Excerpts from the Deposition of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman by the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence joint with the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on October 29, 2019.
The meeting proceeded well until the Ukrainians broached the subject of a meeting between the two Presidents. The Ukrainians saw this meeting as critically important in order to solidify the support for their most important international partner. Ambassador Sondland started – when Ambassador Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short. Following the meeting – this meeting – there was a scheduled debriefing during which Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigation into the 2016 elections, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Ambassador Sondland that statements – that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate the Bidens and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something that the NSC was going to get involved in on push. Dn. Hill entered the room shortly thereafter and assented to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.
On July 21st, 2019, President Zelensky's party won Parliamentary elections in a landslide victory. The NSC proposed that President Trump call President Zelensky to congratulate him. On July 25th, that call occurred…. I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications to the U.S. Government’s support of Ukraine…. I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play, which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security. Following the call, I again reported my concerns to NSC's legal counsel....
July 10 Meeting
When the Ukrainians raised this issue of trying to figure out what the date would be for the Presidential meeting, Ambassador Sondland proceeded to discuss the deliverable required in order to get the meeting, and he alluded to investigations. Very quickly thereafter, Ambassador Bolton terminated the meeting, pleasant and professional, but he said: It was a pleasure meeting with you, looking forward to working with you.
Q: Do you understand how he came to believe that this deliverable was necessary? A So I heard him say that this had been coordinated with White House Chief of Staff Mr. Mick Mu1vaney.
Vindman: So, initially, there was a – the narrative was just about 2016. As time moved on through the spring and summer, the narrative had changed to both the preceding, I guess, issues that – with Ukraine and interference to also the Bidens and their involvement in, you know, any misdealings there.
Q: And when you say "the narrative," what do you mean?
Vindman: So I saw this unfold, a lot of this unfold, frankly, in the press. And the initial story line was on… on Ukrainian interference in 2016 elections. And then, subsequently, it was the Bidens began to be incorporated into this narrative and that Hunter Biden, who was on the board of this firm Burisma, was involved in some misdealings. Thane was an investigation into Burisma, and the story goes that the Vice President had the prosecution general that was responsible for this investigation removed to terminate this investigation into Burisma…
The fact that it was clear that I, as the representative – I, as the representative of the NSC, thought it was inappropriate and that we were not going to get involved in investigations…. There were other people in the room…. I think mainly people were listening at that point. It was kind of an uncomfortable conversation, so people were just listening to it unfold.
I just – I thought it was inappropriate to have – to call for an investigation – to call a foreign power to investigate a U.S. citizen. In my mind, I had spent quite a bit of time in that part of the world. I understand how the justice system works. It's not a rule of law that governs. These could all be orchestrated to achieve some sort of objective. And, in my mind, I thought it was, you know – if they thought that this was in their national security interests and they could potentially get away with it – you know, I'm not talking about the Ukrainians; I'm talking about foreign powers in general – and if they thought that it was in their national security interests – and this is a county that's fighting a war against Russia – and they could get away with it, I mean, why should they really care that much about domestic politics at a different county? They're going to do what they need to to protect and advance their own national security interests….
I spoke to John Eisenberg, the NSC legal counsel…. That occurred in the afternoon, and I spoke to him the same day in the afternoon….
And it had inherent risks in that – it had inherent risks in that, frankly, if Ukrainians took a partisan position, they would significantly undermine the possibility of future bipartisan support. Losing bipartisan support, they would then lose access to potentially, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance funds. The amount of money that we're talking about here, $400 million, might not mean much, you know, in terms of the U.S. budget. For a normal person it does, but for a U.S. budget it's, you know, a fraction of a fraction.
But for the Ukrainians, it amounts to about 10 percent of their military budget, roughly…. that actually amounts to a significant portion of their GDP because the Ukrainians also spend about 5 to 6 percent of their GDP on defense because they're fighting an active conflict against the Russians….
Handling the July 25 Call Transcription
Q: And you said that normal process did not occur here?
Vindman: It didn't. It did not.
Q: What was different?
Vindman: As opposed to going into the standard communications system, it went into a different type, a different, more secure system. And in this particular system, while I did have an account, it was not functioning properly, so I had to go analog and take a look at – get a hand copy of it, make some – annotate some changes to it, return it, and, you know, I guess it went through a paper process.
Q: So even in the editing process that you normally do, that was done in a different way?
Q: So do you recall how soon – or do you recall when you first learned that this call was placed in the more highly classified system?
Vindman: That conversation occurred alongside the conversation with Mr. Eisenberg in which I voiced concerns about the July 21 call…
Q: But the question is just that, was it already in this – was it already routed differently by the time that you were taking a look at it for the first time to add your edits?
Q: Did the end result incorporate all of your edits?
Vindman: So there were probably some, you know, nonsubstantive edits that I don't recall what I necessarily put into it, but there were a couple of things that were not included…. So page four, bottom of the first paragraph, Iet's see, okay, so that ellipses where it ends with "itr " there was a comment about there are recordings from the President. He said that "there are recordings" of these misdeeds…. The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out - - to find out about that. So whatever you can do with the attorney general, that would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it. There are recordings – in my – the way I had it. It sounds horrible to me….
Q: …Was there anything else that was different? A There's one other substantive item in the next paragraph from Zelensky, where it says, "He or she will look into the situation specifically to the company" it shouldn't be "the company." It should be "to Burisma that you mentioned…. So President Zelensky specifically mentioned the company Burisma….
You know, during the bilateral meetings with the President of Ukraine in which it was – you know, on the 21st of May, you had Secretary Perry that was leading the delegation, the two things I said to Ukrainians, really one of them is probably appropriate to mention here, you know, please stay out of U.S. domestic politics. Don't involve yourself in this issue….
But did you understand that these investigations that the President was asking for may be to his own political benefit as well?
So that Ambassador Sondland was trying to orchestrate an investigation being caIled by Mayor Giuliani who was a live hand grenade….
Vindman: I did not believe I was reporting a crime. What I was doing is what I normally would do in a situation where I felt uncomfortable, felt something was inappropriate. I'd voice my concerns with the appropriate, you know, people in the chain of command.
Q: Okay. So at this time you didn't think it was iIlegaI. You just thought inartful?
"I Thought It Was Wrong"
Vindman: I thought it was wrong. I thought it was wrong to call – to basically have – to organize a situation in which you're asking a foreign power to investigate a matter. Again, it wasn't an active investigation, so they would have to start an investigation and then…
… the thinking was that there was a way to – because of his access, which is not a bad thing, an Ambassador that has access has a Iot more credibility with the host nation and is able to carny the President's message more effectively, so that's not a criticism….
You know, the April 21st call is notable in my mind because it was actually a very good caII. It was exactly what we had – we were hoping for. So I don't, frankly – I'm sure I had to – actually, now that I think about it, I do recall reviewing that transcript… everybody was happy, high-fiving from that call because we were moving in the night direction for Ukraine…
Q: [July25 call] Did you think anything illegal had occurred on the call?
Vindman: I wasn't prepared to necessarily make that kind of judgment. I thought it was troubling and disturbing, but, you know, I guess, I guess I couldn't say whether it was illegal. I'm not an attorney….
…he's my Commander in Chief, I'm not trying to, you know, be overly critical of the President. What I was trying to do, in speaking to Mr. Eisenberg, was express my concerns about something that I viewed to be problematic, and also within the context of already relating to him concerns about a… July 10th meeting, as well as everything that I understood about this narrative and how it had been developing, and the cost that it had potentially imposed on, you know, Ambassador Yovanovitch, and things of that nature….
Q: Did Mr. Eisenberg tell you not to report – go around your direct report and go straight to him?
Russia's Aggressive Campaign
Vindman: Actually, he did, at a later point, say that, I shouldn't talk to any other people….
As I said in my statement, Russia has been engaged in an ongoing aggressive campaign in which it seeks to carve out a regional hegemony and also assert great power status globally. And, in fact, absent an adequate challenge, Russia would continue to pursue this particular strategy…. In helping Ukraine with defensive munitions with Ukraine security assistance funding, with FMF and so forth that the Congress has identified, we’re helping Ukraine but also helping ourselves….
President Viktor Orban has on multiple occasions publicly criticized Ukraine for everything from a criticizing him for corruption to, frankly, probably the more relevant issue, the fact that the Ukrainians, under the previous President, President Poroshenko, had moved in a direction of strengthening Ukrainian nationality but also by doing that through mandating use of Ukrainian language. And there are a number of minorities in Ukraine, and President Orban believed that these – the language policies were not friendly towards the minorities. So he was highly critical about that. And what I, I guess, found, You know, interesting and troubling about President Orban is, at this point, President Zelensky had had a number of positive interactions with world leaders. You know, again, in my role as a coordinating interagency policy, I get reports from colleagues from foreign – representatives of foreign capitals telling me about the interactions they had. And in all cases, they were positive. And, frankly, Victor Orban's was in great contrast to that….
[T]he kind of information that President Orban was communicating was not just inaccurate, but it also would undermine efforts to organize our national security policy in a more constructive manner….
From a foreign policy professional perspective, all of these types of calls would inherently be sensitive. This one may be more so because it could somehow undermine our relationship with the Ukrainians. So, from that standpoint, you know, I guess - - in my mind, it could be justified to put it in the system because, again, if it went out, it could harm our relationship. I think ultimately that call was made – I'm not sure – the call was made by John Eisenberg, the senior NSC lead counsel, and he did it based on his experience and judgment….
It, again, would implicate a partisan play. You know, then there’s doubt about how the Ukrainians are going to react to it, whether they're going to act on a request on so. This whole - - sir, I'll say that this whole episode has probably not been helpful to our bilateral relationship with Ukraine. I think the fact is, if our relationship was to promote a strong sovereign Ukraine, this process is undermining that….
Not a Professional
Q: [Zelensky inauguration] Was Ambassador Sondland initially removed from the list?
Vindman: I recall that he was.
Q: Who did that?
Vindman: I think that Dn. Hill may have possibly removed him, because of the understanding that she didn't think that Ambassador Bolton wanted him on the delegation…. Because it was outside of his portfolio, and he tended to go off script so there was some risk involved…. He's not a professional diplomat. And this is not critical of him, but he didn't necessarily act as a diplomat and he wouldn't necessarily, you know – if we had a consistent position and a consistent set of talking points, he would not necessarily be consistent with our – with the nest of the consensus view.
Q: Do you know how Sondland got back on the list?
Vindman: I don't recall….
Secretary Perry was very courteous and inclusive in making sure that other people, you know, if they had something to share had the opportunity to do so. And I - - the points that I delivered were on being cautious with regards to Russia and the fact that Russia was likely to take advantage of, you know, the inexperience of the Ukrainian leadership team, and specifically also staying out of the domestic politics in the United States.
Q: And why did you feel the need to raise that latter point about staying – warning President Zelensky to stay out of the domestic politics in the United States?
Vindman: It was a relevant issue. And the perils of taking a partisan stance, in my view, were - - would Iikely harm bilateral relations.
Q: Did you give him this warning in front of the entire U.S. delegation?
Q: Did you understand that President Zelensky was aware of this pressure to get involved in U.S. domestic politics at that point?
Vindman: I was aware of the fact that the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States was aware of these concerns, because they had taken these concerns to me. And I was aware of the fact that he would certainly be alert to this issue because there were, in fact, a number of stories….
Q: Can you teIl us a little bit about the conversations you had with the Ukrainian Government officials here in D.C.? What were their concerns? What were – what advice were they asking fun?
Vindman: They were just asking, you know, for advice on how to respond to Mr. Giuliani's advances, meaning his call to undertake these – what would come across as partisan investigations.
Q: And when was the first time that you recaIl that the Ukrainian Government officials expressed those concerns to you?
Vindman: So I would say that – I would say that this is probably in the April timeframe….
…the power disparity between the President of the United States and the President of Ukraine is vast, and, you know, in the President asking for something, it became - - there was – in return for a White House meeting, because that's what this was about. This was about getting a White House meeting. It was a demand for him to fulfill his – fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting….
Q: President Trump has said there was no demand. President Zelensky has said there was no demand. Secretary Pompeo has said there was no demand. Vice President Pence has said there was no demand. But, Colonel Vindman, it's your opinion that there was a demand, and so I'm asking where in the transcript do you find words used that justify that term?
Vindman: Sure. I guess, Congressman, I'd go back to the fact that, you know, this whole matter had been unfolding oven the course of months. On the 10th of July, this – it became completely apparent what the deliverable would be in order to get a White House meeting…
And I was deeply concerned about the implications for bilateral relations, U.S. national security interests, in that if this was exposed, it would be seen as a partisan play by Ukraine. It loses the bipartisan support.
Q: And it was and is U.S. policy related to Ukraine to push Ukraine not to investigate their political rivals. Is that right?
Vindman: That is correct.
Q: Because official U.S. policy believes that investigating your political rivals is corrupt activity. Is that correct?
Vindman: That is correct.
Block on Military Aid for Ukraine
.…we had gone through an interagency process to develop a plan to seize the opportunity of working with a Ukrainian Government. And the pillars of that plan were security cooperation, energy cooperation, and economic cooperation were the areas that we chose to focus. So, in going through this process, we firmly said that we need to do more in the security cooperation sphere, which included this whole military assistance piece.
Q: So military assistance was also -- military assistance for Ukraine was also pant of official U.S. policy?
Q: After July 3nd and -- between JuIy 3nd and JuIy 18th, what did you do related to security assistance, and what did you learn?
Vindman: So I think, over the course of that period, there was a short Ju1y 4th break on so that accounted for a couple days, but basically we were trying to get to the bottom of why this hold was in p1ace, why OMB was applying this ho1d. Thane were multiple memos that were transmitted from my directorate to Ambassador Bo1lon on, you know, keeping him abreast of this particular development. And I'm not sure of what actions he may have taken at his IeveI, but we were keeping him informed about, you know, why this is important, what the costs were, and so forth. And there were probably quite a few memos that went forward in that regard and various notes.
Q: Did you come to learn why -- during that period of time why the hold had been placed?
Vindman: So when it became quite apparent is in my sub-policy coordinating committee meeting on the 18th. I think I, frankly, probably had some idea before that because of my contacts, interactions throughout the interagency. So I probably had some sense, but it became crystal clear when OMB staffers reported that the hold came from the Chief of Staff's Office.
Q: And was there a reason given at your –
Vindman: sub-PCC meeting on July 18? A So initially it was unclear. Eventually it became the -- what I was told is to ensure that the assistance aligned with administration priorities was what was the reason.
Q: What does that mean?
Vindman: I'm not sure, but that's what was communicated, to make sure that the assistance continues to align with the administration priorities….
It was agreed that the matter would be elevated to deputies, the deputies from all the departments and agencies, as quickly as possible to recommend a release of security assistance.