White House aides call Trump’s call a ‘shock’, testify in impeachment probe

Senior U.S. officials told impeachment investigators in Congress on Tuesday they were concerned by President Donald Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to investigate a political rival, with one White House official calling it a “shock.”

The third day of impeachment hearings conducted by the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee marked the first time that officials from inside the White House publicly expressed their misgivings about a freewheeling pressure campaign that now threatens Trump’s presidency.

The White House’s top Ukraine expert, wearing his Army dress uniform, said Trump had made an “improper” demand of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call that has become the centerpiece of the Democratic-led impeachment probe of the Republican president.

“Frankly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was probably an element of shock that maybe, in certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukrainian policy could play out was playing out,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman said.

As he was testifying, the White House’s official Twitter account attacked his judgment – undermining the same man the administration appointed to lead its European affairs brief at the National Security Council.

Two other senior White House aides, Jennifer Williams and Tim Morrison, also said during Tuesday’s hearings, which spanned 11-1/2 hours, that they were concerned by the political nature of that phone call.

Williams told the hearing that Trump’s call with Zelenskiy was unusual and inappropriate because “it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”

Morrison said he did not see anything improper in the call but was concerned that its contents could leak, hurting bipartisan support for Ukraine. “I wanted access to be restricted,” he said.

During that call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to carry out two investigations that would benefit him politically, including one targeting Joe Biden, the former vice president who is a leading Democratic presidential contender to face Trump in next year’s election, and his son Hunter Biden.

The other involved a debunked conspiracy theory embraced by some Trump allies that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Kurt Volker, a former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, said he believed those two concerns were “conspiracy theories.” He added that allegations of corruption involving Biden and his son, who was a director of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, were “not credible.”

Trump has said his call with Zelenskiy was “perfect,” while Republican lawmakers criticize the impeachment process as unfair.

“What’s going on is a disgrace, and it’s an embarrassment to our nation,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s a big scam.”

Republican U.S. Representative Francis Rooney told reporters: I don’t think there’s been a crime proven yet. … But I want to see what happens. There’s still a lot of water to go down this creek.”

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