A key House impeachment inquiry witness followed a White House lawyer’s instructions and went to him with concerns about Donald Trump’s actions. For Republican impeachment inquisitors, that was a sign of insubordination.
The witness, the National Security Council Ukraine director Alexander Vindman, had been told by the NSC’s top lawyer to go directly to him with any concerns about President Donald Trump’s actions.
Republicans on Tuesday attempted to attack Vindman for following that order, accusing him of leaving his immediate superior on the council — the NSC’s then-newly appointed Russia and Europe director Tim Morrison — out of the loop.
“When you had concerns about the 7/25 call, between the two presidents, you didn’t go to Mr. Morrison about that, did you?” Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) confronted Vindman Tuesday, referring to the now-infamous call between Trump and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I immediately went to John Eisenberg, the lead legal counsel,” Vindman responded.
Wenstrup interjected: “So that doesn’t seem like chain of command.”
Vindman tried to respond, but Wenstrup kept talking, until House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) stopped him to allow Vindman time to finish his answer.
“I attempted to report it to Mr. Morrison,” he said. “He didn’t avail himself and at that point, I was told not to speak to anyone else.”
The exchange marked a bubbling tension underneath the impeachment drama between Vindman and the Republicans seeking to discredit his testimony. Morrison testified that he hadn’t known that Vindman went to Eisenberg with his concerns, but also that such a course of action wasn’t unusual. Morrison was Vindman’s superior as the NSC’s Europe and Russia director, starting in mid-July. He recently announced his resignation.
“My predecessor [Fiona Hill] had a different style for managing her staff than I do,” Morrison testified recently in the inquiry, after saying it wouldn’t be unusual for Vindman to bring his concerns to Eisenberg. “She did not have the same view of how reporting through the chain of command should work.”
Schiff noted Tuesday that Morrison had himself gone to Eisenberg with his concerns about the call — without consulting with his immediate supervisor, then-National Security Adviser John Bolton. And Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) noted that Eisenberg was actually above Vindman in the chain of command.
“He is the senior between the two, certainly,” Vindman affirmed, referring to Eisenberg and himself.
Hill, Vindman’s former superior, testified last month that Bolton told her to alert the NSC’s lawyers after a July 10 meeting between American and Ukrainian officials in which the U.S. EU ambassador Gordon Sondland said there was a shady deal in place for the Ukrainians to secure a meeting with President Donald Trump. Bolton said Sondland’s comments described a “drug deal.”
Vindman also testified to alerting NSC’s lawyers at the time. He said Eisenberg subsequently told him to come directly to him with future concerns.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) brought up the same line of questioning later on Tuesday.
“Col. Vindman, after the call, why didn’t you go to Mr. Morrison?” he asked.
“I went immediately, per the instructions from the July 10 incident, I went immediately to Mr. Eisenberg.”
“I attempted to try to talk to Mr. Morrison,” he added later, but “that didn’t happen before I received instructions from John Eisenberg to not talk to anybody else any further.”