The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released transcripts from two separate depositions of key figures in the impeachment inquiry on Friday.
White House National Security Council (NSC) Director for European Affairs and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified before House members of both parties on Oct. 29; President Donald Trump’s former top Russia advisor, who also previously served on the NSC, Fiona Hill testified on Oct. 14. Here are three of the major topics covered over the course of 700-plus pages of testimony.
Vindman Rubbished the Entirety of John Solomon’s Reporting
Vindman himself brought the reporting of conservative-leaning investigative journalist John Solomon into the record–telling congressional investigators that he thought Solomon’s story in The Hill was a “false narrative.”
Recall: Solomon’s reporting set the 45th president on a crash course toward impeachment with an April report on then-vice president Joe Biden bragging about having forced Ukrainian officials to fire the prosecutor investigating Hunter Biden‘s former natural gas firm.
Vindman repeatedly said he thought the Solomon story was premised on some undefinable level of bunk–but GOP House members party to the deposition refused to leave it at that.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) teed up the eventual slam: “Earlier at today’s testimony there was a reference made to a John Solomon article, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Did you say that you believed that was a false narrative?”
“Yes,” Vindman replied.
“And that was based on authoritative sources?” Zeldin asked.
Vindman again replied in the affirmative, which prompted Zeldin to press further in an attempt to clarify what exactly he thought Solomon had gotten wrong throughout his Ukraine reporting.
“So there was an element in which Ambassador Yovanovitch proffered a no prosecute list, which frankly, based on my experience with her, seemed preposterous,” Vindman said. “There was the claim that, you know, this ludicrous claim of the fact that she was embezzling funds, withholding some $4 million from Lutsenko and the reform funds to reform the Prosecutor General’s Office.”
The discussion seesawed for awhile. Vindman eventually said he thought “all the key elements” of Solomon’s reporting “were false.”
But Zeldin wasn’t quite done. And neither was Vindman. When the GOP member continued to press, Vindman said:
Were there more [false] items in there, frankly, Congressman? I don’t recall. I haven’t looked at the article in quite some time, but you know, his grammar might have been right.
Vindman then got serious (see: page 323):
[A]s far as I recall, the key elements that Mr. Solomon put in that story that were again proffered by [former Ukraine prosecutor general Yuriy] Lutsenko, a completely self-serving individual to save his own skin, and to advance the interest of the President, more than likely actually with the backing of the President of Ukraine, and extremely harmful to Ukraine’s own interests, all those elements, as fan as I recall, were false.
Zeldin wasn’t content with that response either and, while admitting that Vindman’s joke was funny, asked if anything aside from “grammar and commas” in Solomon’s reporting was true.
To which Vindman replied: “I think the most accurate way to do this is, I believe I thoroughly vetted this issue, and maybe the best thing to do would be to take a look at the story and we can identify if there’s something in there that’s accurate.”
John Bolton Called the Quid Pro Quo a ‘Drug Deal’
Hill described a tense moment between herself and Gordon Sondland amidst a “very large group” of White House aides and aides to top Ukrainian officials. According to Hill, Sondland was in the process of promising “an agreement with Chief of Staff [Mick] Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations [into the Biden family]” when she interrupted and attempted to put the kibosh on the whole thing.
Recall: Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch previously testified before Congress that Lutsenko had a certain cupidity for meeting with top U.S. officials–but adamantly refused to go through time-honored and official channels in order to secure such meetings.
Yovanovitch believes that her insistence on Lutsenko first bringing his concerns to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine’s “legat,” or the legal attache at the embassy as well as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents stationed there, eventually led to his conspiring for her removal with Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman and Rudy Giuliani.
Hill similarly said she was adamant that any such meeting between Ukrainian and U.S. officials had to be scheduled through proper procedures and channels due to former ambassador John Bolton‘s previous hesitancy for such a meeting and because of his by-the-book attitude. After some back-and-forth, Sondland allegedly told Hill: “We have an agreement that they’ll have a meeting.”
“And I said: Look, we’re the National Security Council,” Hill told congressional investigators. “We’re basically here to talk about how we set this up, and we’re going to set this up in the right way. And, you know, Ambassador Bolton has asked me to make it completely clear that we’re going to talk about this, and, you know, we will deal with this in the proper procedures. And Ambassador Sondland was clearly annoyed with this, but then, you know, he moved off. He said he had other meetings.
Hill then went into detail as to how uncomfortable Bolton was with the idea:
And I went back to talk to Ambassador Bolton. And Ambassador Bolton asked me to go over and report this to our NSC counsel, to John Eisenberg. And he told me, and this is a direct quote from Ambassador Bolton: You go and tell Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this, and you go and tell him what you’ve heard and what I’ve said. So I went over to talk to John Eisenberg about this.
Vindman Felt Trump’s Investigation Request Was Antithetical to U.S. National Security
“I was concerned by the call,” Vindman told Zeldin. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for U.S. Government support to Ukraine. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would be interpreted as a partisan play, which undoubtedly would result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus fan maintained. This would undermine U.S. national security.”
Vindman previously told the Director of Investigations Daniel Goldman he reported the efforts described above in Hill’s testimony to legal counsel and that Hill was prepared to do the same thing.
“And we also discussed the fact that we thought it was inappropriate and, you know, had nothing to do with national security,and we were not going to get involved in it,” Vindman said–before noting that he also made a report of the efforts to secure a meeting with the White House in exchange for an investigation into the Bidens to “the chain of command.”
“And is it fair to say that encouraging Ukraine to conduct investigations related to domestic U.S. politics was not in the U.S. national security interests?” Goldman asked.
Vindman replied: “In my view, I don’t think it was.”
[image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]