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WASHINGTON - An Army officer on the White House national security staff on Tuesday is telling the impeachment inquiry targeting President Donald Trump that he was so concerned about the U.S. leader's request in July that Ukraine investigate his political opponents that he alerted his superiors.
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who listened in on Trump's late July conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, says in prepared testimony, "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 for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine."
The Trump-Zelenskiy call is at the center of efforts by the majority Democrats in the House of Representatives to impeach Trump for asking Ukraine to investigate its links to the 2016 U.S. election that Trump won and probe one of Trump's chief 2020 Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden's business dealings with Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Trump made the request at the same time he had temporarily held up $391 million in military aid and assistance to Ukraine, which Kyiv needed to combat Russian separatists it was fighting in the eastern part of the country.
Soliciting and receiving foreign contributions in an election is illegal under U.S. campaign finance law.
"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," Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, says in prepared testimony.
Vindman, a Ukrainian-American immigrant who received a Purple Heart after he was wounded in Iraq by a roadside bomb, says, "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." He showed up at the Capitol for his testimony wearing his dress military uniform.
Trump, who last month released a rough transcript of the call with Zelenskiy, disparaged Vindman's testimony in advance of him appearing behind closed doors at the impeachment inquiry headed by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.
"Why are people that I never even heard of testifying about the call," Trump said on Twitter. "Just READ THE CALL TRANSCRIPT AND THE IMPEACHMENT HOAX IS OVER! Ukrain (sic) said NO PRESSURE."
He added, "How many more Never Trumpers will be allowed to testify about a perfectly appropriate phone call when all anyone has to do is READ THE TRANSCRIPT! I knew people were listening in on the call (why would I say something inappropriate?), which was fine with me, but why so many?"
"Supposedly, according to the Corrupt Media, the Ukraine call 'concerned' today's Never Trumper witness," Trump said. "Was he on the same call that I was? Can't be possible! Please ask him to read the Transcript of the call. Witch Hunt!"
Vindman also described a meeting two weeks before the July 25 Trump-Zelenskiy call in which he says Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, "started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations" in order for the Ukrainians to secure a meeting between Zelenskiy and Trump at the White House.
"I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push," Vindman says.
Vindman's testimony is coming two days before the full House of Representatives is set to vote Thursday for the first time to formally lay out plans for the impeachment inquiry.
The minority Republicans in the House, staunch supporters of Trump, have demanded that the majority Democrats formally vote for the impeachment investigation, rather than carry out secret hearings behind closed doors with a stream of witnesses who have testified about Trump and his aides' interactions with Ukraine.
The Republicans have claimed that the Democratic-controlled inquiry is illegitimate, but assailed the Thursday vote as trying to justify the weeks of hearings that have already been held.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to fellow representatives that she wants to "eliminate any doubt" about the process.
Pelosi says the impeachment inquiry resolution will "affirm the ongoing and existing investigation ... establish the procedures for hearings that are open to the American people ... outlines procedures to transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee ... and sets forth due process rights for the president and his counsel."
Trump and his Republican supporters have called the impeachment probe illegitimate because the full House never voted for it. Pelosi says that argument "has no merit."
There is no law saying the entire House has to approve an investigation and the majority party in control - currently the Democrats - set out the rules for an impeachment process.
The majority Democrats in the House are planning to hold public impeachment hearings next month and could vote on articles of impeachment against Trump by the end of the year.
If he is impeached, Trump would face a trial in the Republican-majority Senate on whether he should be convicted and removed from office.
But Trump's ouster from the White House remains unlikely. With a two-thirds vote needed for conviction, 20 Republicans would have to turn against the president. While a few have attacked Trump's dealings with Ukraine, no Republican has called for his removal from office.