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US security official Lt. Col. Vindman testifies Ukraine offered Defense Minister post

Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman questions Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, next to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) during a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/REUTERS/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. National Security Council’s (NSC) expert for Ukraine has told the Democratic-led House of Representatives impeachment hearing he was offered the position of Ukraine’s defense minister three times, a new revelation that came out as Republicans tried to undermine his key testimony.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman told the hearing on November 19 that Ukraine’s then-national security chief, Oleksandr Danylyuk, asked him if he wanted to become the country’s new defense minister when he visited Kyiv in May as part of the U.S. delegation attending President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration.

Vindman, who was born in the Soviet republic of Ukraine and speaks Ukrainian, served in the U.S. Army, including a stint in Iraq. He said he had no interest in the position and wasn’t even sure if Danylyuk was serious about the offer.

“Every single time, I dismissed it. Upon returning, I notified my chain of command and the appropriate counterintelligence folks about the offer,” he told the hearing during his four-hour testimony.

Vindman is an important witness in the impeachment hearing because he is one of the few witnesses to testify who listened in on the July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Zelenskiy that is at the heart of the inquiry.

The hearing is seeking to determine whether Trump made a White House visit and military aid to Ukraine conditional upon Kyiv launching an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking to challenge Trump in 2020.

During the July 25 phone call, Zelenskiy told Trump Ukraine would like to buy more weapons as it fights superior Russia-backed forces in its eastern provinces. Trump immediately responded that he would “like a favor, though” and asked Zelenskiy to look into whether Biden pressured Ukrainian officials to fire the prosecutor-general in order to halt an investigation into natural-gas firm Burisma.

Biden’s son Hunter was a member of Burisma’s board when his father was vice president. Several U.S. officials have testified that there was no factual basis for such a theory by Trump.

Vindman told the hearing he considered Trump’s comment to Zelenskiy as a “demand” because of the power disparity between the two leaders. He said he reported the details of the call immediately to the White House counsel because he thought it was “improper” for a U.S. president to push a foreign state to investigate a domestic political rival.

“This would have significant implications if it became public knowledge and it would be perceived as a partisan play. It would undermine our Ukraine policy and it would undermine our national security,” he told the hearing.

Vindman also dismissed Trump’s assertion that Ukraine may have meddled in the 2016 election, calling it “a Russian narrative that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has promoted.”

Allies of Trump, a Republican, have sought to question the loyalty of Vindman, a decorated veteran who emigrated to the United States with his father and twin brother when he was 3 years old.

Stephen Castor, the Republican’s counsel, at first peppered Vindman with questions about whether his superiors expressed any concern about his access to information and judgment on Ukraine policy, to which he replied “no.” Castor then asked if he took part in key Ukraine-related meetings and calls during the summer.

Vindman said he was not invited to travel with Vice President Mike Pence to Warsaw for a meeting with Zelenskiy at the beginning of September nor involved in phone calls between his boss, Tim Morrison, and William Taylor, U.S. charge d’affaires to Ukraine.

“Certainly, it was concerning” because Taylor “wasn’t steeped” in all the Ukraine issues, Vindman said about not being part of the calls. “I thought I could contribute to the performance of his duties.”

Castor then dropped the day’s bombshell by asking Vindman whether he had been offered the position of Ukrainian defense minister, a fact that had not been previously disclosed during hearings.

“When he made this offer to you initially, did you leave the door open? Was there a reason he had to come back and ask a second or third time?” Castor asked. “Did you ever think that possibly, if this information got out, that it might create at least the perception of a conflict?”

Vindman said he “did not leave the door open at all.”

Representative Raja Krishnamoothi (Democrat-Illinois) criticized his Republican colleagues for their questioning. “I’m concerned your loyalty is being questioned not because you are bringing evidence of wrongdoing against the president of the United States, but because you are an immigrant,” said Krishnamoorthi, who was also born abroad.

Jennifer Williams, a Foreign Service aide to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence who was also on the July 25 call, testified alongside Vindman.

Williams described the call between Trump and Zelenskiy as “unusual.” However, when asked why she did not file a complaint with the White House counsel or anyone else, she said her boss, Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, was on the call.

Representative John Ratcliffe (Republican-Texas) sought to punch holes in the two officials’ testimony by questioning why they had different reactions to the same call.

“I am not hearing a consensus between the two of you about what exactly you both heard on the call. And if you can’t reach an agreement with regard to what happened on the call, how can any of us?” Ratcliffe said.

The Republican representatives also sought to tie Vindman to the whistle-blower whose complaint based on secondhand sources helped launch the impeachment hearing.

Republicans have accused the whistle-blower, who has been identified as an official of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), of being biased against Trump and have sought to bring that person before the hearing for questioning.

Representative Jim Jordan (Republican-Ohio) asked why Vindman told other people, including the whistle-blower, about his concerns and not his boss, Morrison.

Vindman said he intended to tell Morrison but before he could get around to it, the White House counsel told him not to speak to anyone else about his complaint.