‘No ambiguity’: Takeaways from Ukraine transcripts
|Toronto Star 08 Nov 2019 at 23:43|
WASHINGTON - Two White House officials described tensions and frustrations among some of the nation’s top diplomats as President Donald Trump, backed by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats.
In closed-door transcripts released by House impeachment investigators on Friday, Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia adviser, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer assigned to the National Security Council, detailed an extraordinary series of meetings and interactions before and after a July phone call in which Trump asked new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Joe Biden and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. election. At the same time, the U.S. was withholding military aid to the country.
Like previous witnesses, the two describe their concerns about the call and a gradual understanding that the aid and the investigations were linked. That connection is at the centre of the Democrats’ impeachment probe.
Takeaways from the Hill and Vindman transcripts:
DRAMA UNFOLDS IN THE WHITE HOUSE
Both Hill and Vindman describe a July meeting in the White House, before the call, in which Trump’s E.U. ambassador, Gordon Sondland, told Ukrainian officials that Trump would hold a meeting with Zelenskiy if they launch the investigations.
Hill said Sondland essentially “blurted out” that he had an agreement with acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, “stiffened” and abruptly ended the meeting.
Sondland then convened a second meeting downstairs with the Ukrainians, to which Bolton sent Hill “to find out what they’re talking about.”
As she walked in, Sondland was trying again to set up the meeting and mentioned Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. Hill cut him off.
Vindman said that Sondland discussed an investigation into the Bidens in the second meeting, which he also attended.
“My visceral reaction to what was being called for suggested that it was explicit,” Vindman said. “There was no ambiguity.”
Hill reported back to Bolton about Sondland’s attempts. Bolton told her to tell a National Security Council lawyer what she had heard, and to make it clear that that “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this.”
She said she had also discussed with Bolton the May dismissal of Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, which came at Trump’s direction. He said his reaction was “pained.”
Bolton told her that “Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up.”