Pence aide testified that Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine were 'inappropriate'

Source: Politico | November 16, 2019 | Andrew Desiderio and Melanie Zanona

Jennifer Williams told investigators that she took notes while she listened in on Trump’s July 25 phone call.

A top national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence told House impeachment investigators that President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents were “unusual and inappropriate,” and “shed some light on possible other motivations” for the president’s order to freeze military aid to the U.S. ally.

Jennifer Williams, who serves as Pence’s special adviser for Europe and Russia, told investigators in early November that she took notes while she listened in on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from the White House Situation Room, adding that she viewed Trump’s requests for investigations as politically motivated.

“I found the specific references to be — to be more specific to the president in nature, to his personal political agenda, as opposed to a broader … foreign policy objective of the United States,” Williams said, according to a transcript of her closed-door deposition released Saturday.

Williams also told investigators that she put a hard copy of the call transcript in Pence’s briefing book, but did not know whether he had read it.

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Williams testified she was told that Trump asked Pence not to attend Zelensky’s inauguration in May — a month after initially asking the vice president to travel to Kyiv for the event. She added that she was never given an explanation for the reversal.

Williams first-hand account details a White House and a U.S. national security apparatus deeply troubled about what appeared to be an inexplicable reversal of the Trump administration’s posture toward Ukraine, a U.S. strategic ally subject to Moscow’s malign influence in the region. And her testimony will likely add more weight to Democrats’ case that Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign was motivated by his personal political interests — rather than a desire to root out corruption, as the president and his allies have argued.

In her hand-written notes, Williams jotted down that Zelensky specifically mentioned Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where Biden’s son, Hunter, was a board member. But a summary of the call put out by the White House makes no mention of Burisma.

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Another key unanswered question in the impeachment probe has centered on Pence’s role in the Ukraine saga. Investigators have sought to learn whether — and when — Pence knew that Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani were specifically seeking investigations into the Bidens.

Pence ended up traveling to Warsaw for a Sept. 1 meeting with Zelensky in place of Trump. Williams, who accompanied the vice president to the meeting, told investigators that the very first question Zelensky asked was about the freeze on security assistance. Pence and his staff had anticipated and prepped for the question, since POLITICO had recently published an article on the hold.

Pence told Zelensky that the U.S. fully supports Ukraine, but said he wanted an update on corruption reform efforts “that he could then convey back to the president,” according to Williams. Pence also said he wanted to “hear if there was more that European countries could do to support Ukraine.”

Zelensky responded by saying that “any hold or appearance of reconsideration of such assistance might embolden Russia to think that the United States was no longer committed to Ukraine.”

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