Updated at 11:47 a.m ET
House Democrats have begun Week 2 of their open impeachment hearings on Tuesday with witnesses who listened firsthand when President Trump spoke with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25 — a key moment in the Ukraine affair.
The hearing on Tuesday began with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army foreign area officer who serves on the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, a foreign service officer detailed to the staff of Vice President Pence.
Vindman testified Tuesday that he was concerned by the call, because "what I heard was improper," and that he reported his concerns to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg. Vindman said, "It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent."
Vindman and Williams were among in on the phone call.
Vindman also stated that it was his view that Trump demanded Zelenskiy conduct an investigation into the activities of former vice president and potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden and his son Hunter's involvement in Ukraine. Vindman said there was a "power disparity" between the two presidents and that because of his military culture, "a request, no matter how politely expressed" is an order or demand.
Vindman, testifying in his military uniform, said he had prepared talking points for the July 25 phone call for President Trump to follow. Noting that it was up to the president whether he decided to use them, Vindman testified that what Trump discussed with Zelenskiy was "not consistent with what I provided."
In his opening statement, Vindman movingly referred to his father, who fled the Soviet Union with his family to the U.S. "Dad, I'm sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union." Vindman continued, "Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."
He also lashed out at the attacks on the three witnesses who testified before the panel last week. "The vile character attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible," Vindman said, adding, "We are better than personal attacks."
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., interrupted ranking member Devin Nunes's questioning of Vindman when Nunes appeared to try to get Vindman to identify the whistleblower — whose official complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry — whom Vindman said he did not know.
Vindman was testifying that he spoke to two people about providing a read out of the July 25 call. He said one was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, and identified the other as a member of the intelligence community.
When Nunes pressed Vindman for name the agency, Schiff interjected: "The whistle blower has the statutory right to anonymity," he said. "These proceedings will not be used to out the whistle blower."
Vindman also corrected Nunes when Nunes called him "Mr.Vindman."
"Ranking member, it's Lt. Col. Vindman, please."
Under questioning from GOP counsel Steve Castor, Vindman acknowledged he was asked three times by Ukrainian officials to be the country's defense minister. Each time, Vindman said he dismissed the offer, and said he told his chain of command and the "appropriate counterintelligence folks about the offer."
Vindman testified that while it would be "a great honor," he said "I'm an American, I came here when I was a toddler, and I immediately dismissed these offers, did not entertain them."
Vindman told House investigators in his earlier deposition that he immediately was concerned about Trump's request for a "favor" from his Ukrainian counterpart. Vindman enlisted his twin brother, who also works for the White House, to report the matter to the National Security Council's lawyer.
Vindman also said that Eisenberg, the NSC attorney, moved the official record of the call onto a highly classified system that few could access — a decision that Vindman called a departure from protocol.
Williams, for her part, told House investigators she thought Trump's requests were "unusual and inappropriate." She also described Trump's decision to keep Pence from attending Zelenskiy's inauguration even after the White House had resolved that the vice president would go.
Trump faults, critics see "intimidation"
Trump didn't care for Williams' deposition and said so in a post on Twitter over the weekend.
The president's response was the second time he has posted about a witness in the ongoing hearings, following a tweet last week about Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Trump's ongoing responses to the impeachment inquiry have raised questions about whether they could become the subject of eventual articles of impeachment.
Democrats say the president is trying to dissuade people from talking publicly.
"I absolutely believe this is witness intimidation," Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, told CNN on Monday.
The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to convene a second panel on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET with two more important witnesses:
Kurt Volker, the former State Department envoy to Ukraine for its peace negotiations, and Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council aide.
Volker was at the center of the alternate policy channel for Ukraine run by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and Volker helped broker an important meeting between Giuliani and an aide to Zelenskiy this summer.
Morrison was among those who heard the Trump-Zelenskiy call firsthand when it happened, and although he testified that he was concerned about what might have happened if it became public, he saw nothing illegal.
Morrison holds an expansive view about the president's powers and he told House investigators that, in the way he views the Constitution, Trump has the final say on nearly every aspect of foreign policy.
Republicans likely want to draw him out about that because it speaks to one of the main defenses that supporters have articulated throughout the Ukraine affair.
Supporters argue that Trump's desire for Zelenskiy to launch investigations he thought might help him in the 2020 election were within his power and, although some members of Congress disagree about whether that was appropriate, most Republicans have remained unified that the request was not impeachable.
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.