‘Please’: Witness snaps in Trump probe

 

The testimony of National Security Council official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman grew tense Tuesday under questioning from Rep. Devin Nunes - as the impeachment hearing witness eventually scolded the top intelligence committee Republican for not addressing him by his military title.

The moment came amid a back-and-forth over the identity of the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about President Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky led to the impeachment proceedings.

"Mr. Vindman, you testified in your deposition that you did not know the whistleblower," Mr Nunes stated, Fox News reported.

"Ranking member, it's Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please," the witness responded.

Mr Nunes corrected himself and repeated the statement, which followed questions regarding who Lt-Col Vindman had spoken with about Trump's phone call. More than once, Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, interjected to advise Lt-Col Vindman that the purpose of the hearing was not to expose the identity of the whistleblower, who is afforded legal protection.

Lt-Col Vindman did say he spoke to two individuals regarding a readout of the call, and that both were government employees with a need to know. Mr Nunes asked which agencies they were with, to which Lt-Col Vindman said he spoke to State Department official George Kent, and "an individual in the intelligence community."

Mr Nunes pressed for which agency in the intelligence community that the individual worked for, which prompted Mr Schiff to intervene.

"If the witness has a good faith belief that this may reveal the identity of the whistleblower, that is not the purpose that we are here for, and I want to advise the witness accordingly," Mr Schiff said.

 

National Security Council aide Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman leaves the hearing room during a break from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing. Picture: AP /J Scott Applewhite
National Security Council aide Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman leaves the hearing room during a break from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing. Picture: AP /J Scott Applewhite

 

EXTREME MEASURES

The US Army will take measures to protect a key witness in the Donald Trump impeachment probe amid safety concerns for him and his family, it's been revealed.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, National Security Council's Ukraine expert, and Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, were on Tuesday the first current White House officials to testify publicly in the inquiry on Capitol Hill.

But there are fears their testimonies could come at a personal cost, with reports Lt-Col Vindman and his entire family may have to uproot their entire lives and move to a US military base for protection.

Both officials listened in on Mr Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky - a conversation at the centre of the inquiry, and one that Mr Trump has repeatedly defended as "perfect".

In his testimony on Tuesday, Lt-Col Vindman said Mr Trump's request of Mr Zelensky sounded like a "demand", while Ms Williams described the call as "unusual" for its discussion of "a domestic political matter".

"It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent," Mr Vindman told members of the House Intelligence Committee, referring to Mr Trump's request that Ukraine investigate his political rivals, including Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The demands "had nothing to do with national security policy", Lt-Col Vindman added.

Lt-Col Vindman, a decorated war veteran, told the inquiry he immediately reported to his superiors his discomfort with Mr Trump's actions on the now infamous call with Mr Zelensky.

He said he was previously aware of an "alternative false narrative" about Ukraine meddling in the 2016 presidential election to aid Hillary Clinton and having not adequately investigated allegations that Joe and Hunter Biden were responsible for wrongdoing regarding Ukraine.

Lt-Col Vindman and Ms Williams have previously come under attack from the President for offering their accounts to Congress.

Moments before Lt-Col Vindman's testimony, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff warned his Republican colleagues against attacking either of the witnesses.

"We have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character and watched as certain personalities on Fox have questioned your loyalty. I note that you have shed blood for America, and we owe you an immense debt of gratitude," Mr Schiff said of Lt-Col Vindman, who received a Purple Heart after being wounded by an IED in Iraq.

"I hope no one on this committee will become part of those vicious attacks."

Lt-Col Vindman also denounced verbal attacks on witnesses in the investigation.

"I want to state that the vile character attacks on these distinguished and honourable public servants is reprehensible," he said.

"In Russia, my act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions and offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life."

Lt-Col Vindman's testimony came as it was revealed that his involvement in the impeachment inquiry had prompted the army to offer protection to him and his family.

"The army is providing supportive assistance to help Lt-Col Vindman with the public attention," army spokeswoman Kathy Turner said.

"As a matter of practice, the army would neither confirm nor deny any safety or security measures taken on behalf of an individual, however as we would with any soldier, the army will work with civilian authorities to ensure that he and his family are properly protected."

The US Army would move Lt-Col Vindman and his family to a military base for protection if required, a US official told Reuters.

Lt-Col Vindman is one of the witnesses testifying in public hearings this week about Mr Trump's alleged effort to have Ukraine launch an investigation into his political rival Mr Biden, the former US vice president who is a leading Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

The impeachment process has polarised US politics, with Democrats arguing Mr Trump's behaviour towards Ukraine amounts to an abuse of power, and Mr Trump and some of his supporters calling it a "witch hunt".

Some Trump allies in the conservative media have questioned Lt-Col Vindman's loyalty to the US. Mr Trump last month described Lt-Col Vindman, as a "Never Trumper" - a term for Republicans who oppose Mr Trump.

megan.palin@news.com.au | @Megan_Palin

- with Fox News



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