Tuesday's testimony from Alexander Vindman showed what Trump wanted ⁠— and who Republicans really are

Tuesday's testimony from Alexander Vindman showed what Trump wanted ⁠— and who Republicans really are
Vindman Screengrab

Tuesday’s testimony from National Security Council expert on Ukraine Alexander Vindman confirmed two things: Republicans are willing to demean anyone in order to protect Donald Trump, and that document that Trump has been selling as a “complete transcript” of his call with the Ukrainian president is definitely not a complete transcript.

The idea that Republicans had any real respect for veterans or military service was sewn up back in 2004 with swift boating and Purple Heart Band-Aids. But if a decade and a half of faux military cheerleading had created a false impression, that fresh Band-Aid was ripped away on Tuesday by the attacks launched on the loyalty and patriotism of Lt. Col. Vindman for daring to tell the truth about events he had personally witnessed.

Vindman was personally present for meetings at the White House two weeks in advance of the phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and on the line for the call itself. On both occasions, what he heard and saw generated such an impact that he brought his concerns to others on the National Security Council, including the NSC’s top counsel.

What may be most notable about Vindman’s testimony is how sharply it disagrees with some of what had been heard before. For example, Vindman’s description of a July 10 meeting at the White House makes it absolutely clear that Ambassador Gordon Sondland informed Ukrainian officials that announcing an investigation into the Bidens and the 2016 election was the price of maintaining a relationship with the U.S.

When it comes to the call, Vindman was clear on another point: The document that Trump has been touting as a transcript is nothing of the sort. It was assembled from notes taken by various parties, and two of the important parts that Vindman attempted to add to the transcript—both of them directly addressing the issue of requesting an investigation into Vice President Joe Biden—do not appear in the document Trump has been waving around. It’s almost as if someone specifically tried to tone down the extent and details of how Trump directly tried to extort political dirt as part of a deal.

The words that Vindman says he provided to White House staff, but that mysteriously ended up missing from the document released as a readout of the call, were not minor. Vindman reported that Trump’s discussion of Biden on the call was considerably longer, and included Trump insisting that there were recordings of Vice President Biden discussing Ukraine corruption. There were also apparently other mentions of Burisma Holdings, the company where Hunter Biden served on the board, which were left out of the White House document.

When it comes to testimony, public information is mostly limited to what was in Vindman’s opening statement. But even that is enough to show massive differences with some of the testimony that has come before.

On July 10, 2019, Ukrainian officials visited the White House and had a meeting with both State Department and NSC staff. Ambassador Sondland had previously testified that at this meeting, he and other members of Trump’s “three amigos” had “favored promptly scheduling a call and meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky; the NSC did not.” And, said Sondland, while the NSC didn’t want Trump and Zelensky talking, there was no complaint about anything he had said. “If Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, or others harbored any misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me, then or later,” Sondland testified. “We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting; and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.”

But Vindman’s testimony about that date was vastly different. First, he identified the NSC concern as not about Trump and Zelensky talking, but about the terms of that discussion. He said that “Sondland started to speak about delivering the specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short.” And even after the meeting, Sondland continued to try to push the idea that the price of U.S. cooperation was the announcement of those investigations. “Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma,” Vindman testified.

Finally, when it comes to Sondland saying that no one “on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns,” Vindman says that’s an out-and-out lie. “I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate,” said Vindman, “that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.”

According to Vindman, both he and Hill followed up by reporting their concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel. So sorting out the truth of these events should not be difficult.

Sondland has made at least two visits to the House SCIF following his testimony to review the transcript of his statements. He may need to look in again.

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