In their testimony before House impeachment investigators last month, John Bolton aide Fiona Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman expressed their extreme misgivings about the events surrounding Donald Trump’s efforts to compel the new government of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations into the president’s political rivals.
Hill, for example, described a meeting during which Bolton refused to discuss what he reportedly described as a “drug deal” spearheaded by Mick Mulvaney and Trump donor-turned EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, who revised his own testimony to include an admission of a quid pro quo involving some $400 million in US military aid.
“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up”, Bolton reportedly instructed Hill to tell the head attorney for the National Security Council, as it became clear that Sondland was knee-deep in Rudy Giuliani’s clandestine activities.
For his part, Vindman listened to the infamous July call between Trump and Zelensky, and came away so concerned that he alerted he alerted the NSC’s counsel. He was later instructed to keep quiet by John Eisenberg.
On Friday, lawmakers released the full transcripts of Hill and Vindman’s testimony, capping off a week during which voters got the opportunity to read for themselves everything Sondland, George Kent, Kurt Volker, Marie Yovanovitch and Bill Taylor told Congress.
Excerpts can be found below. As ever, it’s not pretty, but these are particularly damning. There are no talking points that will work to blunt this testimony. There is no ambiguity here. None at all. Do note that Vindman suggests Zelensky was likely prepped for the call with Trump and that “Burisma” was intentionally left out of the memo in order, one assumes, to obscure the situation.
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s removal was the “result of the campaign that Mr. Giuliani had set in motion.” (Page 41, 43-44)
Q: Now why did the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch mark a turning point for you? A: Because there was no basis for her removal. The accusations against her had no merit whatsoever. This was a mishmash of conspiracy theories that, again, I’ve told you, I believe firmly to be baseless, an idea of an association between her and George Soros. I had had accusations similar to this being made against me as well. My entire first year of my tenure at the National Security Council was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories, which has started again, frankly, as it’s been announced that I’ve been giving this deposition, accusing me of being a Soros mole in the White House, of colluding with all kinds of enemies of the President, and, you know, of various improprieties. And it seems to be extraordinarily easy, as Ambassador Yovanovitch pointed out in her opening testimony, for people to make baseless claims about people and then to seek their dismissal. … And the most obvious explanation at that point, I have [sic] to be said, seemed to be business dealings of individuals who wanted to improve the investment positions inside of Ukraine itself, and also to deflect to where—on the findings of not just the Mueller report on Russian interference but what’s also been confirmed by your own Senate report, and what I know myself to be true as a former intelligence analyst and somebody who has been working on Russia for more than 30 years. So the fact that Ambassador Yovanovitch was removed as a result of this was, I have to say, pretty dispiriting.
Q: Who did you understand was responsible for her removal? A: I understood this to be the result of the campaign that Mr. Giuliani had set in motion in conjunction with people who were writing articles and, you know, publications that I would have expected better of, and also, you know, just the constant drumbeat of these accusations that he was making on the television.
National Security Advisor John Bolton stated that “Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up.” (Page 45)
Q: And did you discuss Ambassador Yovanovitch with Ambassador Bolton? A: I did. Q: And what was his reaction to this? A: His reaction was pained. And he basically said—in fact, he directly said: Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up. He made it clear that he didn’t feel that there was anything that he could personally do about this
“Ambassador Bolton immediately stiffened and ended the meeting” with Ukrainian officials on July 10, 2019, after Ambassador Sondland “blurted out” that “we have an agreement with the Chief of Staff for a meeting if these investigations in the energy sector start.” (Page 65, 67-68)
Q: Did anything happen in that meeting that was out of the ordinary? A: Yes. At one point during that meeting, Ambassador Bolton was, you know, basically trying very hard not to commit to a meeting, because, you know—and, again, these meetings have to be well-prepared. They’re not just something that you say, yes, we’re going to have a meeting without there being a clear understanding of what the content of that meeting is going to be. …
A: Then Ambassador Sondland blurted out: Well, we have an agreement with the chief of staff for a meeting if these investigations in the energy sector start. And Ambassador Bolton immediately stiffened. He said words to the effect—I can’t say word for word what he said because I was behind them sitting on the sofa with our Senior Director of Energy, and we all kind of looked up and thought that was somewhat odd. And Ambassador Bolton immediately stiffened and ended the meeting.
Q: Right then, he just ended the meeting? A: Yeah. He said: Well, it was very nice to see you.
In a follow-on meeting the same day, Ambassador Sondland again referenced “an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations,” and he specifically mentioned Burisma. (Page 69, 70, 151-152)
A: And 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. And my director for Ukraine was looking completely alarmed. And I came in again as this discussion was underway. … And I said: Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but Ambassador Bolton wants to make it very clear that we have to talk about, you know, how are we going to set up this meeting. It has to go through proper procedures. And he started to basically talk about discussions that he had had with the chief of staff. He mentioned Mr. Giuliani, but then I cut him off because I didn’t want to get further into this discussion at all. …
Q: So it was you personally who heard Ambassador Sondland mention Burisma— A: Correct
Ambassador Bolton made clear that Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Ambassador Sondland were engaged in “an improper arrangement” by “predicating the meeting in the White House” on the Ukrainians agreeing “to restart investigations that had been dropped in the energy sector.” (Page 129)
Q: I just want to follow up with a couple questions about Ambassador Bolton’s comments about not wanting to be part of this drug deal. Did you understand it from that that he was not referring to an actual drug deal but— A: Of course not. Yeah. Q: —some other kind of illicit transaction that he believed that Sondland and Mulvaney were engaged in? A: Yes. He made it clear that he believed that they were making, basically, an improper arrangement to have a meeting in the White House, that they were predicating the meeting in the White House on the Ukrainians agreeing, in this case, based on the meeting on July 10th, to restart investigations that had been dropped in the energy sector.
Q: And— A: —by which point it was apparent that this was code, at least, for Burisma. Because that had been mentioned, you know, in the course of Mr. Giuliani’s appearances on television…
“Ambassador Bolton had said repeatedly that nobody should be meeting with Giuliani,” and he was “closely monitoring what Mr. Giuliani was doing and the messaging that he was sending out.” (Page 126-127)
A: Well, based on what had happened in the July 10th meeting and Ambassador Sondland blurting out that he’d already gotten agreement to have a meeting at the White House for Zelensky if these investigations were started up again, clearly Ambassador Bolton was referring directly to those. And Ambassador Bolton had said repeatedly that nobody should be meeting with Giuliani. And you may recall before that I said that he described Giuliani as a bit of a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up.
Q: Uh-huh. A: And he was obviously, at that point, you know, closely monitoring what Mr. Giuliani was doing and the messaging that he was sending out.
Dr. Hill was “very shocked” and “very saddened” to read the record of the July 25, 2019, call between President Trump and President Zelensky. (Page 237-238, 238-239, 239-240)
Q: How did you react when you read that, the transcript, particularly the portions I pointed to about President Trump pushing President Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and investigate Ukrainian—purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and as well as his comments about Ambassador Yovanovitch? A: I was actually shocked.
Q: Why? A: Well, particularly on Ambassador Yovanovitch, and very saddened because, again, Ambassador Yovanovitch is a great American, and I don’t think any American citizen should be disparaged by their President, just put it out there. So that made me very sad and very shocked and, yeah, not too happy. And on the other issue, it was pretty blatant. So, I mean, I found that I couldn’t really explain that away with an alternate explanation. So that’s what I mean about being, you know, quite shocked. And I was also very shocked, to be frank, that we ended up with a telephone conversation like this because all of the—and, you know, this is obviously going into executive privilege, and I’m not going to say anything more about this, but I sat in an awful lot of calls, and I have not seen anything like this. And I was there for 2 and a half years. So I was just shocked.
An active duty military officer with a Purple Heart for his service to our country in combat, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman raised his concerns internally and immediately within the White House. (Page 14)
I did convey certain concerns internally to national security officials in accordance with my decades of experience and training, sense of duty, and obligation to operate within the chain of command. As an Active Duty military officer, the command structure is extremely important to me. On many occasions, I’ve been told I should express my views and share my concerns with my chain of command and proper authorities. I believe that any good military officer should and would do the same, thus providing his or her best advice to leadership.
Encouraging Ukraine to conduct investigations related to domestic U.S. politics “had inherent risks, in that, frankly, if Ukrainians took a partisan position, they would significantly undermine the possibility of future bipartisan support.” (Page 40-41)
Q: And is it fair to say that encouraging Ukraine to conduct investigations related to domestic U.S. politics was not in the U.S. national security interests? A: In my view, I don’t think it was. 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. And, you know, that is—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. So this is not a negligible amount and, you know, we’re basically trying to continue the relationship and advance the U.S. national security interests. And losing bipartisan support would have a significant cost.
Ambassador Sondland told Lieutenant Colonel Vindman that conditioning the White House meeting on Ukraine investigating the Bidens and the 2016 elections “had been coordinated with White House Chief of Staff Mr. Mick Mulvaney.” (Page 29-30)
A: So Ambassador Sondland relatively quickly went into outlining how the—you know, these investigations need to—or the deliverable for these investigations in order to secure this meeting. Again, I think, you know, I may not have agreed with what he was doing, but his intent was to normalize relationships with— between the U.S. and Ukraine, and this was – as far as I understand, this is what he believed the deliverable to be. Q: Who did he believe—or let me—withdrawn. 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 Mulvaney.
In a subsequent meeting, Ambassador Sondland told the Ukrainians they “would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens,” and “there was no ambiguity.” (Page 64-65)
Q: And what do you recall specifically of what Sondland said to the Ukrainians— A: Right. Q: —in the Ward Room? A: So that is right, the conversation unfolded with Sondland proceeding to kind of, you know, review what the deliverable would be in order to get the meeting, and he talked about the investigation into the Bidens, and, frankly, I can’t 100 percent recall because I didn’t take notes of it, but Burisma, that it seemed—I mean, there was no ambiguity, I guess, in my mind. He was calling for something, calling for an investigation that didn’t exist into the Bidens and Burisma.
Q: Okay. Ambiguity in your mind is different from what you— A: Sure. Q: —actually heard? A: Right. Correct. Q: What did you hear Sondland say? A: That the Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens. Q: Into the Bidens. So in the Ward Room he mentioned the word “Bidens”? A: To the best of my recollection, yes. Q: Okay. Did he mention 2016? A: I don’t recall. Q: Did he mention Burisma? A: My visceral reaction to what was being called for suggested that it was explicit. There was no ambiguity.
Lieutenant Colonel Vindman prepared briefing materials for President Trump’s July 25, 2019, call with President Zelensky, and he did not include anything about “investigations into the 2016 election or the Bidens or Burisma.” (Page 42-43)
Q: Well, did President Trump receive any reading materials prior to the call? A: Yes.
Q: And who provided those? A: So, typically, the way this works—and this is what happened in this case—is I drafted read-ahead materials, the talking points. All the materials, it goes through a staffing process, and then it gets forwarded from Ambassador Bolton to the President and Executive Secretary.
Q: Were you aware of whether the President or the chief of staff had any conversations with Ambassador Sondland prior to this call? A: I am not. I wouldn’t.
Q: Did you include anything in your talking points about investigations into the 2016 election or the Bidens or Burisma? A: Definitely not.
“There was no doubt” about what President Trump was asking President Zelensky for on the July 25, 2019, call. (Page 249-250)
Q: You were listening in real time to this call along with President Zelensky when President Trump was speaking? A: Correct.
Q: And was there any doubt in your mind as to what the President, our President, was asking for as a deliver. A: There was no doubt.
Lieutenant Colonel Vindman suggested substantive edits to the July 25, 2019, call memo that were not incorporated, including that President Zelensky specifically referenced “Burisma,” indicating that “he was prepped for this call” and “knew that the Biden reference was a reference to Burisma.” (Page 48, 52-53, 54-55, 88-89, 318)
Q: Did you have the opportunity to review the transcript and compare it to your notes? A: I did.
Q: Did you make any changes or suggestions? A: I did make a couple of changes and suggestions.
A: Yeah. So page four, bottom of the first paragraph, let’s see, okay, so that ellipses where it ends with “it,” there was a comment about there are recordings from the President. He said that there are recordings of these misdeeds.
Q: Okay. And that ellipses substitutes for there are recordings? A: Correct. Q: To your recollection? A: Yes. This is what’s in my notes also. …
Q: Okay. So “there are recordings” substitutes for the ellipses— A: Correct. Q: —that we see here? Okay. 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.” Because I think, you know, frankly, these are not necessarily folks that are familiar with the substance. So President Zelensky specifically mentioned the company Burisma. …
Q: All right. So why don’t you do this, first, just read the sentence as it is in this exhibit. A: “He or she will look into the situation specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.” Q: And then read—can you restate it with what you recall Zelensky saying? A: “He or she will look into the situation specifically into Burisma,” and I think that’s, you know, that’s where it ended.
Q: Okay. So— A: And it continued on— Q: So this call record substitutes the following phrase, “the company that you mentioned in this issue,” for what Zelensky said, “Burisma”? A: Correct. Q: Okay. A: Again, it’s in my notes. That’s what I took down as the call was occurring. …
Q: Okay. And if the word Burisma had been inserted instead of the word company, would that have changed anything in your view? A: Yes. Q: Okay. So that would be significant? A: It would be significant. Q: Okay. And why? A: Because – because, frankly, the President of Ukraine would not necessarily know anything about this company Burisma. I mean, he would certainly understand some of this – some of these elements because the story had been developing for some time, but the fact that he mentioned specifically Burisma seemed to suggest to me that he was prepped for this call.