The third day of public impeachment inquiries yielded some key information related to Donald Trump’s efforts to coerce Ukraine into opening an investigation into a domestic political rival, this time from Lt Col Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams.
The two witnesses are the first who were on the infamous 25 July phone call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, when the American asked for a favour from his Ukrainian counterpart. Later testimony involved Kurt Volker, a former US special representative for Ukraine negotiations, and Tim Morrison, a political advisor who was on the White House National Security Council for a time.
While perhaps light on fireworks, the hearings provided valuable insight into the Republican strategy when it comes to the impeachment investigation, while also reinforcing several key points we’ve already heard about.
Here’s what you need to know:
During the hearings, Lt Col Vindman’s integrity was frequently questioned – and affirmed. Lt Col Vindman is an Army war veteran who has devoted his life to serving the United States, and he made sure the hearing room knew it. He wore formal military attire for his testimony, and delivered a strong opening statement in which he told members of Congress that his family had moved to the United States from the former Soviet Union — and it was one of the best decisions they could have made.
During his testimony, the colonel even corrected ranking member Devin Nunes to refer to him by his title. “Ranking member, it’s Lt Col Vindman, please,” he said.
Lt Col Vindman also faced the insinuation from Republican counsel Steve Castor that he had duelling loyalties, in spite of his decorated military service. Mr Castor asked Mr Vindman if he had been offered positions with the Ukrainian government — he had, he said, but noted that he had turned them down and notified appropriate US officials about the offer.
“I’m an American, I came here when I was a toddler, and I immediately dismissed these offers. I did not entertain them,” he said. He later called the idea “funny” that he would take the position.
Lt Col Vindman confirmed key points in the impeachment investigation so far — and laid out their importance. The Army veteran’s testimony not only confirmed key aspects of the scandal plaguing the Trump administration, he also took things a step further and said he believed Mr Trump’s attempt to force a foreign leader to investigate a domestic political rival would have devastating consequences.
He said he believed any investigation would yield “dubious” results, and would also imperil US foreign interests and allies. He said during his testimony that keeping US military aide from Ukraine over an investigation into Joe Biden risked Ukrainian sovereignty, European Union security, and that it blatantly diverged from talking points prepared for the president by his national security staff.
Republicans once again attempted to unmask the whistleblower’s identity. House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff and the committee’s Republicans once again sparred over the identity of the whistleblower. That identity is not public, and is protected under federal law.
Republicans have sought to unmask this individual in their attempt to smear the accusations. But, they have also noted that the whistleblower was not sitting in on the 25 July phone call — as opposed to Lt Col Vindman and Ms Williams, who did.
Witnesses once again addressed debunked conspiracy theories about the Bidens and 2016. Both Lt Col Vindman and Ms Williams testified that there is no evidence to suggest Joe Biden did anything wrong while dealing with Ukraine as vice president, in spite of any appearance of conflict of interest presented by his son, Hunter Biden, working for the energy company Burisma.
Lt Col Vindman was also asked to address the conspiracy theory surrounding CrowdStrike, which he said was completely false and contrary to unanimous findings by the US intelligence community that Russia was responsible for 2016 election interference.
Crowdstrike is a Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity firm that has conducted major cyber investigations, and has become a favourite boogeyman of the right wing conspiracy machine. Those right-wing accusations include assertions that the company helped Democrats cover up breaches.
Lt Col Vindman cast attacks on impeachment witnesses as ‘vile’ attempts against ‘honourable’ public servants. The comment came during Lt Col Vindman’s opening remarks, in which he took “a moment to recognise the courage of my colleagues who have appeared and are scheduled to appear before this committee.”
In an apparent reference to Mr Trump’s real-time attacks on former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch last week, when he degraded her service in a tweet that was later read to her during her testimony and described as “intimidating”, he said: “It is natural to disagree and engage in spirited debate, this has been our custom since the time of our Founding Fathers, but we are better than callow and cowardly attacks."
Lt Col Vindman told his dad not to worry about his safety, because they now live in America. One of the most striking moments of the testimony came during prepared opening remarks, in which Lt Col Vindman noted that his family had emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union over 40 years ago.
In that time since, they have established themselves in the United States — including, notably, Lt Col Vindman’s ascent to a position in the White House national security council.
“Dad, my sitting here today, in the US Capitol talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision forty years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United States of American in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
Ms Williams said the Trump-Zelensky call was ‘unusual’ because it included domestic politics. Ms Williams testified that she had served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, before being hired onto Mr Pence’s team.
She was among those on the infamous 25 July phone call, and said that she thought that the call was “unusual because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”
Mr Volker — whom Republicans asked for specifically — did not turn out to be the witness the GOP had hoped for. Mr Volker, during the second round of testimony, said that he has known Mr Biden for "24 years", and that "the suggestion that he would be influenced in his duties as vice president by money for his son simply has no credibility to me. I know him as a man of integrity and dedication to our country." This undermines a key Republican talking point during this entire thing, which was that an investigation into Mr Biden was called for, and therefore OK for the president to push for from Ukraine.
Mr Volker essentially changed key portions of his testimony, compared to what we knew he said in private testimony. Another thing worth noting is that he now recognises that the "investigations" actually came up during a July 10 meeting he had with Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union who was brought in to push Ukraine policy (and who is set to testify on Wednesday).
He also testified that he did not view an investigation as "a condition" for released military aide, which contradicts previous testimony.
Mr Morrison claims he pushed to restrict access to the partial transcript of the 25 July phone call, fearing what it would mean in today's Washington climate. "My fears have been realised," Mr Morrison testified on Tuesday. Mr Morrison also said he did not intend for his comments during closed-door session to be taken as an attack on his National Security Council colleagues.