Vindman testified today the notion of him becoming Ukraine’s SecDef “is rather comical,” but that seemed to describe his reaction more so than the intent of the person who made the offer, Oleksander Danylyuk. Vindman thought it was goofy because he’s an American, not a Ukrainian, and because a lieutenant colonel isn’t a high enough ranking officer that one would normally consider him for a job as powerful as defense secretary of a foreign country.
He also said of Danylyuk, “I’m not sure if he meant it as a joke or not.” But he took the offer seriously enough that he “dismissed” it, and considered it something that he needed to report to his superiors. Plus, he said it was made three times. That’s a lot of repetition for a “joke.”
If I were Danylyuk, though, I’d be careful about straining too hard to help Vindman out here. Ukraine still has to deal with Trump for another 14 months at a minimum, maybe much longer. Zelensky might get a call tomorrow informing him that next year’s military aid is contingent upon him claiming that Vindman was begging to be Ukraine’s secretary of defense.
[A] former top national security official in Ukraine told The Daily Beast that he was “joking” when he offered Vindman the post and never actually had the authority to make such an offer.
Oleksander Danylyuk, the former Chairman of the National Security and Defence Council in Ukraine, said he only remembers speaking with Vindman once about the defense minister position. He said it he and Vindman had engaged in a light-hearted conversation about how the two used to live close to one another in the former Soviet Union. It was then that Danylyuk jokingly told Vindman that he should take the defense minister job in Ukraine.
“We both smiled and laughed,” Danylyuk said. “It was clearly a joke.” Danylyuk said he wouldn’t have been able to seriously offer Vindman the position without direct sign off from President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Is Vindman even going to testify at the impeachment trial? He’s notable in that he listened in on the call between Trump and Zelensky and seems to have been the Trump advisor who was most alarmed by what was said. But he has no firsthand information about Trump’s intentions apart from the call itself, of which we have a transcript. And we have the testimony of others who listened in like Tim Morrison, who claimed this afternoon that he had no problem with what he heard. What would Vindman add at trial that Morrison couldn’t subtract?
GOP counsel: "I want to bring our attention back to the July 25 call. You were in the room. Did anything concern you on the call?"
Former NSC official Tim Morrison: "No." https://t.co/J4jAYidyMK pic.twitter.com/kGRv8mNHAK
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) November 19, 2019
Morrison might even be able to subtract more from the value of Vindman’s testimony than Vindman could add:
"Yes," National Security Council official Tim Morrison says when asked if he wishes Lt. Col Alexander Vindman had come to him first with concerns about the Trump-Zelenskiy call, instead of going first to NSC lawyers. https://t.co/QfMpJlStvo pic.twitter.com/o7kyemEc4Z
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) November 19, 2019
I think Vindman is useful to Democrats mainly as a lightning rod. He’s a veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, and an immigrant; the Trump-era GOP can’t suppress the urge to question his patriotism, which is a bad look politically and destined to cause tension on the right when figures like Liz Cheney feel obliged to step up and say, “Knock it off.” But he’s not moving the needle on impeachment. Know how I know that? Because nothing’s moving it:
Well, maybe not quite “nothing.” A quarter of each party and nearly 40 percent of indies are nominally open to having their minds changed. The question is what sort of evidence they’d need to hear in order to move towards removing Trump from office. FiveThirtyEight published the results of a poll today in which they tried to get to the bottom of that question. Just 44.4 percent say that it would be impeachable if Trump merely asked the Ukrainian government to investigate the two Bidens, but once you introduce some pressure into the mix the numbers begin to climb:
Not much difference between those two outcomes. A cover-up would be hard to prove, but there’s lots of evidence already that military aid was withheld to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Gordon Sondland, tomorrow’s star witness, has already said in his deposition that he personally explained the deal that way to the Ukrainians. The suspense in Sondland’s testimony has to do with who, exactly, he believes engineered the terms of that quid pro quo. Thus far he’s only gone as far as to say that he “presumed” a deal involving aid in return for the Burisma probe is what Trump wanted. Is he still going to hedge that way tomorrow or will his memory about what Trump told him have been “freshened”?