-blower’s report in
the first place. Let’s just take a quick listen to what those
witness, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, had to say about that
call. LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, Director for European Affairs,
National Security Council: I was concerned by the call. What I heard was inappropriate, and I reported
my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg. It is improper for the president of the United
States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent. I was also clear that, if Ukraine pursued
an investigation — it was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the
2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play. This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing
bipartisan support, undermining the U.S. national security, and advancing Russia’s strategic
objectives in the region. I want to emphasize to the committee that,
when I reported my concerns on July 10 relating to Ambassador Sondland, and on July 25 relating
to the president, I did so out of a sense of duty. DANIEL GOLDMAN, Democratic Counsel: Approximately
how many calls between the president — the president of the United States and foreign
leaders had you listened to? JENNIFER WILLIAMS, Russia Adviser to Vice
President Pence: I would say roughly a dozen. DANIEL GOLDMAN: Had you ever heard a call
like this? JENNIFER WILLIAMS: As I testified before,
I believe what I found unusual or different about this call was the president’s reference
to specific investigations. And that struck me as different than other
calls I had listened to. DANIEL GOLDMAN: You testified that you thought
it was political in nature. Why did you think that? JENNIFER WILLIAMS: I thought that the references
to specific individuals and investigations, such as former Vice President Biden and his
son, struck me as political in nature, given that the former vice president is a political
opponent of the president. AMNA NAWAZ: Lisa, you were in the hearing
room while those moments unfolded. We should also mention Lieutenant Colonel
Vindman is on the National Security Council staff. Jennifer Williams is an aide to Vice President
Pence. These — both of these witnesses, Lisa, were
called by Democrats. Why? What’s the case Democrats are making there? LISA DESJARDINS: Today, Democrats are trying
to focus on what they see as a central piece of evidence here, Amna, the phone call from
President Trump to President Zelensky of the Ukraine in July. And, here, they have first two people we have
heard from publicly who listened in on that call in real time. And what’s more, Democrats’ point here is,
both of these officials, who were not politically appointed, had immediate concerns. Democrats also have raised today throughout
the hearings with Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and with another witness, Tim Morrison, who
we will talk about more later, that those individuals raised their concerns up the chain
very quickly, that they felt there were so serious. And, Amna, really important part of that sound
that you just played, Jennifer Williams’ conclusion that this was political, because it’s not
just about the president asking for investigations. It’s about his motivations. And there you have a professional staffer,
who herself is trying not to be political, say, that she felt, when the Bidens were mentioned,
it was political, because it was an opponent of the president. That is the core of the case that Democrats
are trying to make for impeachment. And, today, they were trying to connect those
dots and make it real with the officials who heard it as it happened. AMNA NAWAZ: And that brings us to Yamiche
over at the White House. Yamiche, both of those witnesses testified
they had concerns about the president’s behavior on that call. What does this mean for the White House? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, this is problematic
for the White House, because, before today, Republicans and the president were making
the case that these were not people coming before Congress that were actually on the
call that had concerns. Today changed that. These were people who had heard President
Trump on the — on phone calls with other foreign leaders and felt that the July 25
phone call between him and the president of Ukraine was unusual and improper. That other, also, thing that’s problematic
is, the White House has basically had the stance that no one should come before Congress. Instead, you have these two people who currently
still work at the White House come before Congress to air their grievances. The other thing to note is, the president
has been attacking both of these individuals. He’s been saying that they were never-Trumpers. But both of them came and said, we are essentially
apolitical. We are not here for one party or another. Instead, we’re here out of a sense of duty. That’s different than what President Trump
is saying. He also said that he thought Republicans did
very well when it came to questioning these witnesses. So, the president is pushing back on this
narrative that Democrats really feel like they have, in these two individuals, star
witnesses, people who can really tell the story from a firsthand account. AMNA NAWAZ: And for anyone who wasn’t able
to follow along with the day’s proceedings, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman actually began
the day by including much of his personal story in his opening statement. Nick Schifrin here with me. I want to ask you about this in a moment. We should point out Vindman was featured in
a Ken Burns documentary at one point. His family’s story were — was, rather. Let’s just take a listen to part of that documentary
and then hear what Lieutenant Colonel Vindman had to say this morning. CHILD: We came from Kiev. And then we went to… CHILD: Our mother died, so we went to Italy. Then we came here. LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN: When my father was 47 years
old, he left behind his entire life and the only home he had ever known to start over
in the United States, so his three sons could have better and safer lives. His courageous decision inspired a deep sense
of gratitude IN my brothers and myself and instilled in us a sense of duty and service. All three of us have served or are currently
serving in the military. My little brother is behind me here today. I — our collective military service is a
special part of our family’s history, story in America. I also recognize that my simple act of appearing
here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before
this committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world. In Russia, my act of expressing concern to
the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional
repercussions. And offering public testimony involving the
president would surely cost me my life. I’m grateful to my father’s — for my father’s
brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and
public servant, where I can live free, and free of fear for mine and my family’s safety. Dad, I’m sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol. Talking to our elected professionals — talking
to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to
leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America, in search of a better
life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth. AMNA NAWAZ: Nick, it was an incredibly compelling
moment, incredibly compelling piece of testimony, really personal. Who is Lieutenant Colonel Vindman? What do we know about him? NICK SCHIFRIN: He and his brother, as we saw
in that Ken Burns documentary, and the other brother, who we didn’t see in the documentary,
are Jewish immigrants from Ukraine from the former Soviet Union. And the father that he mentions there came
to the United States with $700 in cash and nothing else, and has seen his sons grow into
members of the National Security Council staff. Currently, Vindman is lieutenant colonel,
a foreign area officer in the Army. It’s basically equivalent of an Army diplomat,
or the closest thing that the Army has to diplomats. They have area expertise or country expertise. In Vindman’s case, of course, it’s Ukraine
and Russia. These people are groomed to be defense attaches,
groomed to serve in embassies. And Vindman has served in both Kiev and Moscow. And that goes to some of the requirements
for these foreign area officers, which is language. Vindman speaks both Ukrainian and Russian. And the military is proud to have these people. They find — the military finds that these
people are incredibly important, the language, the area expertise, and they groom them to
really be stars within the military. And Secretary Esper, the defense secretary,
recently came out to defend Vindman. There’s some concern that Vindman would speak
out against the president. He used very specific language, very critical
language of the president. Secretary Esper recently said that Vindman
shouldn’t have any fear of rejection at all. So, the military really defending him. And later, in his testimony, Vindman was asked,
why are you willing to criticize the commander in chief, the most powerful man in the world? And why did you tell your dad not to worry? His simple answer: This is America. This is a place where I can speak out and
even criticize the president. AMNA NAWAZ: It’s striking, the secretary — to
say he will be fine for testifying in this way, which brings me to Yamiche back at the
White House. You have got some additional reporting around
this, Yamiche, I’d love for you to share here. Are there concerns about any fallout, any
repercussions for Lieutenant Colonel Vindman for speaking as forcefully and clearly as
he did today? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Sources close to Lieutenant
Colonel Vindman told me that an official, high-ranking official from the Army has actually
called his family and reassured them that Lieutenant Colonel Vindman will not face any
sort of retaliation. And that’s important to note, because Army
Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is actually essentially deployed to the White House. This is an Army assignment for him. He’s not someone who came and worked for the
White House as a political appointee. But, rather, this is in some ways — this
is in some ways his — part of his service as an Army officer. And as a result, this is a sort of deployment
to him. So, when you think about that, it’s — the
Army is feeling under so much pressure that they want to make sure they reach out to him
and say, look, in your time where you think that you’re doing what’s best for your country,
where you’re putting yourself out there and testifying publicly, we want you to know that
we have your back. That’s incredibly important. I think it’s also important that we — to
note that Vindman put his story as an immigrant, his family’s story as an American story, at
the center of his testimony today. And there are critics of the president who
say this is a president who has had real issues when it comes to immigration, who has, in
some ways, people think, challenged the very idea of America welcoming immigrants from
all parts of the world. And now you have a lieutenant Army colonel
coming before Congress and saying, as — this is my duty as an American to come forward
and tell you that I have concerns with the president of the United States. I can’t underscore enough how important that
is and also how important it is that the Army wanted to make sure that he knew that they
— that they — that military service, that military agency has his back. That’s — that’s incredibly important here. AMNA NAWAZ: Yamiche, at the same time, it’s
worth noting that he took some tough questions from Republican members of Congress today. Let’s just play a quick exchange, show some
of those questions that Lieutenant Colonel Vindman faced. And I’d like to ask you about them on the
back end. REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): Lieutenant Colonel Vindman,
I see you’re wearing your dress uniform, knowing that’s not the uniform of the day, that you
normally wear a suit to the White House. I think it’s a great reminder of your military
service. I too come from a military family. These are my father’s Air Force wings. He was a pilot in World War II. Five of his sons served in the military. So, as one military family to another, thank
you and your brothers for your service, your example here. Very quickly, I’m curious. When Ranking Member Nunes referred to you
as Mr. Vindman, you quickly corrected him and wanted to be called Lieutenant Colonel
Vindman. Do you always insist on civilians on calling
you by your rank? LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN: Mr. Stewart, Representative
Stewart, I am in uniform wearing my military rank. I just thought it was appropriate to stick
with that. REP. CHRIS STEWART: Well, I assure you he meant
no disrespect. (CROSSTALK) LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN: I don’t believe he did. But the attacks that I have had in the press,
in Twitter have kind of eliminated the fact — either marginalizing me as a military officer
or… (CROSSTALK) REP. CHRIS STEWART: Listen, I just — I’m just
telling you that the ranking member meant no disrespect to you. LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN: I believe that. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
I don’t know him. I don’t know, as he says, the lieutenant colonel. I understood somebody had 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. What I do know is that even he said that the
transcript was correct. AMNA NAWAZ: Yamiche, that, of course, was
President Trump when he was asked about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman in a Cabinet meeting earlier
today. What did you make of the way the president
and the White House responded to his testimony? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, the president was
really trying to put some distance between him and Army Colonel Vindman — Army Lieutenant
Colonel Vindman. But let’s remember that the president has
been lashing out at Vindman. He’s been saying that he’s a never-Trumper. So, he was really attacking his character. We saw the official White House Twitter account
go after Vindman, quoting his superiors saying that he had concerns about his judgment, though,
when Vindman was asked specifically about that, he said: Actually, I have a evaluation
from work that says that I’m actually a very good Army officer, and that I actually have
good remarks. But the White House didn’t acknowledge that. Instead, the president went after him. And Republicans largely didn’t go after Vindman’s
character today. But the president has been very consistent
in the fact that he’s been going after him. And I think what the president was doing today
was essentially saying, look, I understand that he might be in the Army, but I also think
that he was nitpicking a bit there. So you saw the president trying to, in some
ways, walk a fine line by saying, I don’t really know him. But, in fact, the president has been tweeting
over the last couple of days and even weeks that he is essentially very angry at Vindman
and wanted to disparage his character. AMNA NAWAZ: Lisa, take us back inside the
hearing room now. Republicans spent a lot of time questioning
Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. Talk to me about their strategy in the moment. What was it you think they were working towards
in that line of questioning? LISA DESJARDINS: I think Republicans know
that Lieutenant Colonel Vindman feels strongly and that he is — has some very sincere beliefs
there. But they wanted to question his credibility
on a number of levels. And I think part of that was, talking to one
Republican lawmaker, thinking this might be a staffer who just went overboard in his theory. They raised questions about how his co-workers
have seen him in the past. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was ready for that. He brought a — brought one of his own past
evaluations. But I think, for Democrats, they have always
seen Vindman’s testimony as some of the strongest. So it was important for Republicans to say,
hey, wait a minute. Not only is this someone that we’re going
to question his credibility, but they also question his function in the White House,
bringing up that he, for example, has never personally met with the president. Vindman also countered that and said, yes,
but I have prepared many documents for him. I am, of course, staffer to him. But Republicans, again, are trying to show
this is not the direct link that Democrats say it is. That is part of the debate that they’re having. AMNA NAWAZ: Lisa, there was another particularly
tense moment in the back and forth there in Republicans’ questioning of Lieutenant Colonel
Vindman, when it looked like they were getting towards the identity of the whistle-blower. Chairman Schiff actually had to intervene
at one point and try to straighten things out. Explain to us what happened in the moment
and why it’s important. LISA DESJARDINS: That’s exactly right. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is thought by many
to be a person who probably briefed the whistle-blower. This is because we know the whistle-blower,
from their own complaint, was not actually on the original call with President Zelensky
and Trump, but instead heard about it from someone else. We know that the Lieutenant Colonel Vindman
did brief others. And the idea from Republicans is, they say
they want to know who the whistle-blower is because they question whether the whistle-blower
is biased. Democrats say, no, Republicans just want to
out this person for political reasons. Whatever the rationale is, Republicans today
were going down the road of asking Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, who is it that you spoke
to about this? Who did you brief? That is information Democrats believe could
reveal the whistle-blower. Vindman says he himself does not know who
the whistle-blower is. But he didn’t say whether he has suspicions
of who it could be. He did say he’s following guidance of the
committee to not talk about this, as per Chairman Schiff’s rules. That’s something that Republicans object to. AMNA NAWAZ: That, of course, was the testimony
from this morning’s panel. Nick, this afternoon, we saw two new witnesses,
one of whom, Ambassador Kurt — Kurt Volker, rather, had a few things to say about the
Bidens and also about the Ukrainian company that Hunter Biden served on the board of. That is Burisma. Let’s take a listen to what he had to say. KURT VOLKER, Former U.S. Special Representative
for Ukraine: There is a history of corruption in Ukraine. There’s a history with the company of Burisma. It’s been investigated. That is well-known. There is a separate allegation about the vice
president acting inappropriately. His son was a board member of this company. But those things I saw as completely distinct. And what I was trying to do in working with
the Ukrainians was to thread a needle, to see whether things that they can do that are
appropriate and reasonable as part of Ukraine’s own policy of fighting corruption that helped
clarify for our president that they are committed to that very — that very effort. If there’s a way to thread that needle, I
thought it was worth the effort to try to solve that problem. As it turns out, I now understand that most
of the other people didn’t see or didn’t consider this distinction, that, for them, it was synonymous. AMNA NAWAZ: Nick, we heard Ambassador Volker
say that a few times, this threading the needle idea. What did you make of his testimony? NICK SCHIFRIN: This is the story of the failure
of traditional diplomacy and the triumph of the irregular policy when it comes to Ukraine. So, he tries to distinguish between Burisma
and Biden. So, let’s do that for a second. Burisma, the largest energy company in Ukraine,
notoriously corrupt. After 2014, when the Brits and the Americans
moved into Ukraine and tried to help with corruption in Ukraine, the very first company
that the Brits investigated was Burisma. And there was a Ukrainian investigation into
Burisma that got stopped. And so that leaves us with Burisma. Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was on the
board of Burisma while the vice president was working on Ukraine policy. And we have — we have heard that a lot from
Republicans. What Trump is — or what Ambassador Volker
is trying to say is that he thought that the Ukrainians should investigate Burisma and
investigate the Ukrainians on Burisma. What the president was trying to do is investigate
Burisma in order to investigate Hunter Biden and Joe Biden. It is the difference between the Trump administration
policy of investigating corruption in Ukraine and President Trump’s own policy when it comes
to who to investigate in Ukraine in terms of corruption. And Volker admitted today for the first time
that he failed, that he said, in hindsight, he should have realized that other people
weren’t making the distinction and that, for other people, Burisma meant Biden, because
the single person that he failed to convince was President Trump. He finally admitted that President Trump did
not make that distinguishing, and that he should have, and he would have done policy
different. Of course, the story of why we’re here is
that that distinguishing point was never made for President Trump, and he didn’t believe
in it. AMNA NAWAZ: A fascinating revelation to hear. Of course, that was one piece of testimony
from one witness. The other, Lisa, I want to ask you about was
Tim Morrison. He was the former senior director for Russia
and Europe on the National Security Council. Let’s just take a listen to part of his testimony. DANIEL GOLDMAN: On September 7, you spoke
again to Ambassador Sondland, who told you that he had just gotten off the phone with
President Trump. Isn’t that right? TIM MORRISON, Former Senior Director for Russia
and Europe, National Security Council: That sounds correct, yes. DANIEL GOLDMAN: What did Ambassador Sondland
tell you that President Trump said to him? TIM MORRISON: If I recall this conversation
correctly, this was where Ambassador Sondland related that there was no quid pro quo, but
President Zelensky had to make the statement and that he had to want to do it. DANIEL GOLDMAN: And, by that point, did you
understand that the statement related to the — Biden and 2016 investigations? TIM MORRISON: I think I did, yes. DANIEL GOLDMAN: And that that was a — essentially
a condition for the security assistance to be released? TIM MORRISON: I understood that that’s what
Ambassador Sondland believed. DANIEL GOLDMAN: After speaking with President
Trump? TIM MORRISON: That’s what he represented. AMNA NAWAZ: Lisa, what did you make of that
exchange? LISA DESJARDINS: That was a very important
exchange. You’re going to hear Democrats talk about
that a lot. And you’re going to hear a lot about it tomorrow,
when Mr. Sondland testifies. And what is happening here is, Tim Morrison
is recalling a conversation that Ambassador Sondland testified he didn’t recall. And it’s an important conversation, Sondland
passing on basically that this — there’s a connection between the security assistance
and the investigations, after he spoke to the president. And Sondland, in his testimony, said he didn’t
recall that connection. And he just has stressed the president said
no quid pro quo. So that’s important testimony from Mr. Morrison. It has been a day of ups and downs for both
sides. And I think we’re going to get more of that
tomorrow. AMNA NAWAZ: Yamiche, Lisa just mentioned we
are going to hear from Ambassador Sondland tomorrow. Look ahead for us. What do we expect in day four of the public
impeachment proceedings? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The European ambassador,
Ambassador Sondland, is going to be in some ways a star witness for both sides, because
both sides don’t exactly know what they want to get out of him or what they might get out
of him and how he might help their cases. But both of them desperately want to ask him
questions, because he was in direct contact with President Trump multiple times. Now, the White House has been telling me,
as well as our producer — our White House producer, Meredith Lee, that this is really
all about — all about the Democrats wanting to overthrow the 2016 election, wanting to
overturn the election results, and wanting to really get President Trump out of office. But Ambassador Sondland is someone who is
an ally of the president. He donated more than a million dollars to
President Trump’s political campaign. He was then appointed ambassador to the European
Union. So, we have to really watch closely about
how Ambassador Sondland answers some of these questions about what President Trump directly
told him to say, because, by his own admission, he said that he told Ukrainian officials,
look, we need to get this investigation into the Bidens started in order for you to get
that military aid, that $391 million in military aid. So, tomorrow is going to be probably, if not
one of the most important days, possibly the most important day, because this is someone
who can speak directly to what President Trump was telling him to do and how he was telling
him to make the case to the Ukrainians. AMNA NAWAZ: Another busy day on Capitol Hill. Thanks to you, Yamiche Alcindor, at the White
House, Lisa Desjardins down on Capitol Hill, and Nick Schifrin here with me.

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About Nicklaus Predovic

7 thoughts on “What we learned from public testimony of officials on Trump’s July 25 call

  1. Sondland was working on a park! Took no notes has vague memory doesn't understand much and has no care or understanding of his role. Very irresponsible.

  2. It's clear Vindland is proud to serve the country and is loyal to the country NOT any one individual. It's clear to me that to him, America is the mother he lost – America took him and his family in, nurtured them and gave them a reason to belong, a reason to be proud, a place they can call "home". Vindman was a Dreamer. Now, this Purple Heart Patriot is defending and protecting his adoptive Mother – NOT the CRIMINAL sitting in the WH and he's getting attacked by TrumpTards who are the world's stupidest people.

    The only reason why this can happen and happens mostly in Trumpian territories (in rural areas) is because of the lack of quality education, caused by bad infrastructure, caused by a combination of misuse of funds AND political corruption.

    Unfortunately, all of what I have just said won't be understood by TrumpTards because they are just too stupid.

  3. No one would want the imposter in office playing games with their retirement funds or their pensions or their kid's college fund..that's about what they did here to Ukraine.. then tell a boat load of lies around it.

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