A key impeachment witness who listened in to Donald Trump's phone call with Ukraine told House investigators there was "no doubt" the president was asking for investigations into his political rivals, according to a newly-released transcript of his testimony.
On Friday, House committees spearheading the investigation released the full transcripts from closed-door testimonies with Lt Col Alexander Vindman, who sat in on the 25 July phone call, and Fiona Hill.
The explosive testimonies added further evidence of an apparent “quid pro quo” surrounding Mr Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, including the 25 July phone call in which he urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations into one of his 2020 political rivals, Joe Biden.
Lt Col Vindman, who serves as the director for European affairs on the National Security Council, said there was "no doubt" what Mr Trump was asking for during the call with his Ukrainian counterpart. The official described a “power disparity” between Mr Trump and Mr Zelensky as being “vast”.
He also said there was an obligation for the Ukrainian president to “fulfil this particular requisite” of publicly announcing investigations into Mr Biden, a 2020 candidate, and the origins of the Russia probe, in order to receive a White House visit.
In his testimony, Lt Col Vindman also discussed changes made to the official memo relating to Mr Trump's phone call that sparked the impeachment inquiry.
One of those changes was that Mr Zelensky’s reference to “Burisma” – an energy firm whose board Hunter Biden had sat on – had been changed to “the company”.
Asked why he thought that was significant, Lt Col Vindman said: “Because, frankly, the President of Ukraine would not necessarily know anything about this company Burisma. I mean, he would certainly understand some of this – some of these elements because the story had been developing for some time, but the fact that he mentioned specifically Burisma seemed to suggest to me that he was prepped for this call.”
The impeachment witness also told investigators that Mr Mulvaney took part in making sure the White House meeting between the two leaders was conditioned upon the agreement that Mr Zelensky would launch the investigations in question.
He said Mr Sondland “had a conversation with Mr Mulvaney, and this is what was required in order to get a meeting”.
The security expert also talked about the different way in which the record of the call was handled.
“As opposed to going into the standard communications system, it went into a different type, a different, more secure system", he told investigators.
Lt Col Vindman drew up a memo recommending that Mr Trump release US military aid worth $400 million to Ukraine, which he said had been withheld in an “abnormal” way. However, he said, the president “didn’t act on the recommendation”.
And Ms Hill, who served as the administration’s top Russia expert under Mr Trump, provided House investigators with a direct quote from the president’s ex-National Security adviser, John Bolton, who reportedly said: “You go an tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you’ve heard and what I’ve said.”
Mr Bolton appeared to be referring to White House lawyer John Eisenberg, Gordon Sondland, Mr Trump’s European Union ambassador, and Mick Mulvaney, the president’s acting chief of staff.