The White House’s top Ukraine expert told the House Democrat-led impeachment inquiry that President Donald Trump made a “demand” of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son in exchange for a meeting.
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the director for European affairs on the National Security Council, wrote in his opening statement last month that he was “concerned” about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky. And now that the House Intelligence Committee has released the full transcript of his closed-door deposition, it’s clear why Vindman felt that way.
“It was a demand for [Zelensky] to fulfill his — fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting,” Vindman said, describing what Trump said on the call. “The demand was, in order to get the White House meeting, they had to deliver an investigation.”
That investigation Trump wanted the Ukrainian president to open, Vindman noted, was into the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. Hunter Biden — Joe’s son — sat on that firm’s board, and Trump believes in the debunked conspiracy theory that Joe Biden used his power as vice president to stop a previous corruption probe into Burisma in order to benefit his son.
Other witnesses have testified that Trump and other US officials knew very well that Zelensky wanted a meeting with the president at the White House. That meeting would help solidify ties between the US and Ukraine, which Kyiv wants strengthened due to Russia’s invasion of the country.
But Vindman, who was on the July 25 call, testified that Trump was only willing to give the Ukrainians that meeting if Zelensky’s administration agreed to open an investigation into Burisma, a probe that would impact the Bidens.
That’s a clear quid pro quo: Look into my domestic political rival, and you can have your much-desired meeting.
“Was there any doubt in your mind as to what the President, our President, was asking for as a deliverable?” Vindman was asked. “There was no doubt,” he replied.
Perhaps even worse, though, Vindman also provided new information about details that were left out of the White House’s readout of the July 25 call.
The July 25 Trump-Zelensky call was worse than we thought
The White House released a readout of the Trump-Zelensky call in September that clearly shows Trump pressuring Ukraine to look into the Bidens and Democrats in exchange for the meeting and further US military aid.
In the readout, Zelensky asks Trump for an increase in military aid — specifically, to purchase more Javelin anti-tank missiles, which are useful in Ukraine’s ongoing conflict with Russian-backed separatists in its east. Trump responds by saying, “I would like you to do us a favor though.” He then goes on to discuss the Bidens and his belief that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.
That was damning enough, even though the president continues to describe the call as “perfect.”
But the readout the White House released isn’t a verbatim transcript (it says so right in the text of the readout) of the conversation, which has led to concerns that some of what was said on the call may have been left out.
Vindman, one of the few administration officials who actually listened in on the call in real time, told the impeachment inquiry that there were in fact a few omissions — one of which is bad news for the administration.
In the White House version, Zelensky says that a new prosecutor general will be taking office soon and that “He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.”
Vindman said in his testimony that Zelensky didn’t actually say “the company” there — he specifically said “Burisma.”
That matters, because it shows Trump explicitly discussing Burisma with his counterpart. No one can say, then, that Trump had no real knowledge of the scheme at hand. In fact, per Vindman, he was keenly aware.
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