When Lt Col Alexander Vindman first spoke privately to Congress last month, Donald Trump baselessly attacked him as a “Never Trumper” and questioned what business Vindman had listening in on presidential phone calls.
But when Vindman returns to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to testify in public, nationally televised impeachment hearings, Trump might find the decorated Iraq war veteran, who is director of European affairs on the national security council, much more difficult to dismiss.
Vindman is the marquee witness in a blockbuster day for impeachment hearings scheduled for Tuesday. Also testifying will be Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice-president Mike Pence; Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine; and Tim Morrison, a senior national security council (NSC) official.
All four witnesses were previously deposed in closed-door meetings with the House intelligence committee, which is leading the investigation of whether Trump abused the power of his office by soliciting foreign interference from Ukraine in the 2020 US election.
Trump has denied wrongdoing, but his war on the three career public servants called to testify last week has not been taken up by Republicans in the hearing room and has threatened to backfire, drawing accusations of witness intimidation.
“These last three witnesses are witnesses from heaven, if you’re a prosecutor or the Democrats,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor turned defense attorney. “And they are witnesses from hell if you’re a Republican or Donald Trump. These are literally heroic people who are intelligent, articulate, sincere – you just don’t get witnesses like that.”
The committee continued on Monday to add witnesses to the public schedule, announcing that state department official David Holmes, who said he overheard a phone conversation between the ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, and Trump, would testify on Thursday.
Vindman is likely to be the star of Tuesday. An active-duty military officer who emigrated with his family to the United States from the former Soviet Union at age three, Vindman is expected to appear in his US army dress uniform, bearing a combat infantry badge and a Purple Heart medal, bestowed when he was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq.
Vindman has told investigators “there was no doubt” about what Trump was demanding from the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a 25 July phone call, which Vindman listened to as a top Ukraine expert in the White House. Vindman took his concerns about the call to top NSC lawyers and later discovered an official summary of the call was missing key words, he testified.
Vindman was witness to other key events in the impeachment proceedings, including a 10 July White House meeting in which Sondland pressed Ukrainian officials to announce an investigation tied to Hunter and Joe Biden, according to multiple accounts.
Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute who was senior counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton administration, said Republicans have been struggling to mount an effective defense for Trump.
“The factual development is continuing to put the Republicans in a position of defending a difficult set of facts, and they haven’t figured out a way to do that yet,” Rosenzweig said.
Two of the witnesses scheduled to testify on Tuesday, Volker and Morrison, were on a list of witnesses requested by Republicans and could dispute other testimony. Morrison, who also listened to the July call, testified he did not think it was improper, and he has questioned the decision of Vindman, his subordinate, to report on the call to NSC lawyers.
Volker, who was the first key witness to be deposed, six weeks ago, could find himself torn between his denial at the time that there was any effort by US officials to urge Ukraine to investigate Biden, and a preponderance of testimony since indicating that there was such an effort and that Volker was one its leaders.
The American public remains receptive to the impeachment proceedings, an ABC News/Ipsos poll published on Sunday indicated. In the poll, 58% of Americans said they were following the hearings very or somewhat closely, and 51% said that “President Trump’s actions were wrong and he should be impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate.”