rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- If there's one witness in the House impeachment inquiry who could speak to exactly what President Donald Trump wanted in Ukraine, it would be Gordon Sondland and he's testifying in public for the first time on Wednesday.
A wealthy hotelier who donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration, Sondland was tapped by the president to serve as U.S. ambassador to the European Union and again handpicked by Trump to take a lead role on Ukraine. And in revised closed-door testimony, Sondland said he personally delivered the "quid pro quo" to Ukraine, telling a top Ukrainian aide that nearly $400 million in military aid that was already promised to the country was contingent upon an anti-corruption probe that would have included Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Here is how the hearing is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.
The legal counsel representing Republicans, Steve Castor, pressed Sondland on why he omitted from his opening statement the phone conversation with President Trump during which Sondland said the president said he wanted nothing from Ukraine.
“[President Trump] just said, I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo,” Sondland testified earlier Tuesday. “Tell Zelensky to do the right thing. Something to that effect.”
“How come [that wasn’t in your opening statement]? That's so memorable, so striking,” Castor said.
“I don't know. It was in my previous testimony and I assumed if people had questions, they would bring it up,” Sondland said. “It was not purposeful, trust me.”
As Sondland delivers some of the most significant testimony to date, which has included explicit characterizations of Rudy Giuliani’s efforts as a “quid pro quo,” the president’s personal attorney is weighing in.
“Sondland is speculating based on VERY little contact,” Giuliani tweeted. “I never met him and had very few calls with him.”
Shortly after publishing the tweet, Giuliani appeared to delete it.
In another tweet a short time earlier, he said, "During the July 24 conversation @realDonaldTrump agrees to a meeting with Pres. Zelensky without requiring an investigation, any discussion of military aid or any condition whatsoever. This record shows definitively no quid pro quo, which is the same as no bribery. END OF CASE!"
In his original closed-door testimony, Sondland said he recalled speaking 2-3 times with Giuliani by phone, including in August in which “I listened to Mr. Giuliani’s concerns.” In that prior testimony, Sondland said he didn’t recall ever meeting Giuliani in person.
ABC's Jordyn Phelps at the White House reports a fired-up President Trump just ranted to the press corps in reaction to Gordon Sondland’s testimony on the Hill as he departed the White House for a trip to Texas.
The president zeroed in on his conversation with Sondland and offered a dramatic reenactment – emphasizing that he told Sondland he didn’t want a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
“What do you want from Ukraine I keep hearing all these ideas and theories, what do you want? What do you want?” Trump recounts Sondland asking him.
The president then made extended comments -- while shouting -- complete with an aside in which he took issue with a characterization that he was not in a good mood during the call: “I’m always in a good mood, I don’t know what that is.”
He then offered his response, reading off handwritten notes.
"Ready, you have the cameras rolling?"
“Here’s my answer, I want nothing, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo, tell Zelenskiy to do the right thing,” Trump said – a point he emphasized multiple times. “This is the final word from the president of the United States, I want nothing,” Trump said.
The president said “it was a very short and abrupt conversation” and sought to distance himself from Sondland, noting that he supported other candidates before him and saying he didn’t know him very well.
“I don’t know him very well, I have not spoken to him much, this is not a man I know well, seems like a nice guy but I don’t know him well, he was with other candidates, he actually supported other candidates, not me, came in late,” Trump said.
Sondland again asserted that the administration's efforts in Ukraine were not "irregular," insinuating that officials who described it that way may be "aggrieved" at being left out of the loop.
"I'm not sure how someone could characterize something as an irregular channel when you're talking to the President of the United States, the secretary of state, the national security adviser, the chief of staff of the White House, the secretary of energy. I don't know how that's irregular if a bunch of folks that are not in that channel are aggrieved for some reason for not being included, I don't know how they can consider us to be the irregular channel and they to be the regular channel when it's the leadership that makes the decisions," Sondland said.
Ambassador Sondland said he was “shocked” to hear other American officials describe his efforts to coerce Ukraine to announce investigations sought by Trump as a “drug deal.”
Fiona Hill, a former NSC aide, testified that then-National Security Adviser Bolton made reference to the “drug deal” after a July 10 White House meeting with a Ukrainian delegation.
Others have testified that Bolton abruptly ended the meeting when Sondland raised the need for Ukraine to announce those investigations, but Sondland maintained that his recollection was different.
“I don't recall any abrupt ending of the meeting or people storming out or anything like that,” Sondland said. “That would have been very memorable if someone had stormed out of a meeting based on something I said.”
Even so, Sondland conceded that others’ testimony that he raised the investigations to the Ukrainians was likely accurate.
“I probably mentioned that this needs to happen in order to move the process forward,” Sondland testified. “That seemed to be the conventional wisdom at the time.”
A lawyer representing committee Republicans pressed Sondland over his testimony that Rudy Giuliani was representing the president’s interest in coordinated a quid pro quo with Ukraine, as Sondland said in his opening statement.
“You testified that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president. Correct?” Republican Counsel Steve Castor asked Sondland.
“That’s our understanding. Yes,” Sondland replied.
“How did you know that? Who told you?” Castor asked.
“Well, when the president says, talk to my personal attorney and then Mr. Giuliani as his personal attorney makes certain requests or demands, we assume it's coming from the president,” Sondland said.
"Did the president ever tell you personally about any preconditions for anything?" Caster asked at another point.
"No," Sondland replied.
"So, the president never told you about any preconditions for the aid to be released?" Caster asked more specifically.
"No," Sondland answered again.
Speaking to cameras outside the hearing during a short break, Schiff said Sondland’s testimony goes “right to the heart of bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors,” referencing the Impeachment Clause in the Constitution.
“I think [Sondland’s testimony] is a very important moment for this impeachment inquiry,” Schiff said.
Schiff also said Sondland's testimony gives an idea why the White House and the administration have so strongly blocked other officials from appearing before House investigators.
"We now can see the veneer has been torn away," Schiff said.
Sondland said he was never told explicitly by President Trump that Ukraine’s cooperation in announcing investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma was necessary for the release of aid money, but that he assumed that was the case.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement on elections,” Sondland said.
“The only thing we got directly from Giuliani was that the Burisma in 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting,” he continued. “The aid was my own personal guess based, again, on your analogy two plus two equals four.”
Sondland said, before a meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Warsaw on Sept. 1, he brought up to Pence that military aid to Ukraine seemed tied to investigations and that Pence responded affirmatively and said he would speak to the president about it.
"I don't know exactly what I said to him -- this was a briefing attended by many people and I was invited at the very last minute. I wasn't scheduled to be there. But I think I spoke up at some point late in the meeting and said it looks like everything is being held up until these statements get made and that's my you know personal belief," Sondland testified.
"And Vice President Pence just nodded his head?," Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman asked.
"Again I don't recall any exchange or he asked me any questions. I think it was sort of a duly noted," Sondland said.
"Well, he didn't say, 'Gordon, what are you talking about?'" Goldman asked.
"No, he did not," Sondland responded.
"He didn't say, 'What investigations?'" Goldman asked, referring to Pence.
"He did not," Sondland responded.
ABC's Katherine Faulders reports this response from Pence chief of staff Marc Short:
“The Vice President never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations.
“Ambassador Gordon Sondland was never alone with Vice President Pence on the September 1 trip to Poland. This alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador Sondland never happened.
“Multiple witnesses have testified under oath that Vice President Pence never raised Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden, Crowdstrike, Burisma, or investigations in any conversation with Ukrainians or President Zelensky before, during, or after the September 1 meeting in Poland.”
ABC's Katherine Faulders in the hearing room notes that the moment Sondland characterized his conversations with President Trump stood out.
"Sounds like something I would say," Sondland says when Democratic Counsel Dan Goldman asked Sondland if he recalls telling President Trump that President Zelenskiy "loves your ass."
"That's how President Trump and I communicate. A lot of four-letter words. In this case, three letters," Sondland said.
He's speaking of the July 26 phone call that he had with President Trump.
State Department aide David Holmes, who was at the lunch where the call took place, testified that he heard the president on the other end of the telephone conversation.
Holmes testified that they discussed former Vice President Joe Biden. Sondland is again saying he doesn't recall any mention of the Biden on the call, but Burisma.
"I recall Burisma, not Biden," Sondland testified.
Sondland testified that as he “understood it,” the Ukrainians only “had to announce the investigations, [ Zelenskiy ] didn't actually have to do them,” referring to investigations into Burisma and the 2016 elections.
"That undermines the Republican -- and Trump's -- argument that this was all about rooting out corruption," ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce says in analysis.
ABC News' John Santucci and Katherine Faulders are told President Trump is watching the Sondland testimony.
They report senior White House officials, including members of the counsel’s office and communications team, are glued to their televisions watching Sondland's testimony very closely.
Some of the president’s closest allies have privately acknowledged this is going to be a bad day for them, one senior level source reacting in real time that the testimony is “not great for Rudy,” referring to the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Sources tell ABC News White House aides believe this all raises more questions specifically relating to Giuliani, Mulvaney and Pompeo as well as about the operations of the National Security Council.
Sondland described a "continuum that became more insidious over time," saying requests for investigations started as generic but started to include more specific demands to look at the Bidens over time.
"As time went on, more specific items got added to the menu, including the Burisma and 2016 election meddling, specifically the DNC server, specifically, and over this, over this continuum, it became more and more difficult to secure the white house meeting, because more conditions were being placed on the White House meeting," he said.
He also said he did not know that references to investigating Burisma involved Hunter Biden at the time, but that he realized the connection after the transcript was released of the July 25 call between Presidents Trump and Zelenskiy.
That narrative was disputed by David Holmes, who said after Sondland hung up with the president on July 26 he said Trump "doesn't give a s--t about Ukraine," only "big stuff that matters to him, like this Biden investigation that Giuliani is pushing."
Sondland said Wednesday he does not recall saying that.
ABC's Justin Fishel notes that "while Sondland acknowledges a quid pro quo- he is not going to say he was withholding aid to get them to investigate Bidens."
In describing his efforts to “break the logjam” of withholding aid to Ukraine, Sondland said he tried on multiple occasions to persuade the Ukrainians to publicly announce support for the investigations Trump sought.
“I told [Ukrainian chief of staff Andriy] Yermak that I believed that the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland said.
He also recalled his efforts to coordinate a pull-aside meeting in Warsaw during which President Zelenskiy could assure President Trump that his administration would approve the investigations.
“I really regret that the Ukrainians were placed in that predicament, but I do not regret doing what I could to try to break the logjam and to solve the problem,” Sondland testified.
Sondland also confirms the July 26 call with President Trump took place, when Sondland allegedly told State Department aide David Holmes that Trump only cared about Ukraine when it came to “big stuff” like the “Biden investigation.
“The call lasted five minutes. I remember I was at a restaurant in Kyiv, and I have no reason to doubt that this conversation included the subject of investigations. Again, given Mr. Giuliani’s demand that President Zelensky make a public statement about investigations, I knew that the topic of investigations was important to President Trump. We did not discuss any classified information,” he said.
Sondland says he has no reason to doubt other witnesses accounts of that call but that the White House has not let him review a readout or transcript to refresh his memory. But he says the call did not strike him as significant at the time and he does not remember discussing the Bidens after the call, as Holmes testified.
“I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani about the President’s concerns. However, I have no recollection of discussing Vice President Biden or his son on that call or after the call ended,” his statement says.
Sondland also says "even as late as Sept. 24 of this year," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "was directing Kurt Volker to speak with Rudy Giuliani. In a WhatsApp message, Kurt Volker told me in part: 'Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S,'" , Sondland said, adding that 'S' is the designator for secretary.
Sondland said of Pompeo, Perry and Mulvaney: “Everyone was in the loop" and "It was no secret."
Sondland disputed the recollection of other witnesses in describing a July 10 meeting at the White House with a delegation of Ukrainians.
“Their recollections of those events simply don’t square with my own,” Sondland said. “I do not recall any yelling or screaming as others have said.”
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and former NSC aide Fiona Hill have both described the meeting as a heated affair with infighting among the Americans after Sondland raised the need for Ukraine to open investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.
Hill has testified behind closed doors that the meeting ended abruptly, and afterwards, Ambassador John Bolton, the national security adviser, instructed her to tell the NSC lawyers about the “drug deal Rudy [Giuliani] and [acting White House chief of staff Mick] Mulvaney are cooking up.”
During his opening statement, Sondland – who the White House worried was a “wild card” witness – pointed his finger directly at President Trump in coordinating a quid pro quo with Ukraine.
“Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelenskiy,” Sondland said. “Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the President.”
Sondland’s assertion appears to be the most explicit and credible testimony to date that the president personally ordered a quid pro quo. Sondland’s credibility has been described by other witnesses, who have described him as having a direct line to President Trump.
“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’” Sondland said at one point. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
Sondland says it is "absolutely false" he and other pursued a kind of shadow foreign policy led by the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. He said leaders in the National Security Council, State Department, and White House were fully aware of what he and others were doing.
"Precisely because we did not think that we were engaging in improper behavior, we made every effort to ensure that the relevant decisionmakers at the National Security Council and State Department knew the important details of our efforts," Sondland said.
"The suggestion that we were engaged in some irregular or rogue diplomacy is absolutely false."
The group of American officials known as "the Three Amigos" did not want to coordinate Ukraine policy with Giuliani, but they "played the hand they were dealt" and cooperated with him, Sondland said in his opening statement.
“The Three Amigos” refer to Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and former U.S. Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
The trio worked with “Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States … we followed the President’s orders,” Sondland said, but added that “given what we knew at the time, what we were asked to do did not appear to be wrong.”
Sondland is sworn in and begins his opening statement.
He is joined at the witness table by his counsel, Robert Luskin, a white-collar defense lawyer based in Washington, D.C.
Luskin is no stranger to major legal proceedings. According the profile on his law firm’s website, Luskin is described as having “represented clients in virtually every high-profile matter in Washington, D.C. over the last three decades,” including defendants in cases brought by past independent counsels and the Justice Department.
Ranking Member Devin Nunes continued to blame Democrats for their focus on the impeachment inquiry in his opening statement, echoing similar comments from previous hearings that the entire process is politically motivated.
"After three years of preparation work, much of it spearheaded by the Democrats on this committee, using all the tools of Congress to accuse, investigate, indict and smear the president, they stoked a frenzy amongst their most fanatical supporters that they can no longer control," Nunes said.
"Ambassador Sondland, you are here today to be smeared," Nunes said.
Ahead of Sondland delivering his opening statement, Schiff addressed the White House and State Department decisions to block testimony from other officials or access to documents requested as part of the investigation.
Sondland is set to say there are documents and call records that would add to his testimony but that he has been blocked from accessing them.
Schiff said the documents show "the knowledge of this scheme was far and wide," including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. Schiff said they obstruct the investigation "at their own peril."
"I remind the president that Article 3 of the impeachment articles drafted against President Nixon was his refusal to obey the subpoenas of congress," Schiff said.
Schiff begins his opening statement: "We are here today, as part of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, because President Trump sought to condition military aid to Ukraine and an Oval Office meeting with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in exchange for politically-motivated investigations Trump believed would help his reelection campaign."
After reviewing testimony from other witnesses, Schiff said, "Now, it is up to Congress, as the people’s representatives to determine what response is appropriate. If the President abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, if he sought to condition, coerce, extort, or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts — a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid — it will be up to us to decide, whether those acts are compatible with the office of the Presidency."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gavels the hearing into session.
Sondland takes his seat at the witness table.
ABC News' White House reporter Katherine Faulders, reviewing Sondland's opening statement, notes this key passage: "We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President's orders."
ABC News' Justice reporter Alexander Mallin notes that in Sondland’s opening statement he seems to indicate he is prepared to testify against the president and change some of the statements in his deposition.
“This is just stunning, an incredible repudiation of President Trump and Rudy Giuliani and in my reading seems to dismantle every counter argument we have thus far heard from Republicans,” Mallin says.
“Either way, any indication that Sondland is preparing to go before Congress to protect the president seems to be thrown away entirely with this, unless I’m reading it entirely wrong.”
Mallin notes several specific points in the opening statement in line with testimony from other witnesses:
-Sondland explicitly acknowledges a quid pro quo specifically with regards to the White House meeting between Trump and Zelenskiy
- Sondland repeatedly says he was acting at the explicit direction of the president in his interactions with Rudy and says Rudy was “was expressing the desires of the President of the United States.”
Sondland has arrived on Capitol Hill for his expected dramatic testimony.
ABC News' White House reporter Katherine Faulders reports White House sources are worried Sondland is the "wild card" witness.
"While sources close to Sondland wouldn’t describe him as “flipping” on President Trump, they say Sondland is “certainly not” going to defend the president during his testimony," Faulders says.
The White House seems most worried about him because “We just don’t know what the heck he’s gonna say,” the sources said.
Expectations for Sondland's testimony are running high both in the Capitol hearing room and over at the White House.
ABC News’ White House reporter Jordyn Phelps notes that the president has shifted his tone on Sondland in recent months.
On May 14, Sondland got a shout-out from the president at an event in Louisiana when Trump said he was doing a “great job.” In October, the president called Sondland “highly respected” and “a really good man and great American.”
But just a month later Trump said he “hardly knows the gentleman,” when asked about Sondland, but noted he said there was no quid pro quo. Trump has also said he doesn’t remember the conversation with Sondland witnesses have described on July 26, when he allegedly asked about the investigation into the Bidens.
"I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks," Sondland testified, according to a transcript of his testimony to lawmakers behind closed doors.
Sondland hasn't said why exactly he delivered that message and whether if it was what Trump wanted.
In closed-door testimony, the ambassador has downplayed his access to Trump. He said the two spoke "maybe five or six times" since he took on the role of EU ambassador and that one of those times was a "Merry Christmas call" with "zero substance."
"I always called him. He never called me," Sondland testified.
Other witnesses though have described him as having a direct line to the president, bragging about being able to call him anytime, and who -- from an outdoor restaurant terrace in Kyiv as his colleagues listened -- assured Trump that Ukraine would do what he wants because its president "loves your ass."
"Ambassador Sondland agreed that the president did not ‘give a s—t about Ukraine" but rather the "big stuff," testified David Holmes behind closed doors. Homes is the State Department employee who said he could hear Trump over the phone talking to Sondland and later asked the ambassador what Trump wants with Ukraine.
"I noted there was 'big stuff' going on in Ukraine, like a war," Holmes added, according to his testimony released by the House Intelligence Committee. "And Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant 'big stuff' that benefits the President, like the 'Biden investigation' that Mr. Giuliani was pushing."
Timothy Morrison, the outgoing senior official at the National Security Council focused on Russia and Europe policy, said in closed-door testimony that Sondland represented himself as acting on a "mandate" from the president "to go and make deals." Morrison said he was aware of roughly a half dozen times that Sondland and Trump spoke by phone between mid-July and mid-September when the military aid was frozen.
"He bragged that he could call the President whenever he wanted," Morrison testified of Sondland, according to the transcript.
The number of times Sondland spoke to the president by phone remains in question. He told Congress that he's requested his phone calls to the White House and State Department but hasn't been able to review those logs and doesn't remember specific dates or details.
But one of those calls came on a key date -- July 25 -- just before Trump called Ukraine's president. According to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House, Ukraine's president mentions military aid and Trump appears to respond by asking the newly elected leader for a "favor" that includes the probe into the Bidens.
In an interview with Ukrainian television, Sondland said he spoke with Trump "just a few minutes before he placed the call." But in his closed-door testimony, he described it as a "kind of nothing call" and couldn't recall the precise timing.
Another key conversation between Sondland and the president would have happened on Sept. 9 -- eight days after Sondland said he delivered the quid pro quo message on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting with the Ukrainians in Warsaw. After being confronted by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who said it's "crazy" to withhold security aid in exchange to help Trump's political campaign, Sondland said he called the president.
"I asked him one open-ended question: What do you want from Ukraine? And as I recall, he was in a very bad mood. It was a very quick conversation. He said: I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing," Sondland testified. "And I said: What does that mean? And he said: I want him to do what he ran on. And that was the end of the conversation. I wouldn't say he hung up [on] me, but it was almost like he hung up on me."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
narvikk/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was President Donald Trump’s handpicked dealmaker on Ukraine, according to his fellow impeachment witnesses. On Wednesday, he testified publicly for the first time under subpoena.
Sondland is considered a key witness in the House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. Trump wanted Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation that would have, in part, targeted the president’s 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, who had served on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Sondland confirmed a quid pro quo, which Trump has denied
Sondland testified that a White House summit between the two presidents sought by Ukraine was contingent upon Zelenskiy’s willingness to announce the investigations Trump wanted.
That direction came directly from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and after the president repeatedly told Sondland to "talk to Rudy," he said.
"I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes," he said.
By early September, Sondland said he made another connection -- that nearly $400 million in U.S. aid was on the line, too. Sondland said Trump "never told them directly that the aid was conditioned" upon the investigations. When the Democratic counsel asked whether he made that connection based on the evidence adding up, Sondland said yes.
"The only thing we got directly from Guiliani was that Burisma and the 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting," he said. "The aid was my own personal, you know, guess based again on your analogy two plus two equals four."
Then, on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Warsaw on Sept. 1 with Vice President Mike Pence, Sondland said he told a top Ukrainian official that U.S. military aid "would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks."
As he "understood it," the Ukrainians only "had to announce the investigations, [Zelenskiy] didn't actually have to do them," Sondland said.
‘Everyone was in the loop’
Sondland said no one he talked to supported the hold on aid and that he personally shared his concerns of a "quid pro quo" with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And at one point, Sondland said, he told Pence what was going on with regard to aid and investigations and the vice president "nodded."
"Everyone was in the loop," he said, speaking generally of the hold on military aid. "It was no secret."
Sondland testified that in August, Pompeo knew he was working with Giuliani on a public statement they wanted Zelenskiy to announce in exchange for the White House meeting. And later, he said, Pompeo became aware of "the log jam" tied to the military aid.
When asked whether Pompeo "was aware of the connections that you were making between the investigation and the White house meeting and the security assistance," Sondland simply replied "yes.’
When asked if Pompeo ever took issue, Sondland said "Not that I recall."
After earlier Wednesday declining to respond to shouted questions about Sondland's testimony, Pompeo later told reporters in Brussels he hadn’t had a chance to review Sondland’s testimony but he defended U.S. Ukraine policy under Trump. “I'm incredibly proud of what we've accomplished,” Pompeo said.
In a previous interview on ABC’s This Week, Pompeo did not answer questions on Giuliani’s efforts.
On Pence, Sondland said he recalled telling the vice president that military aid seemed to be tied to Zelenskiy’s willingness to announce an investigation and that Pence responded affirmatively.
"And Vice President Pence just nodded his head?," Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman asked.
"Again, I don't recall any exchange or [if] he asked me any questions, I think it was sort of a duly noted," Sondland said.
"Well, he didn't say, 'Gordon, what are you talking about?'" Goldman asked.
"No, he did not," Sondland responded.
Pence's chief of staff Marc Short said the vice president "never had a conversation with Gordon Sondland about investigating the Bidens, Burisma or the conditional release of financial aid to Ukraine based upon potential investigations."
‘Sounds like something I’d say’
Sondland also confirmed testimony by another State Department staffer, David Holmes, who has said he overheard Trump ask Sondland in a private cell phone call in a restaurant in Kyiv, Ukraine, about the status of the investigations and that Sondland responded that Zelenskiy will do what he wants because he "loves your ass."
"Sounds like something I would say," Sondland said when asked about it.
He added, "that's how President Trump and I communicate. A lot of four letter words. In this case, three letters."
Sondland said he doesn't recall any mention of Biden on the call, although he does remember discussion on Burisma.
Sondland said he also couldn’t recall telling the State Department official, after hanging up with the president, that Trump doesn’t care about Ukraine. But according to Holmes' closed-door testimony, Sondland said Trump cares about "only big stuff that matters to him, like this Biden investigation that Giuliani is pushing."
Sondland said he spoke to the president on Trump’s terms, not his. And that Trump "was aware that it was an open line."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Matt Anderson/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- If there's one witness in the House impeachment inquiry who could speak to exactly what President Donald Trump wanted in Ukraine, it would be Gordon Sondland and he's testifying in public for the first time on Wednesday.
In his opening statement, Sondland offered a key admission: that during a July 10 meeting at the White House with senior Ukrainian officials, he mentioned "the pre-requisite of investigations before any White House call or meeting."
In previous testimony, Sondland said he couldn't recall exactly what he said in that meeting and in another meeting with Ukrainian officials the same day.
In his own testimony, Lt. Col Alex Vindman, who participated in both meetings, recalled that Sondland insisted "the Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens."
Read Sondland's opening statement here.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
adamkaz/iStock(ATLANTA) — Julián Castro won't be on the debate stage Wednesday night, but that isn't stopping the Democratic presidential candidate from making a splash in the host city of Atlanta, holding two events as the 10 front-runners ready themselves for the MSNBC/Washington Post debate.
Meeting for a discussion on political commentator Angela Rye's podcast "On One" Monday night, Castro said he came to Atlanta on the eve of the debate for one main reason.
"Number one, because this is where all they all are, and this is a campaign. So we want to make sure we get our message out. So it's as simple as that," Castro said.
And while he won't be on the stage, Castro said he would aim to still be a part of the conversation Wednesday night through social media, adding that he thinks his presence will be felt on topics he says he's led the way on.
"I'm not on the debate stage, but I've shaped a lot of the debate already -- whether it's been on housing, on police reform, on immigration -- I've already moved a lot of the candidates, and shake that debate and I'm going to keep doing it," Castro said. "It's unfortunate that I'm not on that debate stage, but I'll keep using my voice, and I believe that we're going to get stronger and stronger this campaign."
Although Barack Obama's former Housing and Urban Development Secretary qualified for the first four debates of the election cycle, and although he met the Democratic National Committee's fundraising requirements of at least 165,000 unique donors, he failed to meet the DNC's polling requirements of 3 percent support in at least four early state or national polls. He qualified in none.
Castro isn't the only candidate not on stage.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak and author Marianne Williamson also won't appear. None of those candidates' campaigns announced they had reached the donor threshold, and none of them secured any qualifying polls, according to an ABC News analysis. Bennet, Bullock, Delaney and Williamson didn't qualify for the third and fourth debates. Sestak hasn't qualified for any of the debates.
Newcomer former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters at Sunday night's "First in the West" dinner in Las Vegas that while he would be trying to meet the debate qualification requirements, it wasn't a platform in which he was fully confident.
"I think the threshold requirements for participating in the debate are enormously important," Patrick said. "And I'm going to be trying to meet those requirements just as quickly as possible."
That said, Patrick questioned their overall value, adding, "I'm not sure it's something you want to aspire to because the format is just really, really hard as a means to communicate with the public."
Instead, Patrick's campaign has scheduled two events in South Carolina on Wednesday, including meeting with student leadership of two historically black colleges. He'll head to Georgia after the events and will be at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
"We are going to Georgia tomorrow, not to be on the stage because I haven't qualified yet," he said Tuesday. "I expect to qualify in the fullness of time. But I'm looking for lots of other ways [to connect with voters], not because we don't yet qualify, but because of who I am as a person and who I am as a public servant.”
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's flirting with entering the primary himself but actually filing to have his name on the ballots in Super Tuesday voting states, said last week, after filing to appear on the ballot in Arkansas, "I'm going to finance a campaign, if there is one, with my own money so I don't owe anybody anything."
But Castro takes issue with the self-funders, saying unlike him, they have the means to "pump money into the effort to get on that stage."
However, with four debates under his belt, Castro is no stranger to the attention and fundraising hauls potentially produced by a standout moment on the debate stage.
Just months ago at the first debate in Miami, Castro dominated headlines when he upstaged former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, his former Texan opponent, on the topic of immigration. Castro's campaign saw one of its biggest fundraising days in the hours following that debate.
Not meeting the polling requirements for Wednesday night's debate was just one of the latest blows to Castro's bid for the presidency. In recent weeks, the campaign laid off staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina in order to reinvest resources in Iowa, Nevada and Texas, all of this coming after he pleaded for $800,000 in 10 days to keep his campaign alive.
Most recently, Castro began feuding with the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic parties after calling for a reordering of the primary calendar in favor of states with more diversity, telling reporters in Iowa just last week that "the state does not reflect demographically either the U.S. or certainly not the Democratic Party."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
ABC News(ATLANTA) -- As public impeachment hearings enter a second week, a majority of Americans have said their opinions on the impeachment of President Donald Trump were formed weeks ago, and many question whether anything will change when the process concludes.
"I'm not a politician. I can't say that he should be removed, but he's guilty," Robin Walton told ABC News on her way to Sunday services at Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta. "You cannot extort or bribe a foreign government into getting dirt on a political opponent to sabotage our free elections."
More than two-thirds of Americans in a new ABC News/Ipsos poll agree that Trump's July phone call with Ukraine was "wrong." But, notably, 71% said their views on Trump's potential impeachment formed before the public hearings began.
About 1 in 3 Americans said their opinion was solidified even before the Ukraine story broke, according to the poll. Only half of Americans think Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
Ebenezer, the historic spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a hub of political engagement in the city's African American community, was buzzing with talk of impeachment on a recent Sunday. Members told ABC News politics and faith often go hand-in-hand.
"I trust God first. There is so much trauma -- crisis -- in the world," said one emotional Ebenezer congregant who asked not to be named. "I'm just looking for someone to lead us out of this mess."
Ernest Fry told ABC News he opposes Trump, but expressed frustration with the impeachment hearing.
"I've been following them off and on, but, you know, they aren't going to do anything, it's taking too long -- leave it to the voters," Fry said.
That sentiment was echoed by a family of longtime Georgia Democrats from their breakfast table 20 miles north in Gwinnett County, which has been rapidly diversifying ethnically and politically.
"It just seems like a big waste of time. What's it going to accomplish for us?" said Dan Cleveland, a 46-year-old public high school teacher and father of three. "He does bad stuff, but there are so many other things that we should be doing. This is just useless politics."
Two couples overheard debating impeachment over a meal at Rose & Rye, a Midtown watering hole, seemed equally exasperated.
"No matter what he does, they won't do anything," a woman said, referring to Trump and Republicans.
Across town at Paschal's, a historic local restaurant near Spelman College, families in their Sunday best devoured the famous fried chicken and cornbread over talk of football and politics.
"We have to speak up and be fearless. I'm proud that they finally have taken those steps to start these hearings," said Alisha Thomas Cromartie, a former Georgia state representative and host of the Fearless Chic podcast for young African American women. "I am becoming more and more interested in the conversation because people understand how important this is. This is not a political ploy."
For many Americans, keeping up with impeachment has not meant watching gavel-to-gavel coverage in real time. Many seek out highlights in the evening, either on the news or via social media.
"We're watching [coverage] every day," said the Thompson family, all nodding in agreement, as they shared brunch together after Sunday services.
Belief in accountability was the most frequently cited reason for supporting the impeachment hearings, but there's also widespread recognition that Democrats don't have the votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office.
"Impeach and remove is a conversation we've been having with the younger people of color we work with, which leads us to conversations about the Senate. Impeachment has now become a local issue in Georgia," said Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan voter advocacy organization that's significantly boosted registration of African American voters across the state.
Ufot said the impeachment conversation is helping highlight the stakes in turning out to vote: "Democrats only need four seats to flip the Senate and two of them are in Georgia in November of 2020," Ufot told ABC News.
Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer, told ABC News he's been telling members of his spiritual community "their civic engagement is part of their Christian responsibility."
"If you believe in human dignity, everyone ought to have a voice and so you ought to register voters, and you want to fight valiantly against voter suppression," Warnock said.
When asked what the stakes are next November, Warmock said: "Nothing less than the soul of this country."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
3dfoto/iStock(ATLANTA) -- The fifth Democratic primary debate convenes 10 candidates on stage Wednesday night in Georgia, a state trending more purple due in part to shifting demographics, as the splintered field struggles to confront the party's mounting concerns over defeating President Donald Trump and more Democrats both formally and potentially join the fold.
The showdown, one of the last of 2019, comes less than a year before the general election and less than three months before the first primary votes are cast in Iowa, despite a contracting and then expanding field in recent weeks.
While the Democrats are readying to spar over kitchen table issues, the candidates continue to grapple with external forces intervening in the contest, ranging from a reordered horse race to the gravitational pull of impeachment hearings in Washington.
In the month since the Ohio debate in October, the Hawkeye state's caucusgoers appear to have crowned a new front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick became the newest entrant in the race, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg looms over the field with a likely bid, former President Barack Obama -- in a rare foray into the primary -- warned against an aggressive push to the left and the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry has shifted from closed-door meetings to public hearings.
For the first time, the roster of this debate, which is co-hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post and will be held at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta -- another sign of a diversifying electorate in a once-reliably red state -- won't feature former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who dropped out of the race, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who failed to qualify.
The debate will feature 10 candidates, in podium order, from left to right:
- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
- Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
- Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
- South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
- California Sen. Kamala Harris
- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
- Businessman Tom Steyer
Once again, Biden and Warren will stand shoulder-to-shoulder as the two front-runners clash over two very different ideological visions for the country between her progressive wing and his moderate lane. Yet, both are likely to face increased scrutiny over lingering questions on impeachment for him and health care for her.
The former vice president's debate appearance comes as he contends with being the only person who remains both a Democratic presidential candidate and a central figure in the impeachment inquiry. While he initially stuck to a strategy of laying low on the campaign trail over the weekend, Biden directly confronted the attacks on his family -- which sit at the heart of investigation -- by keeping the focus on Trump and off his son, Hunter.
"Everybody's account including all the people who testified in his administration and the Ukrainians had said, 'Biden did a great job for us, did the position in the United States of America as well as Europe and all our allies,'" Biden said at a Las Vegas town hall Saturday night, before laying out the allegation that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine as leverage to secure an investigation into the Bidens.
For her part, Massachusetts' senior senator takes the stage on the heels of her announcing two proposals to finance "Medicare for All" and outline a transition to a completely government-operated, single payer system.
Despite threading calls for big, structural change in her stump speech, Warren's latest health care plan outlines a gradual path to achieving a full-scale Medicare for All system that would stretch three quarters into her first term in 2023.
Some of the harshest criticism aimed at her newest proposals could potentially come from the other senator flanking Biden, Bernie Sanders. The author of the Medicare for All bill in the Senate has already sought to differentiate his candidacy from his fellow liberal stalwart since securing the coveted endorsement of Democratic star, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Days after Warren released her newest health care plan, Sanders appeared to offer a veiled criticism of her, telling a crowd in Las Vegas that his proposal for Medicare for All is "not so complicated" and "the simplest way to get the universal health care."
But Biden, Warren and Sanders are also faced with another persistent challenge: Buttigieg.
Following his more aggressive approach in last month's face off -- in which he called out Warren for having a "plan for everything" except for how to pay for Medicare for All -- the small-city mayor has spent the last month cementing his status as a top contender.
A new Des Moines/CNN/Mediacom poll out of Iowa shows Buttigieg holding a significant 10-point lead over his Democratic rivals.
Now, alongside Biden, Warren and Sanders, Buttigieg might become a key target for the lower-polling candidates who are struggling to make their mark on the electorate.
In the last debate, on health care, taxes and jobs, Klobuchar and Gabbard used a more confrontational style to garner applause from the audience and a subsequent bump in the polls.
"You are making Republican talking points right now in this room by coming out for a plan that's going to do that," Klobuchar said of Warren's support for Medicare for All, a plan the Minnesotan says will kick nearly 150 million people off their health insurance plans.
And both did so with some success: Klobuchar has seen a slight rise in recent polling and Gabbard secured a spot on the debate stage over Castro.
But beyond the top-tier, between two other senators and two political outsiders vying for the White House, Booker, Harris, Steyer and Yang are likely to take the stage with renewed urgency to turn a breakout moment into a tangible spike, as the field enters the critical lead-up to February's early state contests.
Regardless, the debate will provide another night of contrast that will further crystalize the differences among the Democratic field, that still counts 17, on policy, philosophy and governing.
The debate is slated to air at 9 p.m. EST. The moderators will be MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Welker and the Washington Post's Ashley Parker.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Matt Anderson/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A top Pentagon official will be one of the three administration officials testifying before a House committee on Wednesday as part of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
As the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura K. Cooper is involved in overseeing U.S. military assistance to Ukraine. She testified last month, behind closed doors, that the Defense Department was in the dark and staffers left confused after the White House budget office ordered a hold on nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine without explanation.
The other two officials testifying on Wednesday are Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, and David Hale, the under secretary of state for political affairs. It will be the fourth full day of public testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence since the House opened its impeachment inquiry into the president.
Cooper joined the Defense Department in 2001, working in several policy roles before going on to serve as a principal director in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Affairs, according to her official biography. Prior to joining the Defense Department, she worked as a policy planning officer at the State Department and as a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In her current role, Cooper has been a staunch advocate for U.S. military assistance to Ukraine to fend off Russian aggression.
And despite the ongoing impeachment inquiry, she has continued her work on Ukraine policy, traveling to Kyiv earlier this month to co-chair a U.S.-Ukraine defense consultation focused on the two nation's strategic defense relationship.
Her closed-door deposition in late October was delayed more than five hours when House Republicans stormed the secured hearing room where her appearance was taking place.
Cooper testified, according to a transcript of the hearing, that the Defense Department had certified the financial transfer in May because Ukraine had met the necessary anti-corruption benchmarks. But by July -- shortly before Trump's July 25 phone call to Ukraine's president -- she told lawmakers that she was hearing the money was on hold because, "the president has concerns about Ukraine and Ukraine security assistance," she said she heard from the White House budget office.
Cooper said senior aides were unclear legally how everything would "play out."
"So the comments in the room at the deputies' level reflected a sense that there was not an understanding of how this could legally play out," she told Congress, according to the transcript of her closed-door interview. "And at that meeting the deputies agreed to look into the legalities and to look at what was possible."
Cooper testified that the Pentagon believed Ukraine had addressed key corruption issues is at odds with what Trump and the White House has publicly stated suggesting it remained a serious concern.
Shortly after her testimony was released, Trump urged his supporters to read a rough transcript of his July 25 phone call, in which he asked Ukraine's president for a "favor" and pressed for an investigation into his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden. He also pressed Ukraine to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory that corrupt Ukrainian politicians tried to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election to help sway the vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton. U.S. intelligence has blamed Russia, not Ukraine, for launching a widespread, coordinated effort in 2016 to help Trump, not Clinton.
In her testimony, Cooper spoke to the need for the military aid to combat the threat from Russia, noting that Moscow had already in 2014 tried to annex a portion of Ukraine.
"They are trying to negotiate a peace with Russia, and if they are seen as weak, and if they are seen to lack the backing of the United States for their Armed Forces, it makes it much more difficult for them to negotiate a peace on terms that are good for Ukraine," she testified, according to the transcript.
She also described a conversation with former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, in which he said the military aid would be released if Ukraine was willing to make a statement, "that would somehow disavow any interference in U.S. elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals in election interference."
According to her official biography, Cooper holds a master of science in foreign service from Georgetown University, a master of science in national resource strategy from the Industrial College of Armed Forces at National Defense University and a bachelor of arts degree from Northwestern University.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
CGinspiration/iStock(ATLANTA) -- Atlanta, host of the fifth Democratic debate, is a rapidly growing example of what is becoming a trend among the South: the “great reverse migration.”
In the midst of this change, statewide Democrats saw unprecedented success in the 2018 midterms, flipping 14 state legislative seats in the House and two in the Senate.
Part of that success, experts say, can be credited to the growth of the black voting-age population in Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs.
Data compiled by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, of 2018 census population estimates, shows that seven of the 10 counties with the fastest-growing black population are near Atlanta. In the last decade, the region has seen a 14 percent increase in black voting-age residents, compared with a three percent rise for white residents, according to research compiled by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, from the Current Population Survey.
Rep. El-Mahdi Holly, a black Democrat who flipped a seat from red to blue by 13 points in Henry County in the Atlanta suburbs, is evidence of this change. His district is largely working-class, but demographic shifts skewed the district's politics further left.
The once-rural county has been subject to the suburban sprawl of Atlanta: In 1980, the county was 81 percent white and by 2015, that number dropped to to 47.3 percent, while minority communities skyrocketed to 49.4 percent, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Their population estimates show that the rapid growth will continue, and by 2050 the share of Hispanic residents will rise to 21 percent from 12 percent, while the share of black residents will remain steady at around 33 percent by 2050.
Holly says a factor in his election was his investment in deeply understanding his constituency and the diverse issues they face.
“If you really want voter engagement, oftentimes you have to listen to them and understand what their daily routines are,” Holly said.
Republicans maintained their control over the state legislature in 2018, but trends show that Democratic voters could continue to feather out of larger cities in the state.
As a result of the trend of black Americans moving to the South, and in concentrated areas, the number of majority-black cities and suburbs are on the rise, as well. In 1970, 460 cities were majority-black, and in 2017, that number skyrocketed to 1,262, according to a report by Brookings Institution’s David Harshbarger and Andre Perry.
“Black suburbanization was another driving force in the development of black-majority cities,” according to the report. “This mass relocation from core cities to inner- and outer-ring suburbs allowed for access to less segregated communities than the (often older industrial) principal city nearby.”
According to Holly, the growth of the black population in Henry County is especially concentrated.
“I’ve been a resident of Henry County going on 17 years now. And so I’ve seen the transition even from my local neighborhood,” Holly said. “We have seen the black voting-age population quintuple in size in the last probably little more than 10 years."
He credits the county's rise to the cheaper cost of living outside of the city and ability to commute, coupled with an investment in workforce development.
Henry County's percentage of black residents of all ages grew from 39% to 48% from 2010 to 2018, according to Stateline's analysis, the largest increase in the country behind its neighboring Rockdale County, which grew from 48% to 59%. Douglas, Newton, Gwinnett, Clayton and Fayette counties also made the top 10.
Maryann Erigha, an associate professor in sociology and African American studies at the University of Georgia, said that growth, coupled with increased voter engagement, has the potential to alter the political landscape of the state in 2020 and years to come.
“It just seems as though the black constituency is going to increase if this trend continues,” Erigha said. “A lot of black voters are voting Democratic. So we see that there's a potential for a lot of shifts in terms of seats across the country and across the state to turn from Republican to Democrat.”
In 2016, Georgia began automatically registering voters in driver’s licenses offices. Since then, about 365,000 new voters have registered a year, according to the secretary of state’s office. Georgia's voter rolls are now at a record-high 7.4 million.
Many of the newly-registered voters are minorities or under 30, both groups which tend to vote Democratic, according to a Pew Research Center poll of Georgia voters.
With both Senate seats on the ballot in 2020, Georgia has the potential to shape into ultra-competitive races, not unlike the race for the state’s governorship between Stacey Abrams and former Secretary of State Brian Kemp in 2018.
“I think there should be as much competition for the Senate seats as there was for the governor’s race,” Erigha said. “It'll be really indicative to see how the status of anything, in terms of the political representation and also what the community wants, will change.”
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Bumblee_Dee/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Army is providing security assistance to Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, the Army officer who testified Tuesday before a House impeachment hearing. Vindman, currently serving on the White House National Security Council, testified about his concerns about President Donald Trump's July phone call with Ukraine's president.
"The Army is providing supportive assistance to help Lt. Col. Vindman with the public attention," Col. Kathy Turner, an Army spokeswoman, said in a written statement.
"As a matter of practice, the Army would neither confirm nor deny any safety or security measures taken on behalf of an individual; however, as we would with any Soldier, the Army will work with civilian authorities to ensure that he and his family are properly protected," she added.
Another U.S. official told ABC News that there is no imminent threat to Vindman's safety, but that it is important that the Vindman family feel they are safe.
The Army will always do what it has to do to protect a soldier, the official said.
As Vindman has risen to become an important figure in the impeachment proceedings, the Army has undertaken security assessments about his family's physical security. For now, the Army is monitoring his home with "routine physical surveillance from law enforcement," the official told ABC News.
Should additional security concerns need to be addressed, the U.S. official speculated that moving the Vindman family to a military base in the Washington area could become an option.
During Tuesday's hearing, Vindman acknowledged that he has been disparaged on social media because of the testimony he has provided the congressional committees leading Trump's impeachment hearings. In his opening remarks, he said he wanted to recognize the courage of his colleagues who have and were scheduled to testify.
"I want to state that the character of attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible," he told lawmakers. "It is natural to disagree and engage in spirited debate. This has been the custom of our country since the time of our founding fathers, but we are better than personal attacks."
"I also recognize that my simple act of appearing here today, just like the courage of my colleagues who have also truthfully testified before this committee, would not be tolerated in many places around the world," he added.
He finished his opening statement addressing his father, who immigrated to the United States.
"Dad, I'm sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected professionals, talking to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family," he said. "Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Luka Banda/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- It's week No. 2 in public hearings on the House impeachment inquiry, and the public gets to hear from witnesses who were listening to President Donald Trump's July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Testifying Tuesday morning were Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's Ukraine expert, and Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence. Both witnesses -- called to testify by Democrats -- expressed serious concerns with the phone call, and Trump attacked each as partisan "Never Trumpers."
They were followed by the Republican's pick for witnesses – Kurt Volker, Trump's former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, the outgoing National Security Council official focused on Russia and Europe issues.
Vindman took a patriotic swipe at Trump, says in America 'right matters'
Wearing his Army dress uniform, Vindman thanked his father for having the courage to flee the Soviet Union some 40 years ago to give his young sons a better life. He also said that he joined the U.S. military to repay the country that took him in. Now a top Ukrainian expert at the White House, Vindman said he was grateful that he could speak up without being fearful for his family.
In Russia, "offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost my life," he told Congress in his opening statement.
Then, Vindman directed his comments to his father: "Dad, I'm sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected professionals. Talking to our elected professionals is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family."
"Do not worry," he added. "I will be fine for telling the truth."
When asked by Democratic Rep. Jim Himes if he is a "Never Trumper," Vindman responds:
"Representative, I'd call myself a 'Never Partisan.'"
Vindman later solicited applause from the hearing room when he said he assured his "deeply worried" father that he could speak out because "this is America … and here, right matters."
Republicans had a surprise play, and it got testy
Republicans have been reluctant to try to attack Vindman personally. But on Tuesday, it became clear that the GOP suspected Vindman of leaking to the press and had a conflict of interest with Ukraine. GOP counsel revealed during questioning that Vindman had been approached by the Ukrainian government three times with an offer to serve as its defense minister.
Vindman denied ever speaking to the press or mishandling classified material, calling the allegation "preposterous." At one point the room crackled with tension as he directed GOP Rep. Devin Nunes to not address him as "Mr. Vindman" but use his Army title instead.
"Ranking member, it's Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please," he said.
On the job offer from Ukraine, he said it was made in front of other U.S. officials and "the whole notion is rather comical." He said he reported the request to his seniors at the White House and then forgot about it.
"That was a big honor correct?" the GOP counsel asked.
Vindman responded that it was.
"But I'm an American. I came here when I was a toddler and I immediately dismissed these offers, did not entertain them," he testified.
Himes later said of the GOP line of questioning, "That may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, but that was designed exclusively to give the right wing media an opening to questioning your loyalties."
It's possible Vindman tipped off the whistleblower
The hearing also revealed that Vindman may be one of the people who tipped off the whistleblower who filed the formal August complaint, kicking off the impeachment inquiry.
Vindman testified that he shared the details of Trump's July 25 phone call with two people outside the National Security Council who had an "appropriate need to know" -- George Kent, the senior Ukraine expert at the State Department, and a member of the intelligence community.
The whistleblower has been identified as an intelligence official, and Republicans repeatedly pressed Vindman to say who he talked to.
"Please stop," interjected Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who repeatedly intervened to stop Vindman from identifying -- in any way -- the intelligence official.
Nunes suggested identifying the whistleblower wouldn't be possible, unless Nunes knows he talked to that person.
"Per the advice of my counsel, I have been advised not to answer specific questions about members of the intelligence community," Vindman replied.
Vindman testified that he doesn't know who filed the whistleblower complaint -- a point that Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, attacked.
"No one believes you," Jordan said.
Pence aide said she was surprised Trump called her out by name
The other witness on Tuesday was Jennifer Williams an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, who listened to Trump's July 25 phone call.
Williams previously testified behind closed doors that she thought Trump's reference in the call to a 2020 political opponent, "unusual and inappropriate."
That brought a rebuke from Trump via Twitter: "Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released ststement from Ukraine. Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don't know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!"
Williams testified that she's not sure of the precise definition of a "never Trumper" but that she doesn't identify as one.
When asked about Trump's tweet, she said, "It certainly surprised me. I was not expecting to be called out by name."
Democrats have accused Trump of witness intimidation.
No one testifying Tuesday thought what Trump said on the phone was a good idea
Pence's aide Williams said she thought the president's words on the phone were "unusual and inappropriate" because it involved targeting a political rival, while Vindman said, "I couldn't believe what I was hearing" and that it was his "worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out."
When it came time for the Republican-ordered witnesses to step forward, they too expressed serious concerns.
Morrison, a longtime GOP legislative aide who was only 10 days on the job at the National Security Council when Trump made the July 25 call, said he didn't think it was illegal but "it's not what we recommended the president discuss." Morrison was so concerned with "potential political fallout" if it leaked that he went to White House legal counsel and asked that office to restrict its access.
Volker discredited what he called "conspiracy theories" that former Vice President Joe Biden was corrupt, testifying that the idea was being pushed by a "self-serving" Ukrainian politician and "are not things that we should be pursing as part of our national security strategy."
Volker said he he should have picked up sooner on the idea that calling for an investigation into Burisma, the Ukraine gas company, meant investigating false allegations into Biden.
"In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections," Volker said.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) --Day 3 of the House impeachment hearings continued Tuesday afternoon with two witnesses requested by Republicans: Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a National Security Council official who was on President Donald Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine's president.
Republicans want Morrison, a political appointee, to repeat what he said in his closed-door deposition: that he heard nothing illegal on the call, although he was concerned that, if it leaked, there could be political fallout.
Volker, one of the so-called "three amigos" communicated with William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about what Trump wanted from Ukraine, but reportedly will claim he was out of the loop when it came to specific demands about investigations.
Earlier Tuesday, two White House national security aides on the July phone call who expressed concerns about the statements Trump made to Ukraine's leader became the first current White House officials to testify publicly in the Democrats' impeachment investigation.
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's Ukraine expert, testified alongside Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence.
Here is how the afternoon portion of the hearing is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.
A Democratic congressman spoke about the “weighty” decision to advocate for impeaching the president, a decision he said members would “have to grapple with.”
Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., laid out the implications of impeachment in broader terms – and the difficulties that lie ahead.
“Look, none of us wants to be here, despite what's being said. None of us came to this easily. I didn't. I will recall for the rest of my life the 48 hours I spent at our family cabin literally plunged in self-reflection and literally prayerful deliberation about this whole matter,” Heck said. “Collectively we're going to have to grapple with this very grave decision.”
“It's weighty, and it's going to get hard,” Heck continued. “And it's hard in proportion to its importance to our great republic. A republic if we can keep it,” he said, paraphrasing a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin.
Despite the president’s overtures to Ukraine’s leader for an investigation into the Bidens, Morrison said he never pressed his counterparts in Kiev to implement the president’s wishes.
“You just testified that the president sets the foreign policy objectives for the United States,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said.
“And the one call you listened to between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine, the president of the United States priorities were to investigate the Bidens. And I'm asking you, sir, why didn't you follow up on the president's priorities when you talked to the Ukrainians?”
“Sir, I did not understand it as a policy objective,” Morrison said.
Volker had previously called the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s leader “unacceptable.”
On Tuesday, under questioning by Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., Volker said “it is the reference to Vice President Biden” that he found unacceptable.
In the July 25 phone call, the president repeatedly invoked Biden’s name, and asked Zelenskiy to “look into it … it sounds horrible to me.”
Ahead of Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony on Wednesday, Morrison described a turn of phrase used by his predecessor on the NSC, Fiona Hill, to describe Sondland’s role in executing the alleged quid pro quo: "The Gordon problem."
“Among the discussions with Dr. Hill were about Ambassador Sondland – I think she might have coined it ‘the Gordon problem,’” Morrison said.
“I decided to keep track of what Ambassador Sondland was doing … he wanted to get a meeting [between Zelenskiy and Trump]. I understood what the president wanted to do – and had agreed to – a meeting. I was tracking we needed to schedule a meeting.”
Morrison was describing his use of the word “tracking” in an email to Sondland in July 2019, which he said Tuesday referred to his tracking of the efforts to coordinate a meeting between Trump and Zelenskiy.
Schiff pushed Volker on the account of the July 10 meeting he initially provided lawmakers.
"We were asking you specifically about what you knew about these investigations. You didn't remember that Gordon Sondland had brought us up in the July 10th meeting with Ukrainians and ambassador Bolton called an end to the meeting. Ambassador Bollton described that meeting as a some drug deal that Sondland and Mulvaney cooked up. You have no recollection of that?" Schiff asked.
"I did not remember that at the time of my October 3rd testimony," Volker answered. "I read the account by Alex [Vindman] and that jogged my memory. I said yes, that's right. That did happen. I do not, still to this point, remember it being an abrupt end to the meeting," Volker said. "The meeting was essentially over. And we got up, we went out to the little circle in front of the white house. We took a photograph. It did not strike me as abrupt."
“I learned over things, including seeing statements from Alex Vindman and Fiona Hill, and that reminded me that yes, at the very end of that meeting, as was recounted in Colonel Vindman's statement, I did remember that, yes, that's right, Gordon did bring that up, and that was it.”
Other elements of Vindman’s testimony did not reflect Volker’s memory of events.
“I do not still to this point being an abrupt end to the meeting,” Volker said, despite what others have testified.
Schiff orders a short break.
Just before, Morrison, who oversaw Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s work on the National Security Council, said he wished Vindman had come to him with concerns about the July 25 call before alerting in-house legal counsel.
“If he had concerns about something, about the content of the call, that's something I would have expected to have been notified of,” Morrison said.
Morrison, who also approached lawyers about the call, added that “since we both went to the lawyers … an economy of effort may have prevailed” had Vindman brought the matter before Morrison.
During his testimony this morning, Vindman said he went straight to the NSC legal staff after listening to the president’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader. Vindman said he “attempted to report [his concern] to Mr. Morrison,” but that Morrison “didn't avail himself.”
Morrison recounted his concern with Ambassador Sondland’s conduct with regard to “requirements” the Ukrainians needed to meet in order to receive the U.S. security aid.
In relaying what he said Sondland told him about his conversations with the Ukrainians, Morrison said Sondland told him “that the Ukrainians would have to have the prosecutor general make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition of having the aid lifted.”
“I was concerned about what Ambassador Sondland was saying were requirements,” Morrison added. "I was concerned about what I saw essentially as an additional hurdle."
At the outset of Republicans’ questioning period, Nunes said he had “bad news” for the two witnesses.
“TV ratings are way down, way down,” Nunes said. “Don't hold it personally. I don't think it's you guys. Whatever ‘drug deal’ the Democrats are cooking up here, the American people aren't buying it.”
Nunes’ reference to a “drug deal” referred to testimony from former NSC aide Fiona Hill, who said that former national security adviser John Bolton instructed her to inform NSC lawyers that he would not take “part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” referring to the alleged quid pro quo arrangement and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
Morrison testified that he approached NSC legal counsel John Eisenberg and Eisenberg’s deputy, Michael Ellis, to review the transcript of Trump's July 25 phone call and to limit who would have access to it.
He testified that he was concerned about "potential political fallout" if the call's contents were leaked.
Morrison also said he later learned that the transcript had been moved into a highly classified, separate server, but upon asking Eisenberg why, Morrison said he was told that was a "mistake."
Kurt Volker testified that he did not think Ukraine’s cooperation in launching investigations was a “necessary condition” to earning a White House meeting, but that it would have been “very helpful.”
“I wouldn't have called it a condition. It's a nuance, I guess,” Volker said. “But I viewed it as very helpful. If we could get this done, it would improve the perception that President Trump and others had and we would get a date for a meeting.”
Morrison described his disappointment after listening in live to President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, noting that he “was hoping for a more full-throated statement of support from the president concerning president Zelenskiy’s reform agenda.”
He added he advocated for records of the call to be placed in a “highly classified system” for fear of leaks and the subsequent “political consequences.”
Asked whether he found it improper that the president advocated for an investigation into the Bidens, Morrison said, “It’s not what we recommended the president discuss.”
As Schiff began his questions, Volker reiterates his past testimony that he does not suspect Democrat Joe Biden did anything wrong.
"It is not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as Vice President," Volker says.
Volker says he also didn't believe accusations against Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. He says those were not credible either.
“I have known former Vice President Biden for a long time. I know how he respects his duties of higher office, and it's just not credible to me that a vice president of the United States is going to do anything other than act as how he sees best for the national interest,” Volker says.
The afternoon session begins with statements from Chairman Adam Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes.
“Welcome back to Act Two of the circus, ladies and gentlemen,” Nunes said at the beginning of his opening statement.
Nunes and his Republican colleagues have staunchly defended the president’s conduct towards Ukraine and sought to cast the impeachment inquiry as a partisan attack.
The two witnesses were then sworn in and made their opening statements.
In opening remarks, Kurt Volker made note of “a great deal of additional information” he has learned since his Oct. 3 closed-door deposition in front of impeachment investigators, including details of the alleged quid pro quo effort conducted by President Trump.
“At the time I was connecting [Ukrainian chief of staff Andriy] Yermak and Mr. Giuliani, and discussing with Mr. Yermak and Amb. Sondland a possible statement that could be made by the Ukrainian President, I did not know of any linkage between the hold on security assistance and Ukraine pursuing investigations,” Volker said.
He insisted he never “knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.”
Volker said he was not aware of many key revelations that have come to light since his first appearance before the committee in October, including Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s phone call with President Trump during which the president allegedly said his priority in Ukraine was “the investigations.”
He also said he has never used the term “The Three Amigos,” which other witnesses in the impeachment probe have used to describe Volker, Ambassador Sondland, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Volker said he does not think the Ukrainians were aware of a hold on military aid until Aug. 29, a day after Politico reported that the money had been frozen.
Other witnesses testified in separate closed-door hearings that their Ukrainian counterparts had figured it out earlier than that. The State Department's Catherine Croft couldn't give an exact date the Ukrainians found out, other than it was "earlier than I expected them to."
Bill Taylor, the U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified last week in open testimony that he thinks “there’s still some question as to when they may have heard.”
When exactly Ukraine knew the money was on hold is a key point for Republicans, who contend that Trump can't be accused of personally imposing a "quid pro quo" in his July 25 phone call because, they say, Ukraine had no idea that military aid was on hold at that time.
As the first part of Tuesday's hearing ended, Schiff thanked Williams and Vindman for their testimony.
"We have courageous people like yourself who come forward, who report things, who do what they should do, who have a sense, as you put it, colonel, of duty, of duty. Not to the person of the president, but to the presidency and to the country. And we thank you for that," Schiff said.
He added that even though other witnesses have testified about remarks the president didn't care about Ukraine outside the investigations of the Bidens, members of Congress still care about the longstanding U.S. policy in Ukraine.
"The president may not care about it, but we do. We care about our defense, we care about the defense of our allies. And we darned well care about our constitution," Schiff said.
In his closing remarks, Republican Rep. Rep. Devin Nunes says "Act One of today's circus is over ... the Democrats are no closer to impeachment than where they were three years ago."
Democrat Rep. Sean Maloney asked Vindman what went through his mind when he heard Trump on the July 25 call.
"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 Ukraine policy could play out was playing out, how this was likely to have significant implications for U.S. National security," Vindman said.
"And you went immediately and reported it, didn't you?" Maloney asked.
"I did," VIndman answered
"Why?" Maloney then asked.
"Because that was my duty," Vindman responded.
Maloney then asked Vindman to again read the passage of his opening statement that mentioned his father.
After Maloney asked why he told his dad not to worry about his safety for testifying, Vindman said, "Congressman, because this is America. This is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served and here, right matters."
A number of people in the audience then began applauding.
Democratic Rep. Sean Maloney lamented the political attacks against Vindman in the hearing during his time for questioning.
"We've even had a member of this committee question -- this is my favorite -- question why you would wear your dress uniform today. Even though that dress uniform includes a breast plate that has a combat infantry badge on it and a purple heart medal ribbon," he said.
"It seems like if anybody gets to wear the uniform, it's somebody who's got a breastplate with commendations on it."
Republican Rep. Chris Stewart noted that Vindman was wearing his dress uniform "knowing that's not the uniform of the day" earlier in the hearing, even though active duty military officers are required to be in uniform when appearing in an official capacity.
Vindman told Stewart he felt the attacks against him have "marginalized" him as a military officer. A spokesperson for the Army told ABC News they are supporting Vindman with concerns around his family's security as he testifies in the impeachment inquiry.
Referring to a theory put forth by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, and President Trump that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Vindman called it a “Russian narrative that President Putin has promoted.”
“And are you aware of any part of the U.S. Government, its foreign policy or intelligence apparatus that supports that theory?” Rep. Castro, D-Texas, asked Vindman.
“No, I'm not aware,” Vindman said.
The theory that Ukraine framed Russia in election interference in 2016 has been widely criticized. Tom Bossert, Trump's former Homeland Security Adviser and now an ABC News Contributor, took aim at Giuliani in September on ABC's "This Week," telling ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos that the theory is “completely false.”
Under questioning from Democratic Rep Jackie Speier, Vindman suggests he may have already experienced retaliation from the White House.
"In both your situations since you have given depositions and have you seen your experience in your respective jobs change or have you been treated any differently?" Speier asked. Williams said she had not but Vindman said he was excluded from meetings since he raised concerns about the July 25 call.
"I did notice I was being excluded from several meetings which would have been appropriate for my position," Vindman said.
"So, in some respects there have been reprisals?" Speier said.
"I'm not sure I could make that judgment. I would say it's out of the course of normal affairs to not have me participate in some of these events," Vindman said.
Down Pennsylvania Avenue from the hearing at the Capitol, President Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, struck a dismissive tone when asked whether he thinks Lt. Col. Vindman is a credible witness, making note of the moment when Vindman corrected Nunes for referring to him as “Mr. Vidman” and also seemed to question his motives in wearing a military uniform to testify.
“I don't know him, as he says Lieutenant Colonel, I understand someone had the misfortune of calling him 'mister' and he corrected them. I never saw the man, I understand now he wears his uniform when he goes in. No, I don't know Vindman at all,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting, ABC's Jordyn Phelps reports.
A U.S. official told ABC News' Elizabeth McLaughlin at the Pentagon that Vindman testifying before Congress means he is serving in his official capacity and therefore is required to wear the uniform.
Separately, an Army spokesperson told ABC's Luis Martinez: "A soldier performing duties in an official capacity will normally be in uniform. In cases where a soldier is detailed to an agency outside of DoD, the individual would follow the policies of that agency."
Asked whether Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma may have presented the appearance of a conflict of interest, both Vindman and Williams responded in the affirmative.
“Certainly the potential, yes,” Vindman said.
“Yes,” Williams chimed in.
Republicans have called on Hunter Biden to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry, but Democrats have thus far declined to call him before the committee.
Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe started his question time by referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Thursday news conference at which she said the president was engaged in “bribery."
Ratcliffe, piling copies of all the deposition transcripts on the desk in front of him, claimed that not once have any witnesses used that word to describe what the president did, even if they were concerned.
Chairman Schiff then came back to this argument and defended using the term.
"I want to make one thing clear for folks watching today. Bribery does involve a quid pro quo. Bribery involves the conditioning of a specific act for something of value," Schiff said.
He added "The reason we don't ask witnesses, who are fact witnesses, to make a judgment about whether a crime or bribery has been committed. …. For one thing, you may not be aware of all the facts brought forward in this investigation."
Democrat Rep. Jim Himes also insinuated that Republicans were accusing Vindman of disloyalty to the U.S. in his line of questioning about when Vindman was offered the position of defense minister for Ukraine, which Vindman said he denied.
"That may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, but that was designed exclusively to give the right wing media an opening to questioning your loyalties," Himes said.
"And I want people to understand what that was all about. It's the kind of attack -- it's the kind of thing you say when you're defending the indefensible," Himes said.
"Colonel Vindman, would you call yourself a 'Never Trumper?'" Himes asked at one point.
"Representative, I'd call myself 'Never Partisan'" Vindman replied.
Moments earlier, Himes suggested the president engaged in “witness intimidation” in calling Jennifer Williams a “Never Trumper” on Twitter.
“Ms. Williams, are you engaged in a presidential attack?” Himes, D-Conn., asked.
“No, sir,” she replied emphatically.
Williams went on to say that the president’s tweet “certainly surprised” her and that she did not consider herself a "Never Trumper."
“It surprised me, too,” Himes said. “It looked like witness intimidation and tampering in an effort to perhaps shape your testimony today.”
In the first extended effort to undercut Vindman’s credibility, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, read testimony from another former National Security Council official, Tim Morrison, who said he heard concerns that Vindman may have leaked classified information to the press.
“That is preposterous that I would do that,” Vindman shot back. “I can’t say why Mr. Morrison questioned my judgment.”
Vindman read from a performance review prepared by his former boss at the NSC, Fiona Hill, who gave him glowing feedback on his work.
Chairman Schiff gavels the hearing back in.
Vindman said there was no “ambiguity” in President Trump’s invoking the name “Biden” during his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president.
“It was pretty clear that the president wanted Zelenskiy to commit to investigate the Bidens?” Schiff asked.
“That’s correct,” Vindman said.
“One of the ‘favors’ that you properly characterized as a demand,” Schiff added.
“That's correct,” Vindman responded.
Schiff asks Vindman if he would like to take a short break and Vindman says he would.
Republican Counsel Steve Castor asked Vindman if he was offered the position of Ukrainian defense minister during the trip to Ukrainian President Zelenskiy’s inauguration.
Vindman said he was offered the position three times but dismissed it each time and reported it to his commanding officer.
“I'm an American. I came here when I was a toddler and I immediately dismissed these offers. Did not entertain them,” he said.
“The whole notion was rather comical,” Vindman added, saying he didn’t “leave the door open at all” to the offer.
ABC's Ben Siegel notes this exchange between Castor and Vindman:
Vindman said he recalled Sondland discussing "Burisma, the Bidens and the 2016 elections" in the July 10 meeting at the White House with Ukrainian officials.
GOP counsel Steve Castor followed up, claiming that Vindman, behind closed doors, didn't initially recall whether the election came up. Vindman said that he clarified that later in his testimony.
"So when we asked the question, it sort of refreshed your recollection?" Castor said.
"Yes, I guess that's a term now," Vindman replied with a smile.
Sondland, in his updated testimony, said he had "refreshed his recollection."
During a testy exchange about the whistleblower whose complaint brought to light the nature of the July 25 phone call, Vindman corrected Nunes when the Republican ranking member referred to him as, “Mr. Vindman.”
"Ranking member, it's Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please," Vindman said.
In a lengthy series of questions about the whistleblower – and whether Vindman knew the person’s identity – Nunes grew frustrated when Vindman appeared to avoid answering directly.
“You can answer the question, or you can plead the Fifth,” Rep. Nunes said, referring to Vindman’s Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
Chairman Schiff interjected, telling Nunes the hearing would not be used as a vehicle for Republicans to unmask the whistleblower.
Vindman's lawyer Michael Volkov also defended his client, saying it was not a matter of possibly pleading the Fifth. ABC's Trish Turner in the hearing room reports this is the first time we have heard extensive remarks from a lawyer at these hearings.
Vindman pushed back on Nunes’ line of questioning about whether he discussed President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy on July 25 with reporters.
“I do not engage with the press at all,” Vindman said.
Republican allies of the president have accused Vindman and other “bureaucrats” in the administration of politically motivated leaking.
It's clear the GOP suspects that Vindman tipped off the whistleblower, although Vindman says he's not sure who the whistleblower is.
Vindman does acknowledge that he shared the contents of the July 25 phone call with a member of the intelligence community as well as State Department official George Kent.
Vindman says he told U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that discussion of investigations of the Bidens and the 2016 election were inappropriate when he says Sondland brought them up after a meeting with American and Ukrainian officials.
"I said that this request to conduct these meetings was inappropriate. These investigations was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security policy," Vindman said.
Vindman says he had already been tracking the "alternative narrative" around Ukraine when he decided to immediately report the July 25 call to NSC lawyers.
"At this point, I had already been tracking this initially what I would describe as alternative narrative, false narrative, and I was certainly aware of the fact that it was starting to reverberate, gain traction," he said.
He also said there was a discussion among NSC lawyers about how to handle the transcript and keep it to a "smaller group" to avoid the sensitive information from being leaked, but that he didn't see it as "nefarious."
ABC News' Mary Bruce notes that Vindman is contradicting the White House readout of the April 21 call between Presidents Trump and Zelenskiy.
"Vindman says his talking points encouraged the president to raise the issue of corruption. At the time, the White House readout of the call said the issue came up. But Vindman notes the president never actually raised the issue. And the transcript that the White House released last week shows it was not brought up," Bruce says.
Vindman testified that he was on that call and that corruption was part of the National Security Council recommended talking points for the president, but that he does not recall the issue of corruption coming up on the call.
ABC's Ben Siegel reports from the hearing room that Vindman also said, as he did in private testimony, that he warned Zelenskiy against involvement in U.S. domestic politics.
In describing President Trump’s asking Ukraine’s leader to launch investigations that may help his 2020 reelection effort, Vindman relayed his experience in the military to describe why he understood Trump’s overture as “an order,” not a “request.”
“Chairman, the culture I come from – the military culture – when a senior asks you to do something, even if it's polite and pleasant, it’s not to be taken as a request. It's to be taken as an order,” Vindman said.
“In this case, the power disparity between the two leaders, my impression is that in order to get the White House meeting, President Zelenskiy would have to deliver these investigations.”
ABC News Political Director Rick Klein tweets this analysis: "A key point that the witnesses last week made too - that a "favor" is more like a demand in light of Ukraine's reliance on the US"
Both Vindman and Williams say they remember hearing the word "Burisma" on the July 25 phone call, but that it was omitted in the transcript. "It's not a significant omission," Vindman said, but said he tried to correct the record. Burisma is not mentioned in the transcript released by the White House.
Burisma is the gas company in Ukraine that hired Hunter Biden to sit on its board.
Vindman, delivering his opening statement in his U.S. Army uniform, pushes back on criticisms brought forth by the president’s allies, insisting his role in the impeachment inquiry comes not from bipartisan bias, but “under a common oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”
“We do not serve any particular political party, we serve the nation. I am humbled to come before you today as one of many who serve in the most distinguished and able military in the world,” Vindman says.
On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., suggested Vindman was a “bureaucrat” who “never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style,” and indirectly accused him of “leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies.”
Vindman notes his brother is in the audience and then directs his testimony at his father, who fled the Soviet Union 40 years ago and brought Vindman and his brother to the United States.
Vindman said he and his siblings chose public service to repay the country that took them in. Vindman also notes that his actions, if in Russia, would have "surely cost me my life." Then he assured his father "do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth."
Williams gives her opening statement first, defending her service in the U.S. diplomatic corps after President Trump targeted her on Twitter over the weekend.
“As a career officer, I am committed to serving the American people and advancing American interests abroad, in support of the President’s foreign policy objectives,” Williams said Tuesday.
"I found the July 25th phone call unusual, because in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter."
Ranking Member Devin Nunes blamed media coverage of the hearings last week for overstating the impact of last week’s testimony and continued calls for more information about the whistleblower whose complaint launched the impeachment inquiry.
Schiff has said he does not know the identity of the whistleblower and will protect them from being publicly identified due, in part, to security concerns.
The president has called both witnesses "Never Trumpers."
Schiff notes the attacks on Williams and Vindman.
"Ms. Williams, we all saw the President’s tweet about you on Sunday afternoon and the insults he hurled at Ambassador Yovanovich last Friday. You are here today, and the American people are grateful," Schiff says. "Col. Vindman, we have seen far more scurrilous attacks on your character, and watched as certain personalities on Fox have questioned your loyalty. I note that you have shed blood for America, and we owe you an immense debt of gratitude."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff opens the hearing by reviewing what other witnesses have testified, saying President Donald Trump has "placed his own personal and political interests above those of the nation."
Vindman and Williams are sitting side-by-side at the witness table as Schiff introduces them as having been alarmed by the July 25 call.
ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce notes that today's witnesses provide some of the testimony that prompted the impeachment inquiry by raising concerns about the administration's dealings in Ukraine.
"Today we are going to be hearing from witnesses who were on that phone call that sparked this entire impeachment inquiry and they have described what they heard as unusual and inappropriate," Bruce says.
Jennifer Williams has arrived as well. She will be today's first witness. The hearing room is filling up quickly with congressional staff, reporters and spectators.
Tuesday's hearing starts off an important week in the impeachment inquiry after the first two days of public testimony last week.
If you missed last week's hearings you can catch up on some of the key takeaways from former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and the first hearing with William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the State Department's top career official tasked with Ukraine policy.
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has arrived in Capitol Hill in his dress blue uniform. He was accompanied by his brother, Yevgeny, who is also serves on the National Security Council as an ethics lawyer.
Vindman told investigators, according to a transcript of his closed session, that he was "concerned" by the call, adding that he "did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen," a reference to the suggestion from Trump that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, and his work for Ukrainian energy company Burisma. He also told lawmakers there was "no doubt" in his mind about what Trump sought from Ukraine in the July phone call with Zelenskiy.
In his private testimony, Vindman also told lawmakers he repeatedly raised his concerns about the president's comments -- along with the discussion of the investigations that Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, was publicly calling for -- with NSC lawyers.
He also said he attempted to get nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine restored after it was put on hold over the summer, drafting a memo that the president refused to sign.
The Iraq War veteran, who received a Purple Heart, is expected to appear in uniform.
Williams said in a separate closed session with lawmakers that she found the mention of investigations into the 2016 election and unsubstantiated theories of Ukraine's meddling in the race, and a probe into the Biden family's dealings in Ukraine "unusual and inappropriate."
The president has lashed out at both officials, calling Vindman a "never Trumper" as he testified to Congress last month, and criticizing Williams after her closed-door testimony was released over the weekend.
Tim Morrison, a departing NSC official who was also on the Trump-Zelenskiy call, will testify Tuesday afternoon. While he raised concerns about the call to White House lawyers -- specifically, how a leak of the transcript would be received in a polarized Washington, and impact bipartisan support for Ukraine -- he previously told impeachment investigators that he was "not concerned that anything illegal was discussed," according to a transcript of his deposition released by House Democrats.
Lawmakers will also question former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker on Tuesday afternoon.
Republicans, who requested the public testimony from both officials, believe elements of their accounts undermine Democrats' concerns about the withholding of aid for investigations at the center of the impeachment inquiry.
Tuesday's testimony could set the stage for the upcoming appearance of Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union and an apparent central player in the efforts to encourage Ukraine to launch investigations that could benefit Trump politically.
The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold a total of five public hearings this week with nine witnesses.
Sondland will testify Wednesday morning, followed by senior Defense Department and State Department officials Laura Cooper and David Hale.
Fiona Hill, the NSC's former Russia expert under former national security adviser John Bolton, is scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, along with Holmes.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
inhauscreative/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- At Tuesday’s House impeachment hearing, the Republican counsel questioned Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman about a specific proposition by the Ukrainian government -- an offer for Vindman to serve as its defense minister.
Vindman, the National Security Council's Ukraine expert, said he was asked three times but dismissed the inquiries and added that he found the notion "rather comical."
Testifying before lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, Vindman said each time Ukraine asked, he dismissed it and when he returned to the U.S. he notified his "chain of command and the appropriate counterintelligence folks."
"I'm an American," Vindman told lawmakers. "I came here when I was a toddler and I immediately dismissed these offers. Did not entertain them."
The counsel pressed further, asking, "When he made this offer to you, initially, did you leave the door open? Was there a reason that he had to come back and ask a second and third time or was he just trying to convince you?"
Vindman replied, "Counsel, it’s -- you know what? The whole notion is rather comical that I was being asked to consider whether I would want to be the minister of defense."
"I did not leave the door open at all. But it is pretty funny for a lieutenant colonel in the United States army, which really is not that senior, to be offered that illustrious a position," he said.
The incident, according to the testimony on Tuesday, took place when Vindman was in Ukraine for Volodymyr Zelenskiy's inauguration.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., circled back to the moment at the end of his own round of questions, condemning the counsel’s questions.
"The three minutes that were spent asking you about the offer made to make you the minister of defense, that may have been cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, that was designed exclusively to give the right-wing media an opening to question your loyalties," Himes said.
"I want people to understand what that was all about. It's the kind of attack -- it's the kind of thing you say when you're defending the indefensible," he said.
Vindman appeared beside Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, at Tuesday morning’s hearing. They are the first current White House officials to publicly testify in the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry.
Both individuals were privy to the July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Zelenskiy.
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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump mocked speculation that followed his unexpected weekend visit to Walter Reed Medical Center for what he called “phase one” of his annual physical, after his physician released a memorandum on Monday.
Trump recounted a conversation he said he had with his wife on Tuesday, where she said the press "are reporting you may have had a heart attack."
"These people are sick, they're sick, and the press really in this country is dangerous," he told the press, following a morning cabinet meeting. "We don't have freedom of the press in this country. We have the opposite. We have a very corrupt media, and I hope they can get their act straightened out because it's very, very bad -- very very dangerous for our country.”
Dr. Sean Conley, the president's physician, also said the 73-year-old president wasn't having chest pain.
“Despite some of the speculation, the president has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues,” Conley said in the memo released Monday night. “Specifically, he did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurological evaluations.”
Conley did not say anything in the memo about the president’s overall health, but called the visit a “routine, planned interim checkup” and said it included a “little more than an hour of examination, labs, and discussion.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement following the checkup that “the president remains healthy and energetic without complaints” and pointed to his “vigorous rally performances” as evidence of his energy levels.
Conley did reveal that the president’s cholesterol level is now 165, which is considered within a healthy range -- down from 196 earlier this year.
The president’s trip to Walter Reed on Saturday stirred speculation in part because of how it differed from typical presidential check-ups.
The president’s two previous medical examinations at the military hospital had been announced ahead of time and were listed on his public schedule. On Saturday, the White House didn’t. In fact, reporters were informed about the visit only when the president’s motorcade arrived at the hospital.
The president’s doctor said this visit was kept off the record “due to scheduling uncertainties.”
A senior administration official also told ABC News that the Saturday check-up had been on the president’s private calendar for several days before it happened.
The timing of the president’s exam was also out of step with the president’s standard schedule of annual exams, which typically occur toward the beginning of a new year. The president’s 2019 annual exam was conducted in February -- 9 months ago -- and his 2018 physical was conducted in January.
Conley said a “more comprehensive" examination will occur after the onset of the new year and that the president’s labs and exam results will be incorporated in “next year’s report.”
Grisham said the president was getting a head start on his next annual exam in anticipation of a “very busy 2020” by “taking advantage of a free weekend" in Washington, D.C., "to begin portions" of his routine annual physical exam at Walter Reed.
The president’s mode of transportation also varied for this visit. While the president typically travels to the military hospital by presidential chopper, on Saturday he traveled by motorcade.
Joe Lockhart, press secretary to former President Bill Clinton, was among those who raised questions about whether the president’s visit to Walter Reed was as routine as the White House has said.
“Saturday was anything but normal … you shouldn't believe … Trump went up to Walter Reed for routine blood tests … If @realDonaldTrump trip to the Hispital (sic) was just an exam and bloodwork, all of that could have been done at the White House," Lockhart said over the weekend in a series of tweets. "In fact most medical procedures can be done at the White House where there is a state of the art medical facility."
Grisham sought to further dispel the speculation that built over the weekend, saying she would not discuss the president’s “security and movement protocols,” and pushing back against those questioning the veracity of her prior statements on the president’s good health.
“I’ve given plenty of on the record statements that were truthful and accurate -- actively trying to find and report conspiracy theories really needs to stop,” Grisham said.
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JasonDoiy/iStock(ATLANTA) -- Democrat Stacey Abrams may not have won Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial election, but her historic campaign, which uniquely took on voter suppression, pushed her to launch a 2020-focused initiative within her organization Fair Fight, to continue her campaign for voters' rights with enough time to make an impact ahead of the next election in not just Georgia, but in 20 states across the country.
"It was designed to think about the fact that voter suppression exists today, but often campaigns and parties don't think about it until September of the general election. And by then it's too late," Abrams said of Fair Fight 2020 at the National Press Club in Washington Friday. "Once you know more, you can do more."
With the fifth Democratic primary debate set to take place at 9 p.m. on Wednesday from the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, there's a renewed focus on the reliably Republican state where Abrams was able to turn out voters in 2018 like no Democrat ever had before. Abrams never officially conceded that race and her gubernatorial run's legacy is also the work her campaign did to guarantee people could cast a ballot.
Abrams, who will be attending the debate, "lobbied vigorously" to have a debate held in "The Peach State," and while the media co-hosts -- MSNBC and The Washington Post -- get to choose what questions to ask, she "has been clear that any conversation in Georgia must include protecting Georgians’ right to vote," said Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Fair Fight.
Wendy Weiser, vice president for the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program, told ABC News that given Georgia's status as "a hotbed of controversies around vote suppression" for more than a decade, this is the time for the 10 candidates debating on stage to take on this issue.
"It's a really important opportunity... for candidates to take stock and to commit to putting in place reforms, so that... it doesn't matter who it is that’s in office and who it is that's running the election, that there are fair ground rules that every American can count on," Weiser said. "It would be a really missed opportunity for the candidates not to commit to that, and not to make that a priority."
In late October, Georgia's secretary of state announced its office would be -- "as required by law" -- purging the state's voter rolls by 4 percent.
"Election security is my top priority,” Secretary Brad Raffensperger said in a press release. “Accurate and up-to-date voter rolls are vital to secure elections."
The list has more than 313,000 names on it, and the names on it have 30 days to respond.
On Friday, Abrams told National Press Club attendees that she didn't think all of those names should be removed from the rolls.
"Given past as precedent, we don't believe they're accurate," she said.
By the election day in 2018, her opponent, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, "had overseen a systematic purge of 1.4 million voters," Abrams said. The Brennan Center's analysis of data from 2016 to 2018 showed that Georgia had removed over 10 percent of its registered voters from the rolls.
Secretaries of state have the authority, and are required by law, to maintain voter rolls by removing people who have died and who have moved out of the jurisdiction, said Carol Anderson, chair of African American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta and the author of, "One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy."
What she takes issue with, however, is purging what are called "inactive" voters, a so-called "use it or lose it" policy. In Georgia, that means anyone who skipped out on voting in just two general elections without having any contact with the state's election office can be purged from the rolls.
"I look at it this way: Simply because I haven't gone to church in a while, doesn't mean that I've lost my right to religion," Anderson said, telling ABC News that people with irregular voting tendencies tend to be poor people, communities of color and young people.
"So, if you take that group, and you begin to remove them from the polls simply because they haven't voted, you're able to shape the electorate," she said.
In October 2018, Kemp told ABC News, "There is no purging... That word purging is outrageous. When people don’t participate in over seven years, they end up coming on off the list per federal law."
Abrams is challenging the constitutionality of that policy, and of other election laws in Georgia, in a lawsuit filed in November 2018.
But legal action is a slow process, and Fair Fight 2020 is a $5 million program focused on what can be done right now by equipping state Democratic parties with the ability "to actually fight back" against efforts to suppress voter turnout.
Fair Fight 2020 is equipping state parties with what it calls "voter protection teams." The exact duties of these teams, which are hired by, trained by and funded by Abrams' organization, vary based on each state's specific needs and laws, but in general, they work to ensure that everyone who has the right to vote is able to cast a vote come election day. They do everything from being a body in the poll precinct monitoring what's happening on election day to answering questions on a voter protection hotline, Bringman told ABC News.
On at least one election law, Georgia is ahead of the curve, as one of only 17 states (and the District of Columbia) to have automatic voter registration. Bringman said while this expands the number of registered voters, it's only the start of a conversation.
"Being on the rolls is just the first step. Voters must be engaged and mobilized, and that means making sure voters are seen and heard," he said, noting that in 2018, Abrams' "bold, values-based message" was "backed up by a robust organizing operation."
Weiser, of the Brennan Center, said automatic voter registration does two key things. The first is getting on a list that can then be targeted by campaigns and groups working to mobilize voters to participate in elections. She said that research shows individual outreach "significantly improves participation rates."
But beyond that, being registered to vote can change one's perspective.
"They're now identified as a voter, as somebody who should be voting," she said, and behavioral scientists "expect that that's going to change behavior over time... that that will be their default assumption about themselves."
Still, she stressed that having nationalized "ground rules" regarding elections -- like a set number of early voting days, automatic voter registration and audited voting machines, among other standards -- are needed to really address voter suppression in the United States.
Anderson, of Emory, said she expects more attempts to suppress the vote ahead of the 2020 election, warning that it may not be as overt as it once was, but the incremental restrictions can have a large impact.
"The thing is that all of this is so subtle and so bureaucratic that it's not like that kind of cataclysmic violence that we saw on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 in Selma," she said. "So we don't see the carnage, but I call that a quiet civic death that is happening to American citizens."
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MivPiv/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The director of the Bureau of Prisons is set for a grilling in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in the wake of several high-profile deaths in the federal prison system, including those of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and reputed mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger.
In a letter to the agency, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who serves on the committee, said he understands Director Kathy Hawk Sawyer can't answer every question, but expects answers to those she can -- starting with those about Epstein.
"[Jeffery] Epstein's death in custody has ignited a crisis of public trust in your agency and exacerbated the erosion of trust that the American people have in our institutions of republican self-government more broadly," he wrote. "To pretend like this issue, which is by far the public's top concern with your agency, won't be a significant focus of this hearing is naive -- to the point of being laughable."
"The Director welcomes the opportunity to speak to Congress and provide information to the members on a range of issues affecting the Bureau of Prisons," a BOP spokeswoman told ABC News.
Her testimony comes a week after three federal law enforcement sources told ABC News the two correctional officers who were working the night of Epstein’s apparent suicide were offered a plea deal and turned it down.
Charges could come as early as this month, the sources said.
Epstein, a convicted sex offender, was found unresponsive in his cell at the Manhattan Correctional Center in New York in August, the Bureau of Prisons said. He was taken to New York Downtown Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to sources.
His death came less than three weeks after he was found in his cell at the federal prison with marks on his neck that appeared to be self-inflicted, sources told ABC News. He was placed on suicide watch following the July 23 incident, but had been removed by the time of his death.
According to an internal document obtained by ABC News, an internal review of Bureau of Prison employees found that some employees falsified mandatory check records.
Every three hours, officers are supposed to check on inmates to make sure they aren't harming themselves or their cell mates, among other things. According to BOP policy, this is referred to as a mandatory cell check.
"As I have noted in previous messages, recent reviews of institution operations revealed that some staff members failed to conduct rounds and counts in housing units, yet documented they had done so," Hawk Sawyer wrote in an internal memo dated Nov. 4.
The memo comes in the wake of an internal review as to whether the proper protocols were followed by correctional officers and staff at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Bureau of Prisons sources have said the internal investigation is still ongoing.
One prison union official described the memo as "hypocritical," and said that the memo will have a chilling effect on senior officers working in the Special Housing Unit.
"They have put inmates on equal par with the staff," that same union official said.
Hawk Sawyer issued a warning in her memo, saying that falsifying rounds is a violation of policy and could be subject to criminal charges. She also asked that all cases be referred to the internal affairs office.
"Failure to conduct rounds and counts are violations of policy; falsification of information in government systems and documents is also a violation of policy, and may be subject to criminal prosecution as well. I am asking each of you to prioritize deterring this behavior, and to respond appropriately to this misconduct if it occurs," Hawk Sawyer wrote.
BOP declined to comment on the memo.
In fact, according to a separate memo obtained by ABC News, BOP officials have already started cracking down on these infractions, such as at FCI Coleman in Tallahassee, Florida.
In a second high-profile death, Bulger, the notorious Boston mob boss and one-time FBI informant, was killed in a West Virginia federal prison in October 2018, according to the BOP.
The U.S. Department of Justice noted in a statement that "no staff or other inmates were injured" as a result of Bulger's killing.
Bulger died a day after he was transferred to USP Hazelton for undisclosed medical reasons after a brief stay at the federal lockup in Oklahoma. He had been serving his life sentence at a federal prison in Sumterville, Florida, after being convicted of murdering 11 people in August 2013.
Bulger’s medical status was lowered to Level 2 on Oct. 8, 2018, a notch beneath his medical status prior to his transfer to Hazelton, an internal Bureau of Prisons document obtained by ABC News showed.
His lawyers blasted the decision at the time.
"Mr. Bulger’s physical/medical condition was fraudulently upgraded to effectuate a transfer and place to Hazelton on or about Oct. 29 or Oct. 30, 2018," attorneys Hank Brennan and David Schoen wrote last year in an administrative claim against the Department of Justice, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News.
Another topic likely to be brought up at the hearing was the case of heating issues at a federal lockup in New York that caused mass protest and unrest in the jail earlier this year.
A heating issue at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, left almost 1,700 inmates in below-freezing temperatures. The prison had "longstanding" problems with its heating system, according to the results of the U.S. Inspector General's Office review.
Michael Horowitz, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice, found that the Jan. 27 to Feb. 3, 2019, power outage at the Metropolitan Detention Center had nothing to do with an electrical fire that sparked the federal investigation and lawsuits.
"We determined that heating issues had been a longstanding problem at the jail that existed before, during, and after the fire and power outage and were unrelated to these events," said Horowitz. "Rather, they were the result of the facility’s lack of proper equipment to continuously monitor temperatures, which the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) was aware of and had not addressed."
While the deaths of Epstein and Bulger and issues with maintenance are at top of mind for some members, others are focused on the bureau's implementation of the First Step Act.
"The First Step Act requires the Bureau of Prisons to focus on rehabilitation and reentry, but so far the Trump administration has been slow-walking these reforms," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told ABC News in a statement. "It will take dedication and hard work to lead the agency through that culture change. I look forward to hearing how Acting Director Hawk Sawyer plans to move things forward."
Hawk Sawyer, who was appointed director in a shakeup following Epstein's death in August, also served as BOP director in the early 1990s.
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