White House

Key Details Omitted from White House Transcript, Official Testifies

The House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry has been progressing rapidly, despite the protests of Republican members of both the House and the Senate as well as strong opposition from the White House. While the White House has attempted to block witnesses from testifying before committees investigating potentially impeachable offenses, many government officials who have been subpoenaed have appeared in the House of Representatives nonetheless, offering damning testimony that corroborates both the whistleblower complaint which started the inquiry as well as leaks from the Trump administration and a reconstructed transcript released by the White House describing a call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine. 

As witness testimony reveals the extent of the Trump administration’s involvement in attempting to secure political dirt from a foreign power, it is also revealing the administration’s attempts to hide their tracks. Yesterday, for instance, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman testified that the transcript released by the White House omitted details about the President’s conversation with Zelensky, suggesting a possible attempt to obscure the nature of the call.

According to Vindman, Mr. Zelensky said the word “Burisma,” the Ukranian energy company Hunter Biden worked for, whereas the official reconstructed transcript is more vague. Additionally, Vindman claims that Mr. Trump mentioned the existence of recordings of Mr. Biden discussing issues of Ukrainian corruption, whereas the reconstructed transcript includes no such detail. Vindman testified that he tried to correct the record, but his corrections were ignored, which is unusual for official notes of conversations between the President and other officials. 

Embed from Getty Images

Additionally, previous witness testimony has alleged that reconstructed transcripts, including the one released by the White House in response to the whistleblower complaint, were stored in a top-secret computer system to which only a handful of individuals had access, in a break from traditional White House methods of handling this sort of information, suggesting that the White House intended to keep secret the details of this call among others even within its own administration. 

Vindman’s testimony doesn’t change investigators’ impression of the fundamental purpose of the call, but rather bolsters the accusation that the call represented an improper request for the Ukranian President to assist in Trump’s reelection campaign. As such, Vindman’s testimony simply adds to the increasingly convincing collection of evidence procured by Congress, enabling the rapid transition towards the public phase of the impeachment inquiry. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, one of the House of Representatives’ main investigators, has declined to take legal action against White House officials who have refused to comply with subpoenas, instead relying on the testimonies of others, including diplomats Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker. Democrats have stated that they want to complete their impeachment investigation quickly, and given the substantial amount of evidence already available to investigators, the testimonies from witnesses who have refused to cooperate with subpoenas are considered unnecessary.

Embed from Getty Images

Although Republicans have decried the impeachment inquiry as an illegitimate and partisan attack on the President fueled by lingering resentment about the outcome of the 2016 election, Democrats’ actions have nonetheless plunged the GOP into chaos, as their defenses of the President’s conduct have become increasingly strained. During Vindman’s testimony, a shouting match between Democratic and Republican representatives reportedly erupted, and last week Republicans attempted to physically obstruct witness testimony, refusing to leave a secure hearing room during a scheduled closed-door proceeding. Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate have generally been uncharacteristically quiet about the specific accusations, claiming that they are reserving judgment until the trial.

Republican protests to the impeachment proceedings have generally been specious — talking points have included the claim that the President is being robbed of due process rights, that the House never voted to formalize the inquiry, and that Republicans have been denied access to witness testimonies. All of these complaints have been addressed by Pelosi’s announcement of a vote to formalize proceedings. Nancy Pelosi has called for a vote tomorrow, October 31st, on a resolution to formalize rules for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry, which would allow Republicans to call witnesses, make witness testimony public, and allow Trump’s lawyers to present a formal defense of him. 

While Republicans in the House of Representatives are likely to continue to decry the proceedings despite these concessions, the Democratic majority in the House ensures that impeachment is all but certain. Only time will tell, however, whether the Senate will decide to remove the President from office, which requires a two-thirds majority vote, meaning 20 Republican senators would have to break ranks with the President, an unlikely but possible scenario.