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Witnesses With Firsthand Knowledge Of Events Central To Impeachment Inquiry Testify


ADAM SCHIFF: This committee will come to order.


A new phase for the impeachment hearings today. Witnesses with firsthand knowledge of events at the heart of the inquiry are speaking publicly for the first time.


JENNIFER WILLIAMS: On July 25, along with several of my colleagues, I listened to a call between President Trump and President Zelenskiy.

ALEXANDER VINDMAN: I listened in on the call in the Situation Room with White House colleagues. I was concerned by the call.

WILLIAMS: I found the July 25 phone call unusual.

CHANG: That is Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.


Now, also on that call and also testifying today - Tim Morrison, who until recently was a senior official with the National Security Council and Vindman's boss.


TIM MORRISON: I feared, at the time of the call on July 25, how its disclosure would play in Washington's political climate. My fears have been realized.

KELLY: Morrison, along with Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, are the first of the Republicans' requested witnesses to testify. Volker was not on the call. He is one of the so-called three amigos who were handling the Trump administration's Ukraine policy.


KURT VOLKER: At no time was I aware of or knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden. And as you know from the extensive documentation I provided, Vice President Biden was not a topic of discussion.

CHANG: Well, for more on what we are learning from these witnesses, we're joined now by NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hey, Sue.


CHANG: So let's start with the first part of today's hearing. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman definitely drew the most attention from both Republicans and Democrats. First, just tell us why.

DAVIS: Democrats have seen Vindman as one of - not just their best fact witnesses but a character witness. He has an extraordinarily interesting and uniquely American story. He's the son of political refugees from the Soviet Union. He's a career military officer, as are both of his brothers, including his twin brother. He is a Purple Heart veteran. He has an impeccable service record, which Democrats made note of in today's hearing.

And as he testified today, he was so alarmed by what he heard on that July 25 phone call that he went up the chain of command to lawyers at the NSC. He said, in his view, he saw it as, quote, "inappropriate." And he knew, without hesitation upon hearing it, that he would have to report it.

CHANG: OK. So impressive credentials. But Republicans cast Vindman very differently, right?

DAVIS: It was very different, both tonally and substance. There was this one moment that a lot of people paid attention to in which Devin Nunes - who's the top Republican on the committee from California - referred to him as mister, and Vindman cut in and said, please refer to me as lieutenant colonel, sir - sort of a moment of confrontation about niceties.

There was a line of questioning from Republicans specifically that walked a pretty fine line because there was a line of questioning from the Republican staff counsel that sort of suggested or questioned his loyalty to the country, noting that he was asked by the Ukrainian government to be their defense minister at least three times. Vindman confirmed that account. He said that was true. But he said he reported it up the chain and batted down that it was ever seriously a consideration.

CHANG: He even said it was kind of comical to be asked.

DAVIS: It was. And in this - you know, Democrats were quick to follow up on this. And there was this exchange he had - Vindman had with another Democrat, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, that drew a round of applause from the public in the hearing room.


VINDMAN: Congressman, because this is America. This is the country I've served and defended, that all of my brothers have served. And, here, right matters.

SEAN PATRICK MALONEY: Thank you, sir. Yield back.


CHANG: All right, that applause we're hearing. I mean, Republicans, including ranking member Devin Nunes and Ohio's Jim Jordan - they used their time on lines of questions that were seen as possibly trying to identify the original whistleblower that started all of this. What do you think the Republican strategy was there?

DAVIS: I think it has been part of the broader Republican strategy to try to say this process has not been - this has not been fair to the White House. They are not hearing from all of the witnesses that are relevant to this investigation. And Democrats saw Republicans trying to use their line of questioning to potentially out the whistleblower. Chairman Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes got into it a little bit. Let's hear what they had to say.


SCHIFF: If I could interject here, we don't want to use these proceedings...

DEVIN NUNES: It's our time, Mr. Chair.

SCHIFF: I know. But we need to protect the whistleblower. If - please stop. I want to make sure that there's no effort to out the whistleblower through the use of these proceedings.

DAVIS: Vindman did testify that he did not know who the whistleblower was. Democrats have also made clear they do not plan to call the whistleblower. They say, essentially, now they don't need to. All of the information that was in that original whistleblower complaint that started this all has been corroborated, including by the White House itself when they released the transcript of that July 25 phone call. Republicans haven't exactly said what they believe the whistleblower knows or what having them testify would prove, which sort of underscores that this is more about sort of a political distracting tactic than a fact-finding one.

CHANG: Well, the committee is also hearing from witnesses the Republicans wanted to hear from - former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker. He's testifying right now. What did he say about his efforts to address concerns about corruption by President Trump?

DAVIS: These are witnesses that Republicans think have - could help sort of make their point that these aren't impeachable offenses. Volker sort of said he was a guy that was out of the loop on a lot of the questions at hand here. He said he had no firsthand knowledge of withholding the aid. He said he was kind of uncomfortable by that three amigos term that's been given to him and Rudy - or to EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. He did tell the committee, though, that he did not make any connection between the call for investigations and the Biden family and that when he found out there was a connection, he made sure it was inappropriate. And he also said he didn't actually think it was wrong for the U.S. to ask for investigations of corruption from Ukraine. Here's what he said.


VOLKER: It has long been U.S. policy, under multiple administrations, to urge Ukraine to investigate and fight internal corruption. I was quite comfortable with Ukraine making its own statement about its own policy of investigating and fighting corruption at home.

DAVIS: He said he basically didn't realize what the motivation behind these investigations were. And when he did find out, he said he made it clear that it was not appropriate and that he believed Joe Biden is a good man.

CHANG: And, really quickly, why did Republicans also want to hear from Tim Morrison? He's the other witness testifying now, a former National Security Council aide.

DAVIS: Behind closed doors, Morrison said when he heard the call, he didn't think he heard anything illegal. And that is something that Republicans would like him to say out loud so the public can hear it.

CHANG: That's NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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