Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman looked every part the American hero as he strode into the impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill Tuesday poised to deliver a new hammer blow to President Donald Trump.
Wearing his full-dress Army uniform, the Purple Heart winner arrived to tell congressional investigators why he was testifying about Trump’s effort to bully Ukraine into launching investigations into Democrats.
“I am a patriot,” Vindman, who grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, said in his prepared opening statement.
Vindman, who was wounded in Iraq, told House investigators that he listened to Trump’s July 25 call with new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and reported his concerns to the National Security Council’s lead counsel.
“I was concerned by the call,” Vindman’s prepared testimony reads. “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 the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.”
Vindman is the first official who listened in on that call to testify as the impeachment inquiry delivers new blows to the beleaguered president. He’s also the first current White House official to appear before the impeachment panels, defying Trump’s efforts to stonewall the probe.
Democrats called Vindman a star witness who had a front row seat to Trump’s alleged abuse of power.
“Extremely, extremely, extremely disturbing,” Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., acting chair of the oversight committee, told NBC News as she left the hearing for a break.
Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said Vindman, who took notes on the crucial call, “filled in more of the puzzle pieces.”
Trump quickly sought to discredit Vindman, even though there is no evidence he is anything other than a paragon of duty.
“Supposedly, according to the Corrupt Media, the Ukraine call ‘concerned’ today’s Never Trumper witness,” Trump wrote on Twitter in an apparent reference to Vindman. “Was he on the same call that I was?”
The inquiry is looking into Trump’s call, in which he asked Zelenskiy for a “favor” by investigating Democrats.
Critics say that was part of Trump’s improper quid pro quo that has put him on the brink of impeachment. Trump suspended desperately needed defense aid and sought to use it as leverage to get Ukraine to launch bogus probes, they say.
In his testimony, Vindman, a 20-year military officer and decorated veteran, says he first reported his concerns after a July 10 meeting in which U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland stressed the importance of having Ukraine investigate the 2016 election as well as Burisma, a company linked to the family of Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Vindman says he told Sondland that “his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push.”
That account differs from Sondland’s, a wealthy businessman who donated $1 million to the Trump inauguration and testified before the impeachment investigators that no one from the NSC “ever expressed any concerns.”
As for the call between Trump and Zelenskiy, Vindman said he listened in the Situation Room with colleagues from the NSC and Vice President Mike Pence’s office and was immediately concerned by what he heard. He said he again reported his concerns to the NSC’s lead counsel.
“I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained,” he said. “This would all undermine U.S. national security.”
Vindman, who arrived in the United States as a 3-year-old from the former Soviet Union, was raised in Brighton Beach.
He served in various military and diplomatic posts before joining the NSC. His twin brother is an NSC lawyer and their offices are across the hall from one another in the White House.
Vindman was the director for European affairs and a Ukraine expert under Fiona Hill, a former official who testified earlier in the impeachment probe. Hill worked for former national security adviser John Bolton.
“It is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend OUR country, irrespective of party or politics,” wrote Vindman.
Vindman attended Zelenskiy’s inauguration with a delegation led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and he and Hill were both part of a Ukraine briefing with Sondland that others have testified irritated Bolton at the White House.
He said he is not the whistleblower, the still unnamed government official who filed the initial complaint over Trump’s conversation with the Ukraine president that sparked the House impeachment inquiry. He will say he does not know who the whistleblower is.
There was a tense moment when Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is running the hearing, accused Republicans of seeking to get Vindman to offer clues about the identity of the whistleblower, who may not testify since others have more direct knowledge of the scandal.
“There’s an intent to out the whistleblower … . which is why we’re trying to protect them,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told NBC. “And that’s what the quote, unquote tense moment was about.”
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