5 takeaways from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's impeachment inquiry testimony

Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's testimony was released to the public Friday by the House committees who are conducting the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Vindman, a Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, was the first official interviewed in the inquiry who had listened to a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the center of a whistleblower complaint.

Vindman testified in October that he relayed concerns about that conversation and another to National Security Council attorneys that Trump and his European Union ambassador, Gordon Sondland, were inappropriately pushing Ukrainian leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.  

More: Key takeaways from newly released Volker and Sondland transcripts of impeachment testimony

Vindman was the subject of attacks from the president and allies questioning his allegiance to the United States because he was born in Ukraine. 

At the beginning of his testimony, Vindman detailed his life as an immigrant, describing how his family fled the Soviet Union when he was 3 years old and landed in new York City. His father worked multiple jobs, while learning English at night, Vindman said, and “he stressed to us the importance of fully integrating into our adopted country.”

“For many years, life was difficult. In spite of our challenging beginnings, my family worked to build its own American Dream. I have a deep appreciated for American value and ideals and the power of freedom. I am a patriot.”

Here are the top takeaways from Vindman's testimony:

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman departs a closed door meeting on Capitol Hill on Oct. 29, 2019.

Vindman describes investigations as ‘prerequisite’ to get a meeting with Trump

Vindman, who is the White House’s top Ukraine expert, testified that “It was a demand for (Zelensky) to fulfill his — fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting,” describing what Trump said on the July 25 call. “The demand was, in order to get the White House meeting, they had to deliver an investigation.”

On the phone call, Trump urged Zelensky to investigate Biden.

Vindman testified there was "no ambiguity" that this effort pushed by Trump and others was about what the Ukrainians needed to do to secure the desired meeting between the two leaders. 

Vindman repeatedly testified that he did not think the push to investigate the Bidens or Burisma was in the best interest of the U.S-Ukraine relationship and policy.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman said. 

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where the gain would be for the president in investigating the son of a political opponent." 

More: 'My worst nightmare.' Ex-Trump aide describes concern on Ukraine policy - impeachment probe latest

Vindland contradicts some of Sondland's testimony

Vindman and Fiona Hill, a National Security Council expert on Russia who was the first official to testify in the impeachment inquiry, often contradicted Sondland's testimony during their depositions.

Sondland told lawmakers that he pushed for Ukraine to investigate Burisma, the natural-gas company that appointed Hunter Biden to its board, but not because of the Bidens. He claimed that he wasn't aware of the Bidens relevancy to the company at the time, and even well after the July 25 call.

However, Vindman told lawmakers that Sondland, in a July 10 meeting with the Ukrainian delegation in Washington, D.C., mentioned Biden outright.

Vindman 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 percent recall because I didn’t take notes of it, but Burisma, that it seemed — I mean, there was no ambiguity, I guess, in my mind. He was calling for something, calling for an investigation that didn’t exist into the Bidens and Burisma"

"What did you hear Sondland say?" he was asked afterward.

Vindman answered, "That the Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens."

Sondland told lawmakers that, "I don't remember that" when asked whether he brought up investigations at that meeting, and that he didn't "recall at all" having an "agreement" with Mick Mulvaney, the White House acting chief of staff, on the topic.

Despite calling him a "good man" a few weeks ago and claiming he wanted to protect Sondland from a "kangaroo court" the president said today he "barely knew" him.

More: 5 takeaways from the impeachment inquiry testimony of Fiona Hill, former White House adviser on Russia

Mick Mulvaney tied in quid pro quo in testimony

Vindman and Hill told lawmakers that Mulvaney was involved in pushing for the investigations.

Both officials testified that in the July 10 meeting, Sondland told Ukrainian officials was that they would have to open an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma to secure the White House meeting, and that narrative was directed by Mulvaney.

“Sondland relatively quickly went into outlining how the — you know, these investigations need to — on the deliverable for these investigations in order to secure this meeting,” Vindman testified, reiterating that he "heard him say that this had been coordinated with White House Chief of Staff Mr. Mick Mulvaney.”

"He just said that he had had a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney, and this is what was required in order to get a meeting," Vindman said in his testimony. "So he was talking about the 2016 elections and an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma,"  

Mulvaney was subpoenaed to testify Friday but he did not appear. His outside counsel informed House investigators "one minute" before the scheduled closed-door deposition that Mulvaney "had been directed by the White House not to comply with the duly authorized subpoena and asserted 'absolute immunity'."

At a press conference last month, Mulvaney told to reporters "Did (Trump) also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely... That's it. That's why we held up the money," acknowledging the White House had frozen military aid as leverage over Ukraine. He later walked these comments back. 

More: Top takeaways from George Kent's newly released impeachment inquiry testimony

Vindman learned about aid holdup on July 3, weeks earlier than has been reported.

Vindman told lawmakers he was aware of the withheld aid "certainly by about JuIy 3rd."

This is a new date in the timeline, as it was previously reported and stated by testifying officials that it was July 18th that Trump ordered a hold on the military aid.

"It's possible I had some earlier indications in late June as the departments would alert me to the fact that they were getting queries from the Office of Budget and Management, you know, asking questions that, in their view, you know, were abnormal on something of that nature," Vindmand testified. "But by JuIy 3rd, that's when I was concretely made aware of the fact that there was a hold placed by OMB."

He also stressed that withholding the military aid “damaged” and “undercut” the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine.

"So I probably had some sense, but it became crystal clean when OMB staffers reported that the hold came from the Chief of Staff's Office," Vindman said when asked if he had learned why the hold had taken place, elaborating it was communicated to him that it was "to make sure that the assistance continues to align with the administration priorities."

No 'authoritative basis' regarding conspiracy theory surrounding Ukraine and 2016 election

Vindman stated in his testimony that he there is no truth behind the debunked conspiracy theory that the Ukrainian government, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election to benefit former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was the Democratic nominee.  

Along with pushing the investigation into the Bidens, Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had been pushing the theory of Ukrainian government involvement in the last U.S. presidential election.

“I am, frankly, unaware of any authoritative basis for Ukranian interference in 2016 elections, based on my knowledge,” Vindman stated.

Hill agreed with this as well in her testimony, stating, “It is a fiction that the Ukrainian government was launching an effort to upend our election, upend our election to mess with our Democratic systems."

Trump mentioned the debunked theory while asking Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.

“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine,” Trump said in the July 25 phone call. “There are a lot of things that went on."

Vindman testified about the danger of Russian influence and interference to both Ukraine and the U.S. 

"And so it would serve Russian interests if false narratives were promulgated that would drive the President of the United States away from Ukraine?" he was asked.

"That is correct." 

Contributing: Jeanine Santucci, Courtney Subramanian, Bart Jansen, Nicholas Wu, Michael Collins, Kristyn Wellesley, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Impeachment: Alexcander Vindman's Ukraine call testimony takeaways