In Brief

Impeachment witnesses recall ‘unusual’ phone call

First direct public testimony of Ukraine call puts fresh pressure on US president

Key witnesses in the impeachment inquiry have described an “unusual” and “inappropriate” call between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president in July.

In the first public testimony to offer a direct description of the July call in which US President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for a political “favour,” Lt Col Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine adviser on the National Security Council, said: “What I heard was inappropriate and I reported it. I did so out of a sense of duty.”

“It was improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigation of a US citizen and a political opponent,” he added, in a statement described as “powerful” by onlookers.

He added that Trump’s request for a favour would be received as a demand by Ukraine’s leader because of the considerable power imbalance between the two nations.

Jennifer Williams, a security adviser on Europe and Russia to Mike Pence, the vice-president, said she found the president’s call unusual because it “involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter”.

Trump denies wrongdoing and has dismissed both witnesses on Twitter as “Never Trumpers”. Ron Johnson, a Republican senator close to Mr Trump, compared Colonel Vindman yesterday to the “bureaucrats” who “never accepted Trump as legitimate”.

However, Vindman said the character attacks by Trump and his supporters were “vile and reprehensible”.

The House of Representatives is exploring the impeachment of Trump after a whistleblower claimed that the president withheld US military aid in an attempt to force President Zelensky to investigate the family of Joe Biden, a political rival.

Today, the US ambassador to the European Union, the wealthy Republican donor Gordon Sondland, will give evidence about a call he allegedly made to the president while dining in a Kiev restaurant. 

CNN says his testimony in the House of Representatives could be “the defining moment of the entire impeachment drama”.

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