WASHINGTON -- From front-row seats at the White House, two government officials provided impeachment panels testimony regarding reported efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Democrats and Joe Biden, according to transcripts released Friday in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
Also Friday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney failed to appear after having been subpoenaed to testify in the investigation.
According to the transcripts released Friday, Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia adviser, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer assigned to the National Security Council, both described firsthand views of meetings with Ukraine officials on July 10 at the White House.
In a description of a meeting, Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton was said to have "immediately stiffened" as Ambassador Gordon Sondland "blurted out" that he had worked out a trade with Mulvaney -- Ukrainians' probe for an Oval Office welcome.
"Well, we have an agreement with the chief of staff for a meeting if these investigations in the energy sector start," Hill recalled Sondland as saying, a reference to the company, Burisma, where Biden's son was on the board.
Hill said Bolton abruptly ended the meeting.
In another episode in the Ward Room at the White House, Vindman testified that Sondland told the Ukrainians that they would need to investigate the Bidens if they hoped to have that meeting with Trump.
"He was calling for something, calling for an investigation that didn't exist into the Bidens and Burisma," Vindman said. "The Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens."Gallery: President Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House
Into the Bidens? the investigators pressed.
"To the best of my recollection, yes," Vindman said. "My visceral reaction to what was being called for suggested that it was explicit. There was no ambiguity."
Both officials testified privately last month. The hundreds of pages of transcripts showed a deeper reach into the White House ahead of next week's public hearings.
Under questioning from Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and other Democrats, Vindman said "there was no doubt" about what Trump wanted when he spoke by phone on July 25 to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy -- particularly in contrast with an April call between the two shortly after Zelenskiy's election.
"The tone was significantly different," Vindman said, according to a transcript of his Oct. 29 deposition. Vindman went on to tell Welch, "I'm struggling for the words, but it was not a positive call. It was dour. If I think about it some more, I could probably come up with some other adjectives, but it was just -- the difference between the calls was apparent."
Welch asked Vindman if he had any doubt that Trump was asking for investigations of his political opponents "as a deliverable" -- in other words, as part of a quid pro quo.
"There was no doubt," Vindman said.
Vindman alerted superiors on two occasions, including after he listened to the July call in which Trump personally appealed to Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Biden and the outlier theory of a Ukrainian role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
A whistleblower's complaint about that call triggered the impeachment inquiry.
Trump insisted earlier Friday that he has not been damaged by the testimony and Republicans complain the witnesses generally are relying on secondhand accounts of the events central to the inquiry.
Speaking to reporters as he left on a campaign trip to Atlanta, Trump said he was "not concerned about anything" that has been disclosed so far.
The new testimony puts Mulvaney more directly involved in the shadow diplomacy being run through Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, and Sondland, the wealthy businessman-turned-ambassador to the European Union.
After Bolton left the one meeting, he told Hill to follow the group into the next and report back to him.
She testified that at the second White House meeting, Sondland "as I came in, was talking about how he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations."
She said she heard Sondland mention Burisma as part of this exchange. When she reported it back to Bolton, he called it a "drug deal" and told her to report it to the National Security Council lead counsel, John Eisenberg.
"This is a direct quote from Ambassador Bolton: 'You go and tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you've heard and what I've said.'"
Hill testified that Giuliani, and his business associates, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were trying to use the powers of the presidency to further their own personal interests. Fruman and Parnas were arrested last month and face federal charges of funneling foreign money to U.S. politicians while trying to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations.
Even before Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy "there was a lot of usurpation of that power," Hill told impeachment investigators, characterizing Giuliani and his associates as "trying to appropriate presidential power or the authority of the President, given the position that Giuliani is in, to also pursue their own personal interests."
Hill said that, in hindsight and with the benefit of a rough transcript of the July 25 call and media reports, she believed that her "worst nightmare" for U.S.-Ukraine relations had come to pass.
"My worst nightmare is the politicization of the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine and, also, the usurpation of authorities, you know, for other people's personal vested interests," Hill said. "And there seems to be a large range of people who were looking for these opportunities here."
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, sought to portray Trump's request for a favor in his phone call with the Ukrainian president as falling short of a demand.
But Vindman disagreed.
"When the president of the United States makes a request for a favor, it certainly seems, I would take it as a demand," he said.
Vindman, a veteran of the Iraq War, then added: "Congressman, as a military officer if my superiors tell me to do something, I take that not as a request, I take that as a demand."
At one point in Vindman's testimony, his lawyer objected to questions from Republicans he believed were intended to draw out the identity of the whistleblower who filed the initial complaint.
Vindman already had said in an opening statement that he was not the whistleblower and did not know who was. His lawyer, Michael Volkov, said his client would not answer questions about how many people he had told about his concerns.
Mulvaney on Friday skipped his 9 a.m. deposition as Democrats wrap up private interviews and move into a public phase of the investigation.
Democrats subpoenaed Mulvaney late Thursday as the White House signaled that he wouldn't appear. The White House has instructed its officials not to comply with the investigation.
An official working on the inquiry said that Mulvaney's lawyer informed the committees leading the impeachment investigation one minute before the deposition was supposed to start that Mulvaney had been directed not to comply with the subpoena. The person said Mulvaney's lawyer said he has "absolute immunity," a claim that Democrats have challenged in court for other administration witnesses.
Trump said Friday morning that he thought Mulvaney would "do great" and "I'd love to have him go up," but that he didn't want to validate what he calls a "corrupt" investigation.
"I don't want to give credibility to a corrupt witch hunt," Trump told reporters.
Mulvaney's defiance came after Bolton also failed to appear for an interview Thursday. Democrats say they will use the no-shows as evidence of the president's obstruction of Congress.
'MANY RELEVANT MEETINGS'
Bolton's lawyer said Friday that the former national security adviser was "part of many relevant meetings and conversations" pertaining to the impeachment inquiry that are not yet public.
Charles Cooper made the revelation in a letter that suggests Bolton will appear before Congress only if a judge orders him to do so.
The letter, addressed to the top lawyer for the House, seeks to distinguish Bolton and former deputy Charles Kupperman from other current and former White House officials who have testified so far to impeachment investigators. The letter says that Bolton and Kupperman, unlike the other witnesses, provided direct advice to Trump regularly and would be asked during any congressional appearance to disclose sensitive foreign-policy and national-security information.
"After all, Dr. Kupperman was the Deputy National Security Advisor to the President throughout the period to your inquiry," the letter states. "The same is true, of course, of Ambassador Bolton, who was the National Security Advisor to the President, and who was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far."
Kupperman was subpoenaed as part of the impeachment inquiry but sued House Democrats and the Trump administration. He asked a judge to decide which directive he must follow -- one from Congress ordering him to testify, the other from the White House telling him not to. Bolton has not been subpoenaed. Lawmakers scheduled a Thursday interview with Bolton, but he did not show.
Cooper represents both Bolton and Kupperman.
"As I emphasized in my previous responses to letters from the House Chairs, Dr. Kupperman stands ready, as does Ambassador Bolton, to testify if the Judiciary resolves the conflict in favor of the Legislative Branch's position respecting such testimony," Cooper wrote.
Information for this article was contributed by Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick, Zeke J. Miller, Colleen Long, Mike Balsamo, Matthew Lee, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman, Jill Colvin and Eric Tucker of The Associated Press; and by Shane Harris, Mike DeBonis, Greg Jaffe, Michael Kranish, Elise Viebeck, Karoun Demirjian, Josh Dawsey, Rachael Bade, Ellen Nakashima, John Hudson, Karen DeYoung and Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post.
President Donald Trump, preparing to leave the White House on Friday for a campaign stop in Georgia, said that testimony in the House impeachment inquiry has not damaged him and that he is “not concerned about anything” that has been disclosed. More photos are available at arkansasonline.com/119trump/.
A Section on 11/09/2019