Looks like Donald Trump didn’t get the GOP memo on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. After a number of Republicans in the House and Senate harshly rebuked pundits for questioning the nat-sec aide’s motives as he testified, most backed off and hailed his service to the country. This morning, however, Trump went on the offensive by suggesting that Vindman was a “Never Trumper witness” in the impeachment depositions, one who nonetheless could not establish any corrupt actions in his July 25 phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky.
Which may be true … as far as that claim goes:
Yesterday’s Never Trumper witness could find NO Quid Pro Quo in the Transcript of the phone call. There were many people listening to the call. How come they (including the President of Ukraine) found NOTHING wrong with it. Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2019
According to leaks from the deposition, there’s a reason Vindman couldn’t point to a quid pro quo in the transcript. Vindman told the House committees during yesterday’s questioning that references to the Bidens have been edited out of the transcript, a problem he noticed right away and attempted to get corrected.
By the way, this leak didn’t come from Schiff or the Democrats:
A Republican congressman on Wednesday confirmed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told impeachment investigators that at least two portions of the July phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were omitted from the summary of the conversation released by the White House.
“Yeah, he testified that in two occasions the ellipses, the dot-dot-dot, should have been some words,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) told NPR. “We annotated those on our copies of the call. I will tell you that some people may see them as significant. I don’t see them as significant.”
Some people certainly will see any redaction or excision as significant, especially given just how much Trump has relied on the released transcript for his defense. Perry’s playing it smart by getting out in front of the issue in order to downplay it. It’s a technique that attorneys use in court to deal with potentially damaging information by getting it out themselves in direct testimony, where they can present it in context. (Perry is not an attorney, however.)
Interestingly, the placement of this testimony well down in the Washington Post’s story makes it seem less significant too. It only comes up in the 16th paragraph:
Vindman said he was so worried about Trump’s request that Zelensky investigate his political foes that he reported it to the NSC’s lead counsel, just as others at the NSC did at the direction of John Bolton, the former national security adviser who found the Ukraine pressure unsavory.
“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman told lawmakers. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.”
Vindman also testified that the rough transcript of the July 25 call released by the White House is slightly different than what he remembers transpiring. For example, Vindman recalled Zelensky specifically referencing the Ukrainian natural gas firm Burisma when Trump pushed him to investigate a company related to Biden’s son Hunter, who had served on its board. Vindman also remembers Trump going on about how Joe Biden was on tape boasting about Ukraine funds — most likely referring to comments Biden made in January 2018 that the United States held up $1 billion in loan guarantees until the nation fired a corrupt former prosecutor, Victor Shokin.
That might have been inappropriate for the level and nature of the call, but that doesn’t describe a quid pro quo either. Well, actually it does, but it’s the one implied in Joe Biden’s intervention in late 2015, not one by Trump. Vindman corroborates the general feeling at NSC over the “unsavory” nature of Trump discussing his political opponents with the head of a foreign government, but nothing in the leaks show a quid pro quo — yet, anyway.
Democrats have recently taken to arguing that one doesn’t need a quid pro quo to have committed an abuse of power. That’s true, and it’s also true that the House can decide for itself what constitutes an impeachable act, as impeachment is a political process rather than a prosecutorial process. Both of those arguments avoid the uncomfortable fact that an impeachment without an actual statutory crime at its core — not a process crime involving obstruction of a political House probe — will fall far short of the gravitas necessary to generate a political consensus for removal. Even a quid pro quo wouldn’t qualify as a distinct statutory crime, but House Democrats don’t even have that much, and sound less and less confident that they will find one.