An official on the White House’s National Security Council said he heard the U.S. ambassador to the European Union explicitly press Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden and his son, according to a transcript released on Friday by Democrats leading the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump.
Alexander Vindman, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and Ukraine expert on the NSC, said Ambassador Gordon Sondland made it clear in a July 10 meeting at the White House that the investigations of the Bidens and Ukrainian gas company Burisma would have to be opened for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to get an Oval Office meeting with Trump.
“He was calling for something, calling for an investigation that didn’t exist into the Bidens and Burisma,” Vindman said. “My visceral reaction to what was being called for suggested that it was explicit. There was no ambiguity.”
His comments could give Democrats further ammunition in their push to determine whether Trump misused U.S. foreign policy to pressure Ukraine into carrying out a corruption probe into Democrat Joe Biden, a potential rival in the 2020 presidential election. The inquiry enters a critical phase next week when House committees hold impeachment hearings in public.
Vindman was among the U.S. officials in the White House Situation Room monitoring Trump’s call two weeks later on July 25 with Zelenskiy, the main focus of the impeachment probe.
He said he had no doubt that Trump demanded that Ukraine open the investigations in return for an Oval Office visit for the Ukrainian leader.
“This was about getting a White House meeting,” he said. “It was a demand for him to…fulfill this particular prerequisite.”
Vindman told lawmakers that he believes ties between the U.S. and Ukraine have been damaged by the administration’s actions.
“It undercuts U.S. resolve to support Ukraine and certainly puts a question into their mind whether they, in fact, have U.S. support,” he said. Also on Friday, an attorney for Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton sent a lawyer to House lawmakers that suggested Bolton knows about “many relevant meetings and conversations” concerning Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.
Democrats have sought Bolton’s testimony, but his lawyer, Charles Cooper, said in the letter that Bolton would not appear until a court rules on whether he should testify over objections from the White House.
With public hearings getting underway, House Republicans made a move to bolster their response to the impeachment probe.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that Representative Jim Jordan, an aggressive Trump defender, had been assigned to the House Intelligence Committee.