White House Officials Fault Trump’s Ukraine Call

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FILE -- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in an elevator at the Capitol in Washington on April 9, 2019. House Republicans requested on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, that Johnson, who has repeatedly found himself drawn into the impeachment inquiry, tell them what he knows about President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. (Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times)

Michael D. Shear

c.2019 The New York Times Company

 

Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, testified that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine told Pence in September that continuing to withhold military aid would indicate that U.S. support for Ukraine was wavering, giving Russia a boost in the ongoing conflict between the two countries.

Williams said that during a Sept. 1 meeting, Zelenskiy told the vice president that the security aid was a symbol of support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and told lawmakers that Ukraine’s president “was stressing that to the vice president to really underscore the need for the security assistance to be released.”

“Any signal or sign that U.S. support was wavering would be construed by Russia as potentially an opportunity for them to strengthen their own hand in Ukraine,” Williams said, relating what Zelenskiy told Pence.

The vice president underscored the administration’s strong support for Ukraine and told Zelenskiy that he would report his concerns to President Donald Trump, Williams said.

Ukraine’s security aid was not released for another 10 days, after the White House became aware that a whistleblower had filed a complaint about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Williams was one of two senior national security officials at the White House who challenged Trump’s description of his call with the Ukraine president as “perfect,” testifying Tuesday about how concerned they were as they listened in real time to Trump appealing for investigations into a political rival.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran and the top Ukraine official at the National Security Council, testified that he was so disturbed by the call that he reported it to the council’s top lawyer.

“What I heard was inappropriate, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg,” Vindman said, referring to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer at the National Security Council. “It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent.”

Williams said she found the president’s call unusual because it included discussion of a “domestic political matter.”

The pair is kicking off three days of testimony from nine diplomats and national security officials as Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee continue to build their case that Trump tried to extort Ukraine by withholding security aid until the government agreed to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.