The Ukraine director on the National Security Council — a star witness in the impeachment probe — is “excellent” and “highly decorated,” his former boss Dr. Fiona Hill said Thursday, denying the testimony of her successor who claimed that Hill had expressed concerns about the director’s judgement.
“I did not relate any concerns in general terms about Col. Vindman’s judgment,” Hill testified Thursday, referring to the Ukraine director Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
Hill said she was “somewhat surprised when I heard Mr. Morrison make that assertion.”
Hill’s corrective undermined a key Republican attack against Vindman, who rang alarm bells within the NSC when he saw the politicization of the United States’ Ukraine policy.
Tim Morrison, who replaced Hill this summer as the NSC’s senior director for European and Russian affairs, said in a closed-door deposition last month that Hill and a deputy “had raised concerns about Alex’s judgement.”
“Not everybody is cut out for the policymaking process, and Alex, I think, was in that category,” he said, explaining what he said Hill had told him. This week, Morrison said the message from Hill was “more of an overarching statement from her and her deputy, who became my deputy, that they had concerns about judgment.”
But on Thursday, Hill denied she’d said anything of the sort about Vindman, who she described as “a highly distinguished, decorated military officer” and “excellent on issues related to Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, [and] on Russian defense issues.”
Instead, she testified that she’d made a “very specific point” in a couple of short transition meetings with Morrison in which the pair discussed the strengths and weaknesses of everybody under Hill’s supervision.
Hill said she mentioned concerns about the Ukraine director only in the context of the increasingly politicized Ukraine policy, and about Vindman’s career in the military.
“We were evaluating and looking at him in the context of what his future positions would be, in the context of the U.S. Army,” she said. “And I was concerned if, for example, Col. Vindman might decide to leave the military, that perhaps he wasn’t as well suited for something that would be much more political.”
“I did not feel that he had the political antenna to deal with something that was straying into domestic politics,” Hill continued. “That does not mean, in any way, that I was questioning his overall judgment, nor was I questioning, in any way, his substantive expertise.”
Morrison had worked on Capitol Hill before joining the NSC, Hill said, and “he knew politics inside out, and we said that Col. Vindman did not, and we were concerned about how he would manage what was becoming a highly charged and potentially partisan issue, which it had not been before.”
Vindman alerted NSC lawyers in early July when the EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland raised the prospect of a trade for the Ukrainians — politicized investigations for a White House meeting — and later in the month when Trump pushed those investigations on a phone call with the Ukrainian president.
Hill resigned a week before that phone call. Morrison announced his resignation late last month.
In response to Vindman’s testimony, Republicans sought to discredit him, questioning his loyalty and highlighting Morrison’s testimony about the purported concerns about Vindman’s judgment. The White House has even distributed talking points bashing its own employee, citing Morrison’s testimony.
In his own testimony, Vindman asserted his own credibility and judgment and cited a positive assessment of him written by none other than his then-outgoing boss, Dr. Hill.