Schiff's Star Witness Reportedly Tried To Have Ukraine Call Transcript Edited


Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s top expert on Ukraine and Tuesday’s star witness in House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, testified that he attempted to have the reconstructed transcripts of President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky edited, according to a report in the New York Times.

The Times’ report stated that Vindman claimed, during his testimony before Rep. Adam Schiff’s impeachment inquiry, that the transcript of the call left out certain words and phrases.

While some of his edits were successfully inserted, according to The Times, two purported omissions in particular were highlighted: “Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.”

As The Times recounted it, neither of the edits would have changed the context of the July 25 call, which remains at the heart of the House’s impeachment inquiry.

However, The Times’ report claimed that “Colonel Vindman’s account offered a hint to solving a mystery surrounding the conversation: what Mr. Trump’s aides left out of the transcript in places where ellipses indicated dropped words.”

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On the third set of ellipses, Vindman testified, Trump talked about a recording of Biden discussing Ukrainian corruption. As The Times noted, this was “an apparent reference to Mr. Biden’s comments at a January 2018 event about his effort to get Ukraine to force out its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin.”

As for the elided mention of Burisma in the conversation, the transcript shows Zelensky referring to it as “the company.” To put that into context, after Trump discusses the Bidens, Zelensky says that when his new top prosecutor is appointed by the Ukraine Parliament, they “will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue” — an obvious reference to Burisma.

The rough timeline plays out thusly, according to The Times: Since there was no recording of the call on the American end, voice recognition software was used to make a transcription of it. However, since the software can often miss or mangle certain things, especially names and technical phrases, the hard copy is turned over to others for edits and corrections.

Vindman had included his suggested edits to his superior, National Security Council Russia and Europe director Timothy Morrison, The Times reported. However, after he turned in the edits, he went to the NSC’s legal adviser, John A. Eisenberg, with his qualms about the call.

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Vindman had already twice made objections to how Trump’s team was acting toward the Ukrainian government, according to The Times. He once confronted Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about pressuring the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens and reported his unease with the July 25 call to a superior.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman said during testimony Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

“I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained,” he said at another point, according to the AP.

Eisenberg had also been the one who moved the transcript over to the secure server after the call in order to prevent leaking, according to The Times. This process would have made the document more difficult to edit, however — and, in the case of the Ukraine call, almost impossible.

Vindman didn’t elaborate on the nature of his conversation with Eisenberg, citing attorney-client privilege, The Times reported. Vindman also declined to offer a motive for why his edits weren’t approved.

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The report of omissions also became a key media theme on Tuesday as the story spread:

The headlines ranged from the straightforward (The Times’ “White House Ukraine Expert Sought to Correct Transcript of Trump Call”) to the suggestive (“Official Reveals Trump’s ‘Exact Call’ With Zelensky Was Edited Down,” New York Magazine) to the explicitly malicious (“Lt. Col. Vindman testifies that Trump—Zelensky call transcript is seriously incomplete,” Daily Kos).

Except that it isn’t “incomplete.”

For something that became such a major part of the news cycle on Tuesday, Vindman’s proposed edits wouldn’t have substantially changed the call. Trump talking about the recording of Biden talking about corruption wouldn’t have changed the complexion of what was being said. Neither would Zelensky saying “Burisma” as opposed to “the company.” If you didn’t know what company he was talking about, you’re clearly new to this whole impeachment inquiry story.

The Times’ report made it fairly clear: “The phrases do not fundamentally change lawmakers’ understanding of the call.” None of this is new or exciting information. But the idea that the inquiry is getting somewhere sure makes great copy, doesn’t it?

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture