A senior White House official has testified that US President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader was improper, while blasting “cowardly” attacks on witnesses.
Lieutenant colonel Alexander Vindman, the White House National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert, made the comments during a hearing in the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
The House Intelligence Committee last week opened public hearings as part of a probe into whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to help his bid for re-election.
“It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent,” Vindman said in his opening statement.
Vindman, who along with other witnesses has been publicly criticised by Trump, also said that “vile character attacks” public servants testifying in the inquiry were “reprehensible”.
Kurt Volker, the former US special envoy to Ukraine, Jennifer Williams, an aide to vice president Mike Pence and former National Security Council Russia expert Tim Morrison were also scheduled to appear at today’s hearing.
The basis of the impeachment probe is a phone call made on 25 July, in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open a corruption investigation into rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Democrats are investigating whether Trump deliberately withheld $391m (£305m) in security aid to Ukraine in a bid to pressurise Kiev into cooperation. The aid, which was approved to help the country fight Russia-backed separatists, was later handed over.
In a prepared statement Williams said Trump’s call was “unusual” because it “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter”.
She said the White House Budget office had said Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had directed that the security aid to Ukraine be put on hold, and that she never learned why the assistance was later released in September.
Williams, who was also attacked by Trump on Twitter, was among the US officials who monitored the Trump-Zelenskiy call. She previously testified behind closed doors this month that some of Trump’s comments were “inappropriate”.
The hearings could open the door to a formal impeachment, where the House would file charges against Trump.
This would in turn lead to a trial in the Senate where politicians would decide whether to convict the President of the charges and remove him from office.
Main image credit: Getty