WASHINGTON DC (REUTERS) - Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the White House National Security Council’s top Ukraine expert and a decorated Iraq war veteran, told impeachment investigators that President Donald Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate a political rival was an improper demand as he fended off Republican efforts to cast doubt on his competence and loyalty to the United States.
“It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent,” Lt Col Vindman said.
Both Lt Col Vindman and a second witness, Ms Jennifer Williams, an aide to US Vice-President Mike Pence, said they were struck by the political nature of the requests made by Mr Trump in a July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the heart of the impeachment investigation threatening Mr Trump’s presidency.
Lt Col Vindman and Ms Williams were among the US officials who listened in during the call.
"Frankly, I couldn't believe what I was hearing," Lt Col Vindman said.
Ms Williams told the committee that Mr Trump's call with Mr Zelensky was unusual and inappropriate because "it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter".
Ahead of the July call, Mr Trump had frozen US$391 million (S$532 million) in US security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. He was seeking a Ukrainian investigation of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm called Burisma.
Later on Tuesday (Nov 19), former National Security Council Russia expert Tim Morrison and former diplomat Kurt Volker also testified.
Mr Volker, who was involved in efforts to get Mr Zelensky's government to commit to corruption investigations, said the US should not have pursued allegations into the Bidens, and said the former vice-president "is an honorable man".
Mr Volker said he did not know that a request to investigate Burisma was effectively a request to investigate Mr Biden.
"In retrospect, I should have seen that connection different, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections," he said in prepared testimony.