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Impeachment Hearing Summaries: We Watched Them so You Don't Have to

Impeachment Hearing Summaries: We Watched Them so You Don't Have to

As expected, the impeachment hearings this week were bombshells full of explosive revelations and incendiary accusations. Not a single testimony contradicted the broader claim upon which the impeachment charge rests: everyone agreed that there was a quid pro quo, and that Trump appears to have sought something of value from a foreign power using the organs of the state. 

The question now is whether the Democrats can muster enough support based on these testimonies to push the articles of impeachment through the Senate. The House Democrats have already done a good enough job showing that impeachment is warranted, and therefore impeachment articles will almost certainly pass in the House at this point. The Senate remains an open question, however.

Below is a summary of each testimony and some of the key pieces of information that came out of each hearing. We watched all of the hearings so you don’t have to.

TUESDAY, FIRST PANEL AT 9 A.M. ET

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN

Col. Vindman began with a rivetting opening statement in which he described his military history, his work on Ukrainian policy, and the rationale for his concern about the July 25th phone call between Trump and Zelinsky. His most dramatic line came at the end of the opening statement, when he said, “Dad, my sitting here today … is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union.”

Like many other witnesses, Vindman began by contextualizing the current situation within the broader Russia-Ukraine conflict and global Russian aggression. Vindman became aware, in the spring of 2019, that “outside influencers” were promoting a “false narrative” about Ukraine that was “inconsistent with consensus views of the interagency.” Throughout the entire testimony, Vindman repeatedly stressed that his views about Ukraine were not personal but rather were reflective of the consensus view of the national security interagency and policy community.

Vindman focused crucially on two instances in which the discussion of those narratives led him to report concerns to John Eisenberg, the chief counsel for the National Security Council. The first meeting occurred on July 10; the second was the call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, to which Vindman listened from the Situation Room.

Throughout the testimony, he stressed that an independent Ukraine is “critical to U.S. national security interests.” He also praised Ukraine’s efforts to integrate with the West and noted that there is consensus in the U.S. national security interagency that Zelensky’s election is an overwhelmingly positive thing for western integration, Ukrainian democracy and the country’s economy.

JENNIFER WILLIAMS

Williams serves in the Vice President’s National Security Affairs Office, where she works as Pence’s special adviser for Europe and Russia. Williams testified that the vice president first interacted with Zelensky on a congratulatory call to the newly elected Ukrainian president on April 23.

Williams told the committee that Ukraine came up during a May 13 call between Trump, Pence and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Williams also confirmed details relevant to a series of summer interagency meetings about security assistance to Ukraine. Pence offered congratulatory remarks, and Zelensky invited Trump and Pence to attend his inauguration ceremony in Ukraine. Her testimony sheds new light on a series of meetings between Pence and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as a briefing provided to Pence about the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky.

Williams recalled that her “understanding from [her] colleague” with whom she spoke on the phone “was that the President had asked the Vice President not to attend” the inauguration. That same day, Williams received a call from Pence’s chief of staff’s office that informed her that Pence would not be attending Zelensky’s inauguration (Williams does not recall whether this came before or after the Orban call).

TUESDAY, SECOND PANEL AT 2:30 P.M. ET

KURT VOLKER

Volker denied knowing about or participating in any effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden or his son. After the Ukrainian election in May, Volker urged President Trump to support President Zelensky, but Trump expressed a negative view of Ukraine. Volker stated that he did not listen in on the phone call between President Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Volker said that this narrative was causing the president to be less willing to support the new Ukrainian leadership. Volker later mentioned that the Ukrainians felt that their interests were being subordinated to U.S. domestic political activity. While Pompeo knew that Volker connected Yermak with Giuliani, Giuliani was not acting on behalf of the State Department, Volker testified. Volker emphasized that he acted solely to advance U.S. foreign policy goals with respect to Ukraine.

TIM MORRISON

The deposition of former National Security Council (NSC) official Tim Morrison confirms the role of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland in developing a “parallel track” of Ukrainian policy and recounts Morrison’s personal efforts to restrict access to the memo recording the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In his role as senior director for European affairs, his objective in Ukraine was “to take advantage of the once-in-a-generation opportunity that resulted from the election of President Zelensky ... to see real anticorruption reform take root.” Critical to this, he described, was the maintenance of the United States’ “longstanding bipartisan commitment to strengthen Ukraine’s security.” Morrison also clarified that he never briefed the president or vice president on matters related to Ukrainian security during the time relevant to the impeachment inquiry.

He coordinated primarily with Ambassador William Taylor, currently serving as charge d’affaires in Ukraine, and Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker, as well as other interagency stakeholders. Morrison, who assumed the position of NSC senior director for European affairs following Fiona Hill’s departure from that role on July 15, previously focused on foreign military sales and arms control on the NSC.

Morrison began his testimony focusing on the role of the NSC—namely, its responsibility to coordinate across departments and to abstain from making policy itself. He stated during his deposition that he will be resigning from his position imminently—though, he stated, due to circumstances unrelated to his presence before Congress.

At this point, Zelensky knew aid was being withheld; while the minority suggested that Zelensky would have raised the matter of Burisma that if he thought the aid was conditioned on a Burisma investigation, Morrison confirmed Pence did not bring up the aid or the investigations. Morrison stated that Trump was also prepped for the call through the normal NSC process. Morrison also clarified that he did not meet with the Ukrainian national security adviser in a hotel room, as Taylor remembered, but rather along with an NSC aide in the hotel’s business center.

WEDNESDAY, FIRST PANEL AT 9 A.M. ET

GORDON SONDLAND

The deposition focused on Sondland’s knowledge of and role in the alleged efforts by President Trump to encourage President Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son’s business in the Ukraine, as well as Ukraine’s purported interference in the 2016 election. Sondland claimed that he was precluded from producing official records by law but that the committee should otherwise have legal access to these State Department records without him.

Sondland, in a letter and declaration appended to his deposition transcript, subsequently confirmed that he told Ukrainian officials that military aid was, in fact, tied to their commitment to announcing investigations requested by President Trump. His amended statement came after other witnesses’ statements in recent days that reminded him of a conversation he had with Andrey Yermak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he laid out a clear quid pro quo offer.

Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony included a significant revision to his earlier deposition, in which he originally denied any quid pro quo understanding between the Ukrainians and the Trump administration. Additionally, Sondland confirmed there should be documented notes from Vice President Pence’s meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw on Sept. 1. Throughout the testimony, members asked Sondland about the documentation of various activities and conversations. The committee also served Sondland with a subpoena to procure documents relevant to the investigation.

WEDNESDAY, SECOND PANEL AT 2:30 P.M. ET

LAURA COOPER

The deposition transcript of Laura Cooper, a Department of Defense deputy assistant secretary, offers a window into the hold on military aid to Ukraine during July and August 2019. Cooper oversees the Department of Defense security assistance program, and her testimony provides a detailed view of the chain of events that initiated and prolonged the aid hold.

Cooper explained the difference between the two types of security assistance funds at issue. Regarding Foreign Military Financing (FMF), the State Department is in the lead and the Defense Department plays a coordination and implementation role. The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) is a Defense Department authority, and so Defense is in the lead for both policy and implementation of those funds, in coordination with the State Department.

Her testimony reveals a link between the president and the aid hold, the connection between the hold and investigations into Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election, the mechanism by which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) delayed the funding, and the extent to which OMB’s efforts cut against an interagency consensus about the importance of the aid and the success of Ukrainian efforts to root out corruption.

On June 18, the Defense Department announced that Congress had approved the department’s sign-off on the security assistance conditioned on Ukrainian reforms. On Sept. 11, Cooper and her colleagues learned that OMB had lifted the hold. After the press release, Cooper described noticing a news headline that said “something like ... U.S. gives $250 million to Ukraine,” which she saw as oversimplifying the message in the press release.

DAVID HALE

The testimony of Ambassador David Hale, the under secretary of state for political affairs, focused first on the smear campaign surrounding Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and then on the Ukrainian security assistance freeze. Regarding the aid freeze, Hale discussed the Ukrainian security assistance hold in distinct terms from the general assistance review and testified that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the only agency advocating for the Ukrainian aid freeze, gave no further justification for it other than a directive of the president through Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

He recommended that the State Department make a statement of defense of Yovanovitch, but his recommendation was refused, most likely by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He stated that, to his knowledge, no one ever had evidence supporting the allegations against Yovanovitch.

Hale stated that he was relieved when the assistance was released on Sept. 11.
 

THURSDAY, ONE PANEL ONLY AT 9 A.M. ET

FIONA HILL

The deposition transcript of former National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director Fiona Hill offers a detailed account of the effects of the campaign undertaken by Rudy Giuliani and his colleagues on the official U.S.-Ukraine relationship, the role of Gordon Sondland in coopting the Ukraine portfolio, and the sequence of events surrounding a July 10 White House meeting between administration officials and representatives of Ukrainian Volodymyr President Zelensky’s new government. She told the committees that she first became aware of Giuliani’s interest in Ukraine “sometime between ... January 2019 and March 2019” because of an article in The Hill and “because of Mr. Giuliani’s statements on television.” 

A series of news clips sent to the NSC by the White House Situation Room revealed what Hill perceived as the extent of Giuliani’s interest in Ukraine. In these clips, Hill recounted, “[t]here were references to George Soros; there were references to 2016; and then there were all kind of references to ... do-not-prosecute lists and statements from the Ukrainian prosecutor, Mr. Lutsenko, none of which I’d ever heard of anything about before.” Hill described finishing “extremely long days” and then having to page through cable news and YouTube to find about out Giuliani’s “meta-alternative narrative about Ukraine.” Hill was worried by Giuliani’s ideas and consulted with colleagues who thought that Giuliani’s fixation on Ukrainian conspiracy theories “was related to personal business interests on his part.” Despite Giuliani’s saying “all the time” that he was acting as an agent of the state, Hill underscored that “everyone [at the NSC] was completely unaware of any direct official role that Mr. Giuliani had been given on the Ukraine account.” Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, as well as think tank researchers in Washington, D.C., expressed concerns to Hill about Giuliani’s activities.

Hill was on paid leave from July 19 until her official retirement from the administration on Sept. 3, so her testimony includes no details about the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky.

Sondland would tell Hill that he had spoken with the president, but she would talk to White House staff, who would tell her that Sondland had “only been up to see [Acting White House Chief of Staff] Mick Mulvaney.” Hill told committee members that Mulvaney was the only White House staff that she knew for certain had interacted with Sondland. Referring to the problems created by Giuliani, Volker told Hill “he was trying to fix it[,]” and she reported that Volker was interested in “smooth[ing]” things over with Giuliani in order to stabilize U.S.-Ukraine relations.

[Source: Lawfare Blog]

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