From left: Alexander Vindman, Gordon Sondland, and Fiona Hill
FPI / November 12, 2019
Officials at the National Security Council (NSC), some of them Obama era holdovers, waged an internal war against President Donald Trump and his political appointees, transcripts from Rep. Adam Schiff’s closed-door impeachment inquiry hearings show.
Fiona Hill, a Russia specialist brought to the NSC in 2018 from the Brookings Institution, was highly critical of Trump appointee Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a generous Trump campaign contributor, the transcripts show.
Sondland was also targeted by Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Pentagon detailee as the NSC’s Ukraine specialist. Vindman, the transcripts show, accused Sondland of promoting a quid pro quo on Ukraine during a July 10 White House meeting. Sondland denied there was any quid pro quo.
Vindman was the first to file a complaint against Trump for his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The so-called Trump-Ukraine “whistleblower” was also an Obama administration holdover.
Democrats, without evidence, have claimed that Trump executed a quid pro quo — aid in exchange for an investigation by Ukraine of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden — and should be impeached.
Trump said the White House’s release of the transcript of the Zelensky call exonerates him.
“Now we have found the rat's nest, it's in the National Security Council,” radio host Mark Levin said on the Nov. 7 broadcast of Fox News’s “Hannity”.
Levin added: “The whistleblower according to a number of reports as you have been saying here tonight comes off the National Security Council, an Obama holdover — a Democrat. Somebody who worked with Biden, somebody who worked with Brennan, an Obama holdover who didn't like Trump, who met with one of the active figures in the Ukraine efforts to undermine the President of the United States in 2016. We have two others who now were hired by Schiff, Obama holdovers who were in the Trump National Security Council, now they work for Schiff and how much you want to bet one of them was the one that he colluded with.”
Levin continued: “If you want to know why the President of the United States had trouble bringing in his own people into the National Security Council and getting clearances, now you know why? Because it's a rat's nest. And by the way, I think U.S. Attorney Durham and the Attorney General of the United States ought to have an investigation of these three National Security Council former staffers, what role did they have in the Ukraine 2016 matter interfering with the election? What role did they have pushing the Russia collusion matter? Were they leakers?”
In her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Hill complained that Sondland had given her cellphone number to foreign officials and told them to stop by the White House unscheduled. On one occasion, Hill said Sondland told her that Trump had made him the point man on Ukraine, outranking the in-country ambassador.
“Ambassador Sondland, I’m afraid, you know, I felt, you know, as I mentioned before, he was driving along on the road,” Ms. Hill testified. “You know, he’d just gone off the road. No guardrails. No GPS. I could just go on and on,” Hill said.
Hill described Mr. Sondland’s approach to Brussels-based diplomacy: “He was new to the experience. I mean, he was clearly, you know, a savvy guy. He’s charming. He’s funny. He was well-meaning. I mean, a lot of the stories that have been in the press about him paying for things, actually, I think, he was doing that out of generosity. He was truly trying to build up morale in his embassy. His embassy loved, you know, the kind of treats and things that he would get for them. He was trying to create happy hours.”
She characterized Ukraine policy as being isolated in a closed group of two: Sondland and White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
“Sondland said repeatedly he was meeting with Chief of Staff Mulvaney,” Hill said. “And that was it. It was not going down to the rest of the staff.”
Hill also characterized the July 10 White House meeting as a disaster in which then-national security adviser John Bolton abruptly left.
Vindman testified on Oct. 29 that Sondland specifically brought up the Bidens’ names at the July 10 meeting.
“Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigation into the 2016 elections, the Bidens and Burisma,” Vindman testified. “I stated to Ambassador Sondland that the statements, that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate the Bidens and his son had nothing to do with national security and that such investigations were not something that the NSC was going to get involved in.”
Sondland said he was mystified by the way other witnesses and the news media depicted the July 10 meeting. He testified that he had no memory of bringing up the Bidens or an investigation.
“Dr. Hill’s testimony was, so at least as it was reported, was so contrary to any recollection I had, I thought I must have slept through something and missed something,” Sondland said. “If someone said that a meeting was abruptly terminated and that angry words were used, when, in fact, we had a great meeting, we all tweeted about it afterwards, and that was that.”
Asked by Schiff whether he brought up the Bidens or an investigation, Sondland said, “I don’t remember that. No.”
Sondland said that contrary to Hill’s narration, he rarely spoke with Mulvaney. “I’ve had very, very few conversations with Mr. Mulvaney.”
Vindman said that immediately after the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call, he bypassed his boss, the director of European affairs, and went to NSC Counsel John A. Eisenberg to file a complaint against Trump for mentioning a need for an investigation.
“I mean, he’s my commander in chief,” he testified. “I’m not trying to, you know, be overly critical of the president. What I was trying to do, in speaking to Mr. Eisenberg, was express my concerns about something that I viewed to be problematic.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, told Vindman that Ukraine is riven with corruption. He said Trump had every right to bring up the need for investigations to comply with the Defense Authorization Act. It requires the administration to certify that Ukraine is taking steps to combat theft of public funds and bribery before U.S. money can be released.
“If the president brings up corruption in his phone call, which I think he’s and certainly as the commander in chief should do, and when Congress has these requirements. I guess I’m not quite understanding why that’s inappropriate,” McCaul said.
Vindman said, “I think it’s the — what I had, I guess, difficulty with is the fact that he was calling for an investigation, not the continuation of an investigation, but starting a new investigation because there was not an active one.”
McCaul said Attorney General William Barr last spring appointed a special investigator to look into the origins of the 2016 FBI Trump-Russia probe. Republicans have accused Ukrainian officials of intervening in the 2016 election by helping Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
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