White House Officials Say Trump Sought Quid Pro Quo With Ukraine

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

With the impeachment inquiry now underway, testimony from the senior White House official responsible for Ukraine describes the now infamous Ukraine phone call with President Trump making a “demand” of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in exchange for a meeting in the Oval Office. The Washington Post reports that under questioning from Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), as well as other Democrats, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman said “there was no doubt” that Trump sought a quid pro quo when he spoke to Ukrainian President Zelensky by phone on July 25.

When asked by Welch if he had any doubt that what Trump was asking for—investigations of his political opponents—was part of a “deliverable”, part of a quid pro quo in other words. Vindman said, “There was no doubt.” Vindman was then asked by Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Republican member of the committee, why he believed Trump made a demand when asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in exchange for an Oval Office meeting. Vindman explained that there was what he called a vast “power disparity” between Trump and Zelensky, and that Trumps request for a favor was interpreted as a demand. “When the president of the United States makes a request for a favor,” Vindman said, “it certainly seems—I would take it as a demand.” Vindman went on to say that “this was about getting a White House meeting. It was a demand for him to fulfill…this particular prerequisite to get the meeting.” The full transcript of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony can be read here.

Many of Vindman’s concerns were shared by Fiona Hill, who formerly served as the top Russia adviser to the White House. Hill, who’s deposition transcript can be read here in full, testified that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as well as Giuliani’s business associates, were attempting to use the president’s powers to further their own interests. CNN reports that both Vindman and Hill testified that Gordon Sondland, US Ambassador to the European Union, told Ukrainian officials they would have to open an investigation on the Bidens to secure the meeting in the White House. Sondland also told them he was acting at the direction of acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Hill testified that “Ambassador Sondland, in front of the Ukrainians, as I came in, was talking about how he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations.”

Hill further testified that she was instructed by Bolton to take her concerns about the role Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, played in Ukraine to attorneys at the National Security Council. Bolton also instructed her to make it clear to the attorneys that he was not involved in the entire scheme. Vindman also gave testimony on Giuliani’s role, testifying that the Ukrainians asked him “for advice on how to respond to Mr. Giuliani’s advances, meaning his call to undertake these—what would come across as partisan investigations.” Vindman recommended that Zelensky not get involved in U.S. domestic politics. It’s also worth noting that Giuliani tweeted was is basically an admission that these investigations were for Trump’s personal gain and had nothing to do with the best interests of the United States.

More and more testimonies are being released to the public confirming Trump’s attempt at a quid pro quo. Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, who oversaw Ukraine policy, said in his impeachment inquiry testimony that Trump demanded that President Zelensky publicly announce investigations into the 2016 election, Hilary Clinton, and Joe Biden in exchange for an Oval Office meeting. Kent told House impeachment investigators that Trump “wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to a microphone and say investigations, Biden and Clinton.”

Even Ambassador Sondland, who Trump has cited as proof there was no quid pro quo, has testified that there was indeed a quid pro quo. Sondland delivered his testimony last month, but this week he submitted an addendum to investigators in which he confirmed that a quid pro quo had taken place, and that the U.S. sending military aid to Ukraine was dependent on President Zelensky making a public declaration that Ukraine planned on investigating the 2016 election and the Bidens. Referring to a conversation with Andriy Yermak, on of Zelensky’s top advisors, Sondland says, “I said that resumption of the U.S. aid would not likely occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

Vindman’s and Hill’s depositions add to the House impeachment investigators’ ever-growing body of evidence. Evidence that shows that the president abused his power to try to strong-arm a foreign power into investigating his political rivals for his own personal gain by freezing $400 million in U.S. security aid. Both Vindman, who was on the call with Zelensky, and Hill expressed grave concern about the call. Vindman reported his concerns to John Eisenberg, a National Security Council attorney, and Hill talked about how shocked she was at Trump’s request for investigations into his political rivals. “My worst nightmare is the politicization of the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine and, also, the usurpation of authorities, you know, for other people’s personal vested interests,” Hill said. “And there seems to be a large range of people who were looking for these opportunities here.”