National Security official to testify he heard Trump's Ukraine call, told superiors of his concerns

A U.S. Army official and White House national security official plans to tell members of Congress conducting an impeachment inquiry that he was on the phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s leader in which Trump asked for an investigation into the Bidens, and that he raised concerns about it.

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, who is the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, considered the request so damaging to American national security that he reported it to a superior, according to his opening statement obtained by NBC News. The New York Times first reported the contents of his written statement.

Vindman is expected to testify Tuesday that he was on the July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy, making him the first witness to the call to appear before Congressional investigators in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

"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," Vindman's opening statement says.

"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. This would all undermine U.S. national security. Following the call, I again reported my concerns to NSC’s lead counsel," Vindman's opening statement says.

The call is at the center of the impeachment inquiry against Trump launched by House Democrats. Critics say that Trump’s alleged pressure on the Ukrainians amounted to an abuse of power designed to help him in the 2020 presidential election.

Vindman is the National Security Council director for European affairs. He joined the National Security Council in July of 2018.

He will tell Congress that he is not the unnamed whistle-blower whose complaint sparked what would become the impeachment inquiry now underway, according to the statement, and that he does not know who the whistle-blower is.

Related: Donald Trump faces impeachment inquiry 

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The House Ways and Means Committee hearing room, the largest hearing room in the House, is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, will use this room to hold the first public session in its probe of whether President Donald Trump violated his oath of office by coercing Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his family. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
US career diplomat Christopher Anderson arrives to review his testimony as part of the House Impeachment inquiries on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on November 7, 2019. - The first open impeachment hearings into US President Donald Trump will begin next week, US House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said November 6, 2019, as the investigation heads into a highly anticipated public phase. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Vote Tallies are displayed as House members vote on a resolution on impeachment procedure to move forward into the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. The resolution passed 232-196. The resolution will authorize the next stage of impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, including establishing the format for open hearings, giving the House Committee on the Judiciary the final recommendation on impeachment, and allowing President Trump and his lawyers to attend events and question witnesses. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. Later today The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (C), speaks during a news conference after the close of a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sha Hanting/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. - On October 30, the House Rules Committee agreed by a party line vote to put the impeachment resolution up for approval before the full House of Representatives on October 31. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: (L-R) House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Oversight and Government Reform Committee Acting Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) hold a news conference following the passage of a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) presides over a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Vote Tallies are displayed as House members vote on a resolution on impeachment procedure to move forward into the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. The resolution passed 232-196. The resolution will authorize the next stage of impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, including establishing the format for open hearings, giving the House Committee on the Judiciary the final recommendation on impeachment, and allowing President Trump and his lawyers to attend events and question witnesses. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
White House Russia expert Timothy Morrison arrives for a deposition for the House Impeachment inquiries at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks during a news conference with other Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Diplomat added significant ballast to the allegation Trump was trying to extort Ukraine into ginning up bad news about Biden. The impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump has heard some extraordinary testimony over the last month. From the first mention of Trump’s desired “deliverable” from Ukraine, successive layers of witnesses and documents have added to an indictment of the president’s conduct that only gets heavier, as Trump howls his defenses to the wind. On Tuesday, things got even worse for Trump – much worse, as many saw it. For almost 10 hours, William Taylor, a former military officer and career diplomat with the rank of ambassador under the last four presidents, spoke with congressional investigators about how the Trump administration has been conducting a two-track foreign policy in Ukraine, where Taylor is in charge of the US embassy. We don’t yet know most of what was said. The current public record of the closed-door testimony comprises only a copy of Taylor’s 15-page opening statement – and the spectacle of the ashen faces of members of Congress as they filed out from the hearing. “This testimony is a sea change,” congressman Stephen Lynch told reporters. In his testimony, Taylor explained his discovery of an “irregular, informal policy channel” by which the Trump administration was pursuing objectives in Ukraine “running contrary to the goals of longstanding US policy”. What the “informal channel” wanted – and briefly obtained, Taylor said – was for the Ukrainian president to agree to go on CNN to announce an investigation of Joe Biden, whom Trump sees, perhaps mistakenly, as a top 2020 threat. The Trump administration held up “much-needed military assistance” to Ukraine in an effort to extract the Ukrainian statement, Taylor said. “More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the US assistance,” he noted. In a process scrambled so far by misleading Trump tweets and relying in part on anonymous witnesses, the testimony of Taylor, a Vietnam veteran respected in both parties with 50 years of public service behind him, landed as a potential game-changer. It was just the kind of testimony that seemed to answer even the most stubborn demands of Trump loyalists such as Senator Lindsey Graham for additional, definitive proof that Trump was turning the broad power of his office to his own narrow devices. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” Graham said at the weekend. The senator denied in a Fox News appearance Tuesday that Taylor had delivered such evidence. But Taylor added significant ballast to the allegation that Trump was attempting to extort Ukraine into ginning up bad news about Biden. What Taylor added was a careful stitchwork of detail, describing who was working to extort the Ukrainians, how they were going about it, how their aims clashed with stated US policy, how the Ukrainians responded, and what people said to him about it at the time. Taylor made clear he has the memos and other records to back up his story. And he exposed the slapstick clumsiness of the Trump flunkies working the “informal channel” – notably Gordon Sondland, the hotelier and Trump mega-donor turned ambassador. “Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman,” Taylor testified. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” But “the explanation made no sense”, Taylor argued. “The Ukrainians did not ‘owe’ President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was ‘crazy’.” Reaction to Taylor’s testimony generally fell between shock and dumbfoundedness. “I cannot overstate how damaging this Ambassador Taylor testimony is to Trump,” tweeted Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general. “Taylor’s statement is a completely devastating document,” wrote Susan Hennessey, the executive director of the Lawfare site. “I know they will find a way but it’s just impossible to imagine how Republicans in Congress will be able to defend this. It is well beyond what most assumed was the worst-case scenario.” The White House issued a statement Tuesday night impugning Taylor, a Trump appointee, as part of a cadre of “radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the constitution”. But the taller the evidence against him, the smaller Trump’s protests seemed. Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar, a presidential candidate, challenged Republicans to take a stand. “After Diplomat Taylor’s testimony you can no longer question whether this happened,” she tweeted. “The question is if you choose to follow the law or be part of the cover-up.” Trump huddled Tuesday night with members of his legal team, the Wall Street Journal reported, and he urged congressional Republicans to do more to rebut the impeachment inquiry. But there were reportedly no talking points, and no one knew quite what they were supposed to say, or whom to take that direction from. Notably absent from the meeting of Trump’s advisors was Rudy Giuliani, whom Taylor describes as running the shadow operation in Ukraine. “The official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr Giuliani,” Taylor said. He described a seemingly free hand for Giuliani, whose foreign clients include or have included Ukraine-based antagonists of current and former US officials, to open and close diplomatic channels and to direct US policy as he pleased. One of the weightiest impacts of Taylor’s testimony might have to do with the senior US officials it names. Taylor took his concerns about Trump’s alleged attempt to extort Ukraine, he said, to both national security adviser John Bolton and to secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Bolton, who has since resigned, reacted with outrage and frustration. Pompeo, who is eyeing a US Senate bid in his home state of Kansas, apparently greeted Taylor’s warning with silence. “This is not the story of corruption in Ukraine,” tweeted the political strategist David Axelrod. “It’s the story of corruption at the highest levels of the US government. It’s the story of extortion, with US military aid to a besieged ally held hostage to the president’s personal political project.” Trump’s critics say the story is plain: that the president twisted the immense powers of his office to personal ends, in betrayal of constitution and country. When it comes time to prove it, Taylor’s testimony is likely to be front and center.
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Ambassador William Taylor is escorted by U.S. Capitol Police as he arrives to testify before House committees as part of the Democrats' impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Vindman will also say that he twice reported his concerns to the National Security Council’s lead attorney, John Eisenberg, once after a July 10 meeting about comments made by U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and also after Trump's phone call with Zelenskiy.

On July 10, at a visit by Oleksandr Danylyuk, Ukraine’s secretary of national security, and then-national security adviser John Bolton in Washington, D.C., “Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President,” and that at that time Bolton cut the meeting short.

At a debriefing that followed, “Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma,” Vindman’s statement says.

“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,” the statement says.

Vindman’s statement says he reported his concerns to the National Security Council’s lead attorney. The statement says he also did so after the July 25 phone call.

In his prepared remarks, Vindman also says that in the spring of 2019 "I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency," and that "this narrative was harmful to U.S. government policy."

His statement says he never had any direct communications with Trump.

Vindman served multiple overseas tours as an infantry officer and received the Purple Heart after being wounded by an improvised explosive device attack while in Iraq.

“I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend OUR country, irrespective of party or politics,” Vindman says in the prepared remarks, adding that he felt an obligation to report his concerns.

“On many occasions I have been told I should express my views and share my concerns with my chain of command and proper authorities. I believe that any good military officer should and would do the same, thus providing his or her best advice to leadership,” his statement says.

Vindman's scheduled testimony comes a week after Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told members of Congress that Trump directed officials to tie foreign aid to Ukraine to demands that the country open an investigation into the Biden family and the 2016 election.

Trump and his defenders have repeatedly denied any quid pro quo took place. Taylor’s opening statement provided to NBC News appeared to deal that a potentially serious blow.

Trump has characterized the phone call as “perfect” and has said there was no quid pro quo. He has called the impeachment inquiry a “witch hunt” and a “fraud.”

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is expected to vote Thursday on a Democratic resolution that will lay out the next steps in the impeachment inquiry, according to a senior congressional source.

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