NSC official testified there was 'no doubt' Trump pushed quid pro quo

A White House official who was on President TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Congress there was “no doubt” that Trump had invoked a quid pro quo, according to transcripts released Friday as part of Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council (NSC) who was on the July 25 phone call, told House lawmakers the message from Trump was clear.

ADVERTISEMENT
"The demand was, in order to get the White House meeting, they had to deliver an investigation,” Vindman testified.

That assessment was backed by Fiona Hill, formerly Trump’s top Russia analyst at the NSC, who told lawmakers it was widely understood that investigating Burisma — the Ukrainian energy giant that had employed former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Democrats release two new transcripts ahead of next public impeachment hearings Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage MORE’s son Hunter Biden — was code for investigating the Bidens.

Vindman said Trump mentioned Burisma by name on the July 25 call.

“This is very much repeating things that Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiDemocrats release two new transcripts ahead of next public impeachment hearings GOP senator calls impeachment 'sabotage' effort, raises questions about witness on eve of testimony Impeachment guide: The 9 witnesses testifying this week MORE was saying in public on television,” Hill said.

Both Vindman and Hill told House investigators last month that Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, was a liability to diplomats managing U.S. foreign policy in Kiev — and should therefore be avoided.

Vindman said he told Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerImpeachment guide: The 9 witnesses testifying this week Public impeachment hearings enter second week The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Trump floats testifying in impeachment hearing MORE, former special envoy to Ukraine, on “a couple occasions” that “there was a lot of risk involved with trying to deal with Mr. Giuliani,” according to the transcript of his Oct. 29 deposition.

And Hill said she’d given Volker similar advice, warning it wasn’t “a good idea” to meet with the former New York City mayor, whose multifaceted agenda in Ukraine included efforts to oust a veteran U.S. diplomat; pressure Ukrainian leaders to find dirt on Trump’s political rivals; and drum up business opportunities for his financial partners.

“[Volker] said that he thought that he would be able to … reason with him and to, you know, kind of … manage this,” Hill said. “Well, we did not think that this was manageable.”

That view was shared by John BoltonJohn BoltonImpeachment guide: The 9 witnesses testifying this week The Hill's Morning Report - Week two of public impeachment testimony Himes: 'I don't think it blows a hole in the case' if Sondland testifies there was no quid pro quo MORE, Trump’s former national security adviser, who had characterized Giuliani as “a hand grenade” who would ultimately “blow everybody up,” Hill testified.

“Ambassador Bolton had said repeatedly that nobody should be meeting with Giuliani,” Hill said during her deposition on Oct. 14.

ADVERTISEMENT

But the isolation campaign met with limited success for one simple reason: Trump, in an Oval Office meeting in May, had told several top diplomats — including Volker and Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the E.U. — that Giuliani would be his point man on Ukrainian policy.

“He just kept saying, ‘Talk to Rudy, talk to Rudy,'” Sondland told lawmakers during his deposition last month.

Volker testified that he did just that, delivering a warning to Giuliani that he shouldn’t trust a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, whom the State Department had long considered to be corrupt and self-serving. But the message fell flat, and Giuliani, Volker testified, emerged as “a problem” for diplomats seeking to root out corruption and strengthen ties with Kiev.

“The negative narrative about Ukraine which Mr. Giuliani was furthering was the problem,” Volker testified on Oct. 3. “It was impeding our ability to build the relationship the way we should be doing.”

Aside from his association with Lutsenko, Giuliani was also in contact with John Solomon, an opinion columnist, formerly with The Hill, who wrote a series of pieces earlier this year promoting allegations of corruption by Biden, as well as debunked theories that Ukraine leaked information in 2016 about then-Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDemocratic impeachment investigators looking at whether Trump misled Mueller Gates sentencing set for next month Yovanovitch says John Solomon's columns were used to push false allegations MORE in an effort to bolster Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Centrists change tone of Democratic race In 2020, democracy will be decided at the margins Michelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award MORE.

Another Solomon column, based on an interview with Lutsenko, accused Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, of providing Lutsenko with a “do-not-prosecute” list. Vindman testified that there wasn’t a shred of truth to that account.

"All the key elements were false,” he said, adding, "his grammar might have been right."

The new details emerged this week as Democrats leading the impeachment investigation shift from weeks of closed-door depositions to a public phase of the process, to feature several televised hearings next week. As part of that transition, they’re releasing the verbatim transcripts of the 15 witness depositions they’ve conducted privately since the inquiry was launched on Sept. 24.

The transcripts for Vindman and Hill were the latest releases in that process. Both of them provided new ammunition for Democrats, who have accused Trump of abusing his office in pressing Zelensky to open investigations into the 2016 elections and Biden — both of which would have helped Trump politically heading into the 2020 elections.

Hill also testified that Giuliani — along with a pair of business partners with Ukrainian ties, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — were tapping Giuliani’s proximity to Trump in order to boost their own financial prospects.

“My view in looking at this, is that individuals — private individuals like Mr. Giuliani and his business associates — are trying to appropriate presidential power or the authority of the president, given the position that Mr. Giuliani is in, to also pursue their own personal interests,” she said.

Giuliani was also eroding morale in the State Department, multiple diplomats have testified, particularly after he helped to orchestrate the removal of Yovanovitch, who was recalled to Washington in May. Hill called it “a real turning point” for the diplomatic corps.

“There was no basis for her removal,” Hill testified. “The accusations against her had no merit whatsoever. This was a mishmash of conspiracy theories.”

Giuliani’s attorneys did not respond Friday to questions seeking comment.