- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2019

The public on Tuesday will get its first look at Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman in action.

And if he follows his closed-door testimony, he will knock his commander in chief while retelling his version of potentially damning conversations with a Trump ambassador.

“I’m the director for Ukraine,” Col. Vindman told the joint House impeachment panel on Oct. 29. “I’m responsible for Ukraine. I’m the most knowledgeable. I’m the authority for Ukraine for the National Security Council and the White House.”

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“I’m certainly not the president of the United States,” he said at another point, when asked by a Republican whether he intervened to discourage Ukrainian officials from cooperating in a corruption investigation requested by President Trump. “The president of the United States has the authority to do this, I guess. I don’t know. I didn’t think it was right.”

He said he has never met with Mr. Trump, but his written briefing “gets forwarded from Ambassador Bolton to the president.” He was referring to then-National Security Adviser John R. Bolton.

From his desk with the National Security Council across the driveway from the West Wing, the decorated Army infantry officer witnessed diplomatic maneuvers he didn’t like, according to his released deposition transcript. He readily shared his opinions with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and two other committees.

He complained of “outside influencers” interfering with his work. He mentioned Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney. The president assigned the former New York City mayor the special task of investigating the roles of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter in Ukrainian business dealings. Mr. Biden is running to oppose Mr. Trump in the 2020 election.

Col. Vindman, who was born in Ukraine and speaks his native language, also listed Gordan Sondland as an outsider. Mr. Sondland is a Trump donor who won a bipartisan Senate vote to serve as U.S. ambassador to the European Union in Brussels. Mr. Trump anointed him as an overseer of all things Ukraine — a move Col. Vindman didn’t like.

Col. Vindman said Mr. Sondland, a rookie diplomat, did not go through him before talking with Mr. Bolton.

Democrats on Saturday evening released the transcript testimony of Tim Morrison, who was Col. Vindman’s boss at the NSC for four months. The former Republican congressional staffer resigned on Oct. 31. Mr. Morrison, a nuclear weapons hawk, served as NSC arms control director under Mr. Bolton and in July became director of European affairs.

In summary, Mr. Morrison said he didn’t always trust the colonel. He said Col. Vindman went around the chain of command to the point that he kept him off some official telephone calls.

“I had concerns about Col. Vindman’s judgment,” he testified.

But Mr. Morrison agreed with Col. Vindman that Mr. Sondland was on an unwanted “parallel” diplomatic track. He also agreed with Col. Vindman that the administration should not have tried to persuade the Ukrainian government to agree to any type of investigation of the Bidens or Ukraine’s suspected role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The colonel also disapproved of the president’s conversing with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and critic of Ukrainian leaders. Mr. Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine in 2014 and robbed it of Crimea.

He also disapproved of Mr. Trump’s firing in May of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified Friday in the impeachment inquiry.

“I’m aware of the fact that she was removed, and I thought that was troubling,” Col. Vindman testified.

Col. Vindman, his uniform brimming with medals as he entered the House committee’s special compartmental information facility, has won favorable coverage in The New York Times and other liberal media, as well as praise from Democrats wanting to impeach Mr. Trump.

When House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, questioned the officer, he started by saying, “Have you received commendations and awards for your prior service?”

Col. Vindman, 44, then took the committee on a tour of his ribbons, such as for service on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for his time in Moscow and Ukraine, and for his combat tour in Iraq, and a Purple Heart for wounds he sustained from an improvised explosive device.

“There’s an Army Meritorious Service medal further back,” he said. “I’m just going sequentially. And then, you know, other various awards and decorations.”

Mr. Engel said he was “appalled” that Republicans doubted the colonel’s version of events.

“It would have been much easier for you to have stayed out of this,” the congressman said. “Your bravery in coming forward should be publicly commended by all of us in this room and by the entire country.”

Bidens and Burisma

Mr. Engel and other Democrats have reason to cheer the officer. He was directly involved in the White House’s pivotal events on July 10 and July 25. His testimony will be cited when Democrats vote to impeach Mr. Trump.

On July 10, a group of Trump aides and Ukrainian officials, led by Ukrainian National Security Adviser Oleksandr Danylyuk, huddled at the White House. A new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and a parliament were in place. Mr. Zelensky wanted a meeting with Mr. Trump.

A week later, Mr. Trump suspended a military aid package for Ukraine. The suspension was lifted Sept. 11. Democrats accuse Mr. Trump of withholding the aid to force an investigation into the Bidens and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Trump denies that was the reason the aid was delayed.

In crucial testimony, Mr. Vindman contends that in a one-on-one discussion with Mr. Sondland the ambassador told him point-blank that Ukraine must investigate.

He testified: “The conversation unfolded with Sondland proceeding to kind of, you know, review what the deliverable would be in order to get the meeting and he talked about the investigation into the Bidens and, frankly, I can’t 100% recall because I didn’t take notes of it, but Burisma. I mean there was no ambiguity, I guess, in my mind.”

Burisma Holdings is an oligarch-owned Ukrainian natural gas firm that State Department diplomats deem corrupt. The firm put Hunter Biden on the board of directors in 2014 at a time when his father, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, served as the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine after the Russian invasion. Diplomats have told the House panel that the firm was under a Ukrainian criminal investigation around that time and that the probe was dropped in 2016.

In his closed-door testimony, Mr. Sondland denied Col. Vindman’s account. He is scheduled to appear in open session Wednesday, a day after his accuser appears.

Next came the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky. Col. Vindman was among five aides who listened in the White House Situation Room.

A whistleblower, a Democrat who worked with Mr. Biden in 2015 and 2016 and stayed on the NSC staff until June 2017, filed a nine-page complaint based on the call relayed to him by unnamed sources. The CIA analyst said Mr. Trump pressured Mr. Zelensky to open an investigation before military aid could arrive.

Mr. Trump, who released a transcript of the call, said he made no such demand. The aid money was released Sept. 11 without any Ukrainian investigation.

After hearing the call, Col. Vindman was the first and likely the only aide to immediately file a complaint with the NSC legal counsel.

Asked by Republicans who saw nothing wrong with the call whether others felt the same way, Col. Vindman mentioned facial expressions on his boss, Mr. Morrison.

“The only person that I occasionally would take a glance at would be my boss,” Col. Vindman testified, “and I perceived, at least, that he was also potentially concerned.”

“And how did you perceive that he was concerned? Just by the look on his face?”

“Yes,” Col. Vindman answered.

Mr. Morrison testified that he didn’t believe the call was illegal, according to a transcript released Saturday.

He did back Col. Vindman on Mr. Sondland’s Biden-Burisma talking points. He said the ambassador delivered the same message in September in Warsaw to a Ukrainian official.

Col. Vindman, while touting himself as the supreme Ukraine authority, could not remember the name of Kyiv’s charge d’affaires, who is serving as the highest-ranking diplomat in Washington.

“I know the guy. I met with him a few times. His last name escapes me at the moment,” he said.

Col. Vindman also erroneously credited President Barack Obama with sending the first lethal battlefield aid to Ukraine in the form of advanced Army Javelin anti-armor weapons.

In a hallmark decision, it was Mr. Trump who approved the transfer, which took place in March 2018.

At the time, Col. Vindman worked at the Joint Chiefs of Staff as its Russia specialist. He arrived at the NSC in July 2018.

Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, told CNN: “I would take things that Col. Vindman says with a grain of salt as well because, in his testimony, he said the Obama administration provided Javelin weapons. They didn’t. It was March 2018 that 210 Javelin weapons were finally approved in terms of a movement over to Ukraine.”

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