White House Ukraine Expert Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman Says Transcript of July Call Omitted Key Details
The top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council told House investigators Tuesday that the transcript of President Donald Trump‘s phone call with Ukraine left out key details, including Trump alleging there were recordings of former Vice President Joe Biden discussing Ukraine corruption and the Ukrainian president directly mentioning Burisma Holdings, the company Biden’s son sat on the board of.
After immigrating from Ukraine at age 3, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman served in the Army for two decades and was wounded in Iraq. He received a Purple Heart for his service, worked at U.S. embassies in both Ukraine and Russia, as well as earned a Master’s Degree from Harvard University.
He also was present when Trump made the July 25 phone call in which he seemingly pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival, Biden. That conversation has become central to the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the president.
The rough transcript contains ellipses at three points where Trump is speaking. Vindman said that at the third set of ellipses appears, Trump said there were tapes of Biden.
At this point in the declassified version of the transcript, Trump said, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”
He continued, “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
At that ellipses, Trump reportedly asserted there were tapes of Biden talking about Ukraine. The “tapes” he may have been referring to is a video from January 2018 of Biden speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he bragged about withholding aid from Ukraine to force the firing of its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin.
Shokin was widely criticized for being corrupt, and by the time Biden arrived in Kiev his approval among Ukrainians was just 3.5 percent.
He had once investigated companies Burisma was tied to for tax evasion, prompting Trump to infer that Shokin’s ousting correlated to his Burisma investigation. However, the investigation had been dropped by that time, and there is no evidence to suggest Biden was acting in the interest of his son.
Vindman added that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned Burisma by name in the conversation, and the transcript notes that Zelensky told Trump that the next prosecutor “will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue.”
“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 for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman said in his opening remarks.
There is no White House recording of the July 25 call, as the White House uses note-takers and voice recognition software to create a rough transcript. But names and technical terms are frequently missed by the software, sources told the New York Times.
Vindman was given a hard copy of the rough transcript to make updates and corrections, and he noted the two differences he testified about. He gave the written edits to his boss, but they were never changed in the transcript.
His testimony comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) plans to enter a more public phase of the impeachment. She said Monday that the House will vote Thursday for the first time to formalize the impeachment investigation.