‘This is America’: Witness provides glimmer of hope - GulfToday

‘This is America’: Witness provides glimmer of hope

‘This is America’: Witness provides glimmer of hope

Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman arrives to testify before a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, on Tuesday. Reuters

Ahmed Baba, The Independent

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY): “Why do you have confidence that you can do that and tell your dad not to worry?”

Lt Col Alexander 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.”

Maloney: “Thank you, sir.”

It’s not often that you hear applause break out in the middle of a congressional hearing, let alone a hearing as consequential as an impeachment inquiry. The most recent round of applause broke out at the end of former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s Friday hearing, in which she was smeared in real-time by President Trump. This time, the smears were directed at Purple Heart recipient and National Security Council (NSC) official, Lt Col Alexander Vindman by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. In his opening statement, Vindman paid homage to his father who fled the Soviet Union.

Vindman told Maloney in the above quote that his father shouldn’t worry because, in America, you can speak truth and “right matters.” It was a glimmer of hope in what has been an otherwise dark investigation of presidential corruption. It was a moment that showed, perhaps, the American norms and values that President Trump is hell-bent on eroding are resilient.

I start here because, in day three of public impeachment inquiries, the contrast between the Republicans and Democrats could not be starker. During these hearings, House Democrats have competently outlined the facts of President Trump’s alleged Ukraine extortion plot.

House Republicans, on the other hand, are not trying to uncover the truth or defend the substance of the allegations against President Trump. Instead, they are trying to distort reality for their base. Republicans have unleashed a whirlpool of whiplash-inducing disinformation as they jump between false narratives, baseless conspiracy theories, efforts to expose the whistleblower, and depraved smears against non-partisan officials.

Today, four foreign service officials continued to present testimony indicating military aid and a White House meeting was withheld in pursuit of Ukrainian investigations of President Trump’s political targets. In the 9am hearing, we had firsthand witnesses to Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky: Lt Col Vindman and Special Advisor to Vice President Pence, Jennifer Williams.

At 3.30pm, we had two witnesses Republicans wanted to be called: former US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker and former NSC official Tim Morrison. Let’s look at the key facts and moments from each of their testimonies.

First, we had Lt Col Vindman, who entered the hearing room in full military uniform. Vindman delivered a powerful opening statement alleging that during a July 10 meeting, Ambassador Gordon Sondland told Ukrainian officials that there was a “requirement that Ukraine deliver specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with President Trump.” Vindman also said that he saw President Trump’s “request” for a favour on the July 25 call as a demand.

Vindman went on to outline the power imbalance between President Trump and President Zelensky, which made it clear that in order to get the White House meeting, Zelensky would need to deliver on the investigations Trump wanted.

Vindman testified that he believes, “It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent.” Vindman also testified that the conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election is false, and pushed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Aside from his honourable background, Vindman’s testimony is difficult for the GOP to discredit because it has a paper trail. Vindman reported his concerns about the pursuit of these investigations to the NSC’s lead counsel, twice. In spite of this, Republicans pushed an inexcusable smear.

Republican Counsel Steve Castor repeatedly pressed Vindman on why he was offered the Minister of Defense position in Ukraine, an offer he denied and reported to counterintelligence officials.

Castor even asked if the offer was relayed in the Ukrainian language. Make no mistake, that line of questioning was trying to paint Vindman as a Ukrainian spy with dual loyalty, echoing smears from right-wing media and Trump surrogates.

When asked if Vindman is a Never Trumper, Vindman said he would call himself a “Never Partisan.”

Jennifer Williams delivered important testimony as well. Williams stated that OMB representatives told her that Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney directed the hold on Ukraine military aid. This corroborated Ambassador William Taylor’s testimony. Williams also stated that she found the July 25th phone call “unusual” because “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”

Both Williams and Vindman told House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) that they heard Burisma mentioned on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. The transcript memo did not reflect that. Vindman stated that he tried to put that word back into the memo but was unsuccessful. Williams and Vindman also said they have seen no credible evidence that backs the allegations made against the Bidens.

Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman painted a key timeline that highlights President Trump released Ukraine’s military aid only after he was caught red-handed.

Sept 9: House Democrats launched investigations into the Ukraine scandal.

Sept 10: Intel Committee requested whistleblower complaint.

Sept 11: Ukraine military aid released.

As we now know, President Zelensky reportedly had a CNN appearance scheduled on Sept.13 to make an announcement of the Biden probe but did not due to the aforementioned events. Kurt Volker’s opening statement highlighted Rudy Giuliani’s role in pushing Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and his own role helping to edit what would’ve been a statement announcing the new Ukrainian investigations. Volker also called the allegations against Joe Biden and allegations of Ukraine 2016 meddling are a “conspiracy theory.”

Tim Morrison’s opening statement was short and sweet. It wasn’t until the body of his testimony where he corroborated the substance of William Taylor’s testimony related to Sondland relaying the “quid pro quo” to Ukrainian officials.

In its entirety, the hearings only added fuel to the Democrats’ case as Republicans grasped at straws.