WASHINGTON (CN) – Inside the situation room in July, a decorated Army colonel and a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence listened in on U.S. President Donald Trump’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodomyr Zelensky and grew concerned at what they heard.
Some four months later, the two high-profile witnesses — Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Pence’s special adviser for Europe and Russia Jennifer Williams — appeared Tuesday at the magisterial Longworth Building where they told House lawmakers about what in the July 25 call so disturbed them.
“It was inappropriate. It was improper for the president to request, to demand an investigation into a political opponent — especially a foreign power where there's at best dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation,” Vindman, decked in his medallion-decorated Army uniform, said this morning in his first public appearance in the impeachment inquiry. “It would have significant implications if it became public knowledge and would be seen as a partisan play, undermining foreign policy and our national security.”
Representative Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, noted in his opening statement this morning that the witnesses testifying today are offering firsthand accounts of a call they heard live.
"After the call, multiple individuals, including Vindman, were concerned enough to report it to the National Security Council’s top lawyer," Schiff said. "It was the second time in two weeks that Vindman had raised concerns with the NSC lawyers.”
That testimony earned Vindman a whisper campaign by House Republicans to discredit him as somehow more loyal to Ukraine than to the United States. The dual loyalty accusation against a decorated Purple Heart recipient instantly drew allegations of anti-Semitic innuendo.
Asked point-blank whether they knew of any evidence of wrongdoing by former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine, Vindman and Williams left no room for confusion Tuesday.
“I did not,” said Vindman, who is director for European Affairs at the National Security Council.
“No, I did not,” Williams echoed.
Trump claims that he asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens because of a corruption scheme involving the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Not a single witness so far has corroborated that theory, and several have contradicted it. Democrats accuse Trump of attempting to bribe Ukraine’s president with military assistance if he would gin up a bogus investigation against his political opponent.
Vindman and Williams offered their insights on the heels of a Thursday press conference where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the testimony to date has corroborated evidence of bribery by President Trump.
Republican Representative John Ratcliffe responded Tuesday with a lengthy diatribe about the speaker’s language. “That evidence is invisible,” the Kentucky congressman said.
Moments later, Schiff called a point of order.