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Tuesday March 31st, 2020 7:05PM

The Latest: White House slams ‘illegitimate’ hearing

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the public impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine (all times local):

2:10 p.m.

White House Pres Secretary Stephanie Grisham is slamming the first round of interviews in Tuesday’s impeachment hearings.

The public heard Tuesday from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who serves on the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer detailed to Vice President Mike Pence's office.

Grisham is insisting the public “learned nothing new in today’s illegitimate ‘impeachment’ proceedings,” and is characterizing the witnesses’ testimony as little more than “personal opinions and conjecture.”

She’s also charging the proceedings “further” expose that Democrats are “blinded by their hatred for Donald Trump and rabid desire to overturn the outcome of a free and fair election.”

Trump has also been weighing in with a constant stream of retweets criticizing the process and attacking Vindman, who still works for the White House.

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2 p.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says President Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine for political investigations was “a failed effort to bribe Ukraine.”

Trump urged the investigations as the U.S. withheld military aid from the country. Closing a Tuesday morning impeachment hearing, Schiff criticized Republicans for arguing that because the aid was eventually released, “this makes it OK.”

Schiff said, “it’s no less odious because it was discovered.”

Democrats are investigating Trump’s dealings with Ukraine in their impeachment probe. Republicans say they don’t have enough evidence to prove high crimes and misdemeanors.

California Rep. Devin Nunes said in his closing statement that Democrats “poison people with nonsense.” Nunes is the top Republican on the intelligence panel.

The committee is scheduled for another hearing Tuesday afternoon.

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1:50 p.m.

A White House aide says he knew he was “assuming a lot of risk” by reporting his concerns about a July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s new president.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was asked during Tuesday’s impeachment hearing whether he understood he was taking on the “most important person” when he did it.

Vindman earlier in his opening statement told his father, an immigrant from Ukraine, not to worry about his coming forward, that he would be fine because in the U.S. it was OK to speak out.

Vindman and others said it was improper for Trump to ask Ukraine’s president to investigate the family of Democrat Joe Biden and a debunked theory that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 elections.

He said he felt comfortable speaking out, because: “Here, right matters.”

The statement was met with brief applause.

___

1:20 p.m.

Ukraine’s president says his country is tired of hearing about a probe into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

In a phone call on July 25 that triggered the congressional impeachment inquiry, President Donald Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden’s son and his involvement with Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company.

Responding to a question from a reporter Tuesday, Zelenskiy said that everybody in the country is tired of hearing about Burisma.

He said Ukraine is an independent country with its own “problems and questions.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said the last thing the country needs is to be dragged into the U.S. political drama.

___

12:45 p.m.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is telling Congress that the “favor” that President Donald Trump requested from the president of Ukraine on a July call was more than just a request.

Vindman testified in the House impeachment hearing Tuesday that in his military culture, a request is considered an order when a superior asks you to do something.

Republicans challenged that thinking, implying that Trump was not demanding that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy do the investigations on the phone call. Trump asked for the investigations as the U.S. withheld military aid for the country.

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah said “the two people who were speaking to each other didn't interpret this as a demand.”

Vindman said the context of the call "made it clear that this was not simply a request."

___

12:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump slammed the ongoing impeachment hearings as a “disgrace” and “kangaroo court,” while acknowledging he watched part of the third day of public hearings.

Trump made the comments at the start of a Cabinet meeting and as the House impeachment panel listened to testimony from National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump said he caught some of Tuesday’s testimony from Vindman, a Ukraine specialist, who says Trump inappropriately pressured Ukraine’s president to open an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s dealings in Ukraine

The president dismissed Vindman’s testimony, and praised Republican lawmakers for “killing it.”

Trump said, “I don’t know Vindman,” “I never heard of him.”

___

12:15 p.m.

A Republican at the House impeachment hearing is using a foot-tall stack of transcripts to push back against Democrats saying President Donald Trump tried bribing Ukrainian officials.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has said it was “bribery” when Trump withheld U.S. military aid in hopes Ukraine would agree to investigate his Democratic opponents.

At Tuesday’s impeachment hearing, Texas GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe displayed what he said was 3,500 pages of transcripts from impeachment inquiry interviews with federal officials.

He said the word “bribery” only appeared once. It was in a question one attorney asked about unfounded bribery allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden.

Tuesday’s two witnesses — White House national security advisers Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams — both told Ratcliffe they’ve not used “bribery” to describe Trump’s actions.

The Constitution cites “bribery” as an impeachable offense.

___

12:10 p.m.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has rejected attacks on his judgment and credibility during the impeachment hearings by reading from a glowing performance review he received.

The review came from Fiona Hill, who was his boss on the National Security Council until this summer. She described Vindman as “brilliant” and “unflappable” and a stellar military officer with excellent judgment.

Vindman pulled out a copy of the review and read from it during questioning Tuesday from Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who asked the Army officer why some colleagues have raised questions about his judgment.

___

12:05 p.m.

An aide to Vice President Mike Pence is responding to the president’s tweet going after her before her public testimony Tuesday in the House impeachment inquiry.

Jennifer Williams, a career State Department official detailed to Pence's office, says Trump’s tweet accusing her of being a “Never Trumper” caught her by surprise.

She’s told the committee she “was not expecting to be called out by name.”

Trump had tweeted Williams should meet with “the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!”

Williams said she was confused by the attack and “would not” consider herself a “Never Trumper.”

Alexander Vindman, an Army officer at the National Security Council, was asked the same question Tuesday.

He responded: “I'd call myself never partisan.”

___

12 p.m.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman says there is no ambiguity that President Donald Trump wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to commit to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden on a July phone call.

Vindman testified in a House impeachment hearing that there was no ambiguity about Trump’s use of the word “Biden” in the phone call, which is at the heart of the Democrats’ impeachment probe. Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate the former vice president and his son, Hunter Biden, who was linked to a gas company in Ukraine.

In contrast, the hearing’s other witness said Vice President Mike Pence did not request the investigations in his own conversations with Zelenskiy.

Jennifer Williams, a State Department employee detailed to Pence’s office, said he never brought up the investigations.

___

11:45 a.m.

Ukraine’s foreign minister says his country doesn’t want to be involved in the U.S. political drama.

Commenting on the ongoing impeachment hearings, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said Tuesday that Ukraine wants to retain the support of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, which it “had always been proud of.”

Prystaiko said the last thing the country needs, while dealing with the war with Russia-backed separatists in the east, is to be involved in “problems at the other end of the world.”

A July 25 phone call in which President Donald Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden triggered the congressional impeachment inquiry.

___

11:25 a.m.

A U.S. official says the Army and local law enforcement are providing security for the Army officer who is testifying Tuesday during the House impeachment hearing.

The official says that the Army did a security assessment in order to make sure that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his family are secure, so the officer didn’t have to worry about that as the proceedings go on.

Vindeman is testifying about his service as a National Security Council aide and his concerns surrounding President Donald Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign.

The official said the Army is prepared to take additional steps if needed, which could include moving Vindman and his family to a more secure location on a base.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal security issues.

— Lolita C. Baldor

___

11:20 a.m.

A key witness in the impeachment inquiry has told lawmakers that he was offered the post of Ukraine’s defense minister three times but rejected the suggestion.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s director for Ukraine, said he was made the offer while attending the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as part of the official U.S. delegation.

Vindman says "I immediately dismissed these offers.” He says two American officials witnessed the exchange with a top adviser to Zelenskiy, and that he notified his chain of command and counterintelligence officials about the offer upon returning to the U.S.

Vindman is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee about his concerns about President Donald Trump’s decision to press Ukrainian officials to launch an investigation of his political opponents.

___

11 a.m.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is declining to tell lawmakers who in the intelligence community he may have spoken to after he listened in to a July call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

In response to questions from California Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Vindman testified he would not answer on the advice of his lawyer and the recommendation by the committee’s chairman, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff.

Schiff said Nunes’ questioning was an attempt to out a whistleblower who first revealed the essence of the call and whose formal complaint triggered the impeachment probe. The whistleblower based the complaint on conversations with people who were familiar with the call.

Schiff said “these proceedings will not be used to out the whistleblower.”

___

10:50 a.m.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman says he heard envoy Gordon Sondland describe “specific investigations” as a requirement for Ukraine’s president to get a coveted White House visit.

Testifying at Tuesday’s impeachment hearing, Vindman said the conversation took place at the White House on July 10.

He says Sondland referred to “specific investigations that Ukrainians would have to deliver in order to get these meetings.” Those desired investigations were into the 2016 U.S. presidential election and also into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.

Vindman says he told Sondland that the request for investigations was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security policy.

___

10:45 a.m.

Lt. Col Alexander Vindman says he doesn’t “take it as anything nefarious” that a transcript of President Donald Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was put on a highly secure server.

Testifying at Tuesday’s impeachment hearing, Vindman said there was a discussion among lawyers in the White House about the best way to manage the transcript because it was “viewed as a sensitive transcript.”

On the July 25 call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to do him a favor and investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son. At the time, the U.S. was holding up military aid to Ukraine.

Vindman said the rough transcript of the call was segregated to a small group to prevent leaks.

___

10:20 a.m.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official, says his military experience shapes how he views a phone call between President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.

Vindman said at Tuesday’s impeachment hearing that he believed Trump was demanding that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy undertake an investigation into Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden even if Trump didn’t phrase it as a demand.

Vindman says that in the military, when someone senior "asks you to do something, even if it’s polite and pleasant, it's not to be taken as a request. It's to be taken as an order."

Vindman wore his military dress blue uniform with medals to the hearing.

___

10:15 a.m.

An aide to Vice President Mike Pence has told the House Intelligence Committee she will submit a classified memo about a September call between Pence and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as part of the impeachment investigation.

Asked by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff if she took notes of the call and if there was anything she wanted to share that is relevant to the impeachment probe, Jennifer Williams testified that she would follow the advice of her lawyer who advised her not to answer. The lawyer said the vice president’s office said the call was classified.

Williams told the committee behind closed doors this month that the call was “very positive” and the two men did not discuss Trump’s push for investigations of Democrats.

___

10:10 a.m.

The White House is responding to Tuesday’s House impeachment proceedings in real time, stepping up pushback after facing criticism that it wasn’t doing enough to defend the president.

The White House sent out five “rapid response” emails to reporters before the witnesses were even sworn in for questioning. And the notes continued throughout the proceedings to defend President Donald Trump and try to undermine the credibility of the witnesses appearing.

Administration officials were also participating Tuesday in an event for regional reporters.

Press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted that, "While the dems cry impeachment we are speaking to the country w regional media interviews focused on @POTUS balanced trade agenda.”

Trump has been silent on Twitter so far, but has a Cabinet meeting scheduled later Tuesday morning.

___

10:05 a.m.

A White House aide says that he doesn’t think the omission of the word “Burisma” from the transcript of a July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s new president was significant.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman says he thinks the people who do transcripts may not have caught the word. He said they put in “company” instead. Burisma is a Ukrainian gas company affiliated with the son of Joe Biden.

Vindman is testifying publicly Tuesday before a House committee in the impeachment inquiry into Trump.

He said that he tried to edit the transcript of the call to note the word “Burisma” but it didn’t make it into the rough transcript released publicly. He doesn’t know why.

Vindman said he thought President Volodymyr Zelenskiy may have been prepped for the call because he didn’t think the new leader would know about it otherwise.

___

10 a.m.

A White House aide says that he told Ukrainian officials to stay out of U.S. politics.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is testifying publicly Tuesday before a House committee in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Vindman was on a July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine’s new president where Trump pressed for investigations into the 2016 presidential election and the son of his Democratic rival.

Vindman said he knew “without hesitation” that he had to report the call to the White House counsel.

He told the committee that another official, U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, later said the Ukrainians needed to provide “a deliverable” which was “specific investigations.”

Vindman later told Ukrainian officials they should steer clear of the requests.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing.

___

9:55 a.m.

The Democratic committee chairman leading the House impeachment hearing is highlighting verbal attacks that President Donald Trump and his defenders have made against two government officials who are testifying.

As Tuesday’s hearing began, California Rep. Adam Schiff mentioned Trump’s tweet in which he accused Vice President Mike Pence adviser Jennifer Williams of being a never-Trumper.

Schiff also criticized “scurrilous attacks” against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who he noted “shed blood for America.” He said he hoped members of the House Intelligence Committee would not attack him.

The top Republican on the committee is California Rep. Devin Nunes.

He accused Democrats of hiding the whistleblower whose report triggered the impeachment investigation in their “own witness protection program.” And he says witness testimony so far has been based on second- and third-hand accounts of conversations.

___

9:45 a.m.

A White House aide says that he recognizes that what he is doing — testifying before Congress — would not be tolerated in many other countries.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman says in Russia, for example, his “act of expressing my concerns to the chain of command in an official and private channel” would have cost him his life.

Vindman, dressed in uniform, testified that he felt Trump’s request on a July 25 call to a new Ukrainian leader to investigate a political rival was “improper.”

The U.S. Army official is an immigrant from Ukraine. He said that he is grateful his father came to the United States some 40 years ago, a place “where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety.”

He then addressed his father, saying “Dad, my sitting here today ... is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union.”

___

9:38 a.m.

A White House aide tells lawmakers that what he heard on a July phone call between President Donald Trump and the new Ukrainian president was "improper."

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is testifying Tuesday in a public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rivals as he withheld aid to the East European nation.

Vindman is a U.S. Army officer detailed to the National Security Council. He listened in on the July 25 call at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Trump asked the new Ukrainian president to look into whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and wanted the country to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Vindman said it was "improper" for Trump to demand a foreign government investigative a U.S. citizen and political opponent.

Vindman is one of several witnesses coming before the committee this week. He and the other witnesses have already testified behind closed doors.

Trump has denied doing anything wrong.

___

9:30 a.m.

The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee is blaming the media for the impeachment drive against President Donald Trump.

Devin Nunes spent his opening statement at the third day of impeachment hearings excoriating journalists, saying “the media of course are free to act as Democratic puppets ... at the direction of their puppet masters.”

Absent from Nunes opening remarks Tuesday was any significant defense of Trump as he faces the starkest test of his presidency. The Democratic-led House is investigating his pressure campaign against Ukraine to open a probe into Joe Biden and his son.

At the center of the impeachment drive is Trump’s July 25th call to Ukraine’s president, when he mentioned Biden and a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

___

9:15 a.m.

The twin brother of a U.S. Army officer and White House aide is in the House intelligence hearing to support his appearance at the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is testifying Tuesday publicly on what he heard on a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s new leader.

Vindman told his twin brother Yevgeny about the call and his concerns about it. His brother sat behind him Tuesday in the hearing room. Yevgeny Vindman is also a U.S. Army official who is an attorney in the White House.

The House intelligence panel is holding public hearings into Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rivals while also withholding aid to the Eastern European nation.

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9:05 a.m.

An adviser to Vice President Mike Pence says she found a July phone call between President Donald Trump and the Ukraine leader “unusual” since it “involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”

Jennifer Williams was at the witness table Tuesday as the House intelligence public hearing got underway. The House impeachment inquiry is looking into the Trump administration’s interactions with Ukraine.

She listened to the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. She says that after the call, she provided an update in the vice president’s daily briefing book indicating that the conversation had taken place.

Williams says she did not discuss the call with Pence or any of her colleagues in the office of the vice president or the National Security Council.

The House intelligence panel is holding public hearings into Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rivals while also withholding aid to the Eastern European nation.

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9:05 a.m.

An adviser to Vice President Mike Pence says she was told that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had directed that a hold on military aid to Ukraine should remain in place.

Jennifer Williams is testifying Tuesday in the House impeachment inquiry into the Trump administration’s interactions with Ukraine.

Williams says she attended meetings earlier this year in which the hold on Ukraine security assistance was discussed.

She says representatives of the State and Defense departments advocated that the hold on the aid should be lifted, and that budget officials said that Mulvaney had directed that it remain in place.

Williams says she learned on Sept. 11 that the hold had been lifted. She says she’s never learned what prompted that decision.

The House intelligence panel is conducting public hearings into President Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, while also withholding security aid to the Eastern European nation.

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