Edging closer to Trump: key takeaways from Tuesday’s impeachment hearings – The Guardian

The third day of public impeachment hearings on Tuesday saw testimony from four new witnesses. Here are five key takeaways:

1 Direct testimony on key scenes

For the first time, witnesses who listened to a 25 July phone call in which Donald Trump asked for a “favor” from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy testified publicly, confirming the facts of the call and the widespread concern it prompted.

“Without hesitation, I knew that I had to report this to the White House counsel,” said Lt Col Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine adviser on the National Security Council. “I had concerns and it was my duty to report my concerns to the proper people in the chain of command.”

2 Republicans challenge the uniform

Vindman, a combat veteran who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq, appeared in his US army dress uniform – but found himself under attack from Republicans who questioned his loyalty to the United States.

Vindman, who arrived in the US from the Soviet Union at age three, said he and two brothers had all enrolled in the military out of a belief in the American promise.

Asked why he was not afraid to testify, Vindman said: “Congressman, because this is America, this is the country that I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served. And here, right matters.” The public gallery applauded.

Sean Patrick Maloney

Today, I asked Lt. Col. Vindman why he had the confidence to put himself in direct opposition to the most powerful person in the world and still tell his dad not to worry.

His answer: “Because this is America… here, right matters.”

Watch my full line of questioning ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/IHVUTQIHx8

November 19, 2019

3 Republican witness backfires

One witness requested by Republicans, Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, said that Trump’s request of an investigation of Joe Biden made him realize that he failed to equate discussions of the gas company Burisma with Biden.

“In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently,” Volker said, “and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections.”

Volker implied that Trump was trafficking in conspiracy theories: “I don’t think that raising 2016 elections or Vice-President Biden, these things that I consider to be conspiracy theories,” he said, “they’re not things that we should be pursuing as part of national security strategy with Ukraine.”

4 Ever closer to Trump

Republicans have tried to distance Trump from the back-channel dealmaking in Ukraine, variously suggesting that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal emissary, or Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, was not acting in coordination with Trump.

But testimony on Tuesday provided evidence of Trump’s direct role in the plot. Volker and a fellow witness, the National Security Council official Tim Morrison, both testified that Sondland was in regular communication with Trump. Three witnesses confirmed that they had heard the president personally request, in his July call with Zelenskiy, an investigation of Joe Biden and coordination with Giuliani.

5 All eyes on Sondland

Witness after witness has described Sondland as a key figure pressing the Ukrainians at various moments for specific “investigations”. When he was originally deposed last month, Sondland said he took Trump at his word that “there was no quid pro quo” involving US military aid.

But Sondland revised his original testimony, acknowledging that he had advised a Zelenskiy aide that military assistance was not likely to resume without an announcement of investigations.

What led Sondland to say as much? How did Trump talk about Ukraine with Sondland? And what did Trump direct him to do?

Sondland is scheduled to testify on Wednesday morning.


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