GOP senator calls impeachment ‘sabotage’ effort, raises questions about witness on eve of testimony
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) described the House impeachment inquiry as an effort to “sabotage” President Trump’s administration and raised questions about the credibility of a key witness on the eve of that person’s public testimony.
Johnson, a Trump ally, suggested in a letter that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official who is slated to testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday morning, may be among a class of government bureaucrats who aim to push back on Trump’s policies “by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office.”
“I view this impeachment inquiry as a continuation of a concerted, and possibly coordinated, effort to sabotage the Trump administration that probably began in earnest the day after the 2016 presidential election,” Johnson wrote in the letter Monday to Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the top Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform and Intelligence committees, respectively. Jordan was recently moved to the Intelligence Committee, which is conducting the public hearings.
Johnson, who participated in the U.S. delegation that attended Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration on May 20, was asked by the GOP lawmakers to provide relevant information related to the impeachment inquiry. Johnson spent a considerable portion of his letter in response railing against the inquiry and particularly raising questions about Vindman, whom Trump has also attacked as a “Never Trumper.”
In particular, Johnson referenced a conversation the two had during their May meetings in Ukraine.
“I had just finished making the point that supporting Ukraine was essential because it was ground zero in our geopolitical competition with Russia. I was surprised when Vindman responded to my point. He stated that it was the position of the NSC that our relationship with Ukraine should be kept separate from our geopolitical competition with Russia. My blunt response was, ‘How in the world is that even possible?’” Johnson wrote.
“I do not know if Vindman accurately stated the NSC’s position, whether President Trump shared that viewpoint, or whether Vindman was really just expressing his own view. I raise this point because I believe that a significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion onto their ‘turf,’” he continued.
“They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson also asserted that quotes from Vindman’s closed-door testimony reinforced his point, noting how he raised concerns about an “alternative narrative” being pushed by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
“Vindman’s testimony, together with other witnesses’ use of similar terms such as ‘our policy,’ ‘stated policy,’ and ‘long-standing policy’ lend further credence to the point I’m making,” Johnson wrote.
“Whether you agree with President Trump or not, it should be acknowledged that the Constitution vests the power of conducting foreign policy with the duly elected president. American foreign policy is what the president determines it to be, not what the ‘consensus’ of unelected foreign policy bureaucrats wants it to be,” he continued.
Johnson then suggested individuals who disagree with Trump should register those disagreements on proper legal channels or resign if they are unable to change his mind.
Vindman is one of several current or former officials to testify privately in connection with House Democrats’ inquiry, which is centered on a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky during which the president asked Ukraine to investigate a debunked theory about Ukraine’s involvement in 2016 election interference as well as the business dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son in Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Vindman will become the first individual with firsthand information about the phone call to testify publicly. Vindman listened in on the call, a rough transcript of which has been released by the White House.
“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 testified of the phone call during his closed-door deposition last month, according to a transcript that has since been released.
House Democrats are investigating whether Trump sought to use the promise of a White House meeting and $400 million in security aid to Ukraine as a cudgel to press Kyiv to open investigations that could benefit Trump politically.
A number of witnesses have described an effort driven by Giuliani to leverage the meeting and aid in order to pressure Ukraine for the investigations. Trump has denied there was any quid pro quo in his interactions with Ukraine.
Johnson’s letter provides a detailed account of his involvement in communications with the administration and Ukraine.
Johnson mentioned an Aug. 30 call with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland during which he described “an arrangement” where Ukraine would need to demonstrate its intention to investigate Kyiv’s alleged involvement in 2016 election interference in order for the military assistance.
But Johnson wrote that Trump denied such an arrangement during a phone call the following day and appeared not to know Sondland, despite testimony suggesting the two had a number of communications.
Johnson said he asked Trump whether there was “some kind of arrangement where Ukraine would take some action and the hold would be lifted.”
“Without hesitation, President Trump immediately denied such an arrangement existed,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson said he then told Trump he had heard such from Sondland, and that Trump replied, “Who is that guy?”
Johnson said Trump cited Ukraine’s corruption and the lack of European support for Ukraine as the reasons a hold had been placed on the aid.
“The president was not prepared to lift the hold, and he was consistent in the reasons he cited. He reminded me of how thoroughly corrupt Ukraine was and again conveyed his frustration that Europe doesn’t do its fair share of providing military aid,” Johnson said.
Johnson also paraphrased a call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Trump referenced during their conversation.
“‘Ron, I talk to Angela and ask her, ‘Why don’t you fund these things, and she tells me, ‘Because we know you will.’ We’re schmucks. Ron. We’re schmucks,’” he wrote.