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Ukraine Expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman Says He Warned Officials After Trump Call


House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry heard today from their first witness who actually listened in on the phone call that set off the whole process. That would be the July call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. And this witness who heard it - Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. He is a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and he told lawmakers today he repeatedly raised concerns about that call with his superiors.

NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is on Capitol Hill, and she's going to fill us in on the latest. Hey, Claudia.


KELLY: Hey. So what else do we know about what Vindman has told lawmakers today?

GRISALES: Well, according to his opening statement obtained by NPR, Vindman said he reported his concerns about the president asking a foreign government to investigate his political opponent. In this case, it involved Trump's political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son. And Vindman told lawmakers he raised this concern with his superiors repeatedly.

He also said these moves jeopardize U.S. foreign relations with Ukraine. For example, the country could lose its bipartisan support in the United States as a result of these Trump demands. In addition, Vindman said the efforts could hurt U.S. national security. And then he talked to another diplomat, Gordon Sondland, about these concerns on investigating the Bidens. He's a compelling witness. He's a decorated Iraqi War veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart for his service. And that's obviously had an impact on today's testimony as well.

KELLY: Yeah. Remarkable written testimony from someone who is still working at the White House...


KELLY: Not a former official, a current one - this played out as the other witnesses have thus far - behind closed doors. And it's - every day, it's kind of lawmakers listen and then they come out and reporters try to...


KELLY: ...Get them to say what happened, what did he say? What did they come out and say he said today?

GRISALES: Well, today so far, members are leaving the testimony tight-lipped. They haven't said too much about what Vindman has said aside from that opening statement. However, they're dropping some hints. For example, Representative Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts said based on Vindman's opening statement, there were inconsistencies between his testimony and that of Gordon Sondland. And Lynch said he would be surprised if lawmakers didn't revisit Sondland's testimony after today.

And Representative Eric Swalwell of California said, at this rate, there's little need for the whistleblower to even testify. Swalwell said the whistleblower amounted to the person in this impeachment inquiry who pulled the fire alarm. And the other witnesses who have already testified have brought the whistleblower's claims to life. Here's Swalwell outside of the intelligence meeting room, talking to reporters.


ERIC SWALWELL: There's not really much relevancy left to what the whistleblower said because it's all been corroborated. And to go after the whistleblower as the president has and others have is just punitive and risks that person's life and, you know, the lives of people around the whistleblower.

GRISALES: So Republicans, on the other hand, are criticizing the Democrats' approach. They are defending the president, and they're saying the call was appropriate. Here's House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who called Vindman's testimony into question.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: I thank him for his service. I thank his commitment to this country, but he is wrong in this. We have differences of opinion, but, more importantly, we have a rule of law.

GRISALES: So McCarthy and other Republican leaders are maintaining that nothing on this call was impeachable.

KELLY: Let me shift you, briefly, Claudia, to what is coming next. Looking ahead to Thursday, there is this vote planned on a draft resolution, which we can now read. It lays out what to expect in the impeachment process. What exactly are they saying?

GRISALES: Well, it was released this afternoon. It moves the impeachment inquiry into an open phase, and it outlines the procedures for open hearings that would be done by the Intelligence Committee. This eight-page text of the resolution also includes a five-minute rule for questioning of witnesses. It allows minority members to request subpoenas. And it also directs the Intelligence Committee to issue a public report on its recommendations. It addresses a top talking point for Republicans who said the absence of this vote is further proof the inquiry is a sham. But now Democrats say, here's the process for a transparent process right here.

KELLY: Thank you, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Claudia Grisales on Capitol Hill.

And tonight the White House responded to the Democrats' draft resolution. Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham called it a sham and a scam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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