White House's Ukraine Expert To Testify In Impeachment Inquiry

Oct 29, 2019
Originally published on October 29, 2019 11:39 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has tried to undermine the credibility of the whistleblower in the Ukraine scandal, saying that this person only had secondhand information about his phone call in July with the leader of Ukraine. Today, House investigators will hear from someone with firsthand information. His name is Alexander Vindman, and he's a top aide in the National Security Council overseeing Ukraine policy. He listened in on that phone call, and he was concerned about what he heard. Today, he becomes the first current White House official to testify before the impeachment inquiry against the president.

NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has obtained a copy of Vindman's opening statement and is with us now. Hi, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN: So what does Vindman say about why he was so troubled by this July phone call?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Vindman said that he didn't think it was right to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen. In this case, that's Vice President Joe Biden's son. He said he noticed back in the spring that, quote, "outside influencers" were promoting a false narrative of Ukraine, and he worried that it threatened to undermine U.S. national security. He also worried that investigating the Bidens would be seen as a partisan play and that it can damage U.S. support for Ukraine.

MARTIN: And what did he do about those concerns?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, he raised those concerns with top NSC lawyers. He also - he did it not just once but twice. He also confronted another diplomat, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, telling him that investigating the Bidens had nothing to do with national security and that the NSC was not going to get involved with that or push that effort.

MARTIN: So Vindman is going to be the latest person to testify, basically backing up everything we heard in the original whistleblower complaint, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, that's right. He is going to be the latest person to do it, and he's the first person, as you noted earlier, to do it with firsthand knowledge of someone listening to the president speak to his Ukrainian counterpart. You know, it's - I'll just note that he does not have to do this. He does not have to give an opening statement. That speaks, I think, to the anxiety that many national security professionals have about the situation here. He was not the first person to raise these concerns. William Taylor, the special envoy for Ukraine, also raised several of these concerns. Fiona Hill, who worked with Vindman at the NSC, testified that even National Security Adviser John Bolton raised concerns and characterized this whole situation as a, quote, "drug deal."

MARTIN: So the White House has tried to undermine the credibility of the entire impeachment inquiry by attacking the credibility of the people coming forward. So I guess my question to you is, is there anything in Vindman's own biography that would suggest that he's not credible?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it's interesting. We're already seeing this morning supporters of Trump raising question about his loyalties. But he's got quite the resume. He's also an Iraq War veteran. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his service to the United States after being wounded by an IED. One thing he makes very clear, though, about his background is he is not the whistleblower. He's not the person who brought this to the attention of the CIA and the committees. And he also made very clear that he would not be comfortable speculating about who is that whistleblower.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Franco Ordoñez giving us a preview of this important testimony coming up in the House impeachment inquiry today. Franco, thanks. We appreciate it.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.