Two White House officials challenged Trump’s claim that his call with Ukraine’s president was “perfect.”
Two senior national security officials at the White House challenged Mr. Trump’s description of his call with the Ukraine president as “perfect,” testifying on Tuesday about how concerned they were as they listened in real time to Mr. Trump appealing for investigations into a political rival.
Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran and the top Ukraine official at the National Security Council, testified that he was so disturbed by the call that he reported it to the council’s top lawyer.
“What I heard was inappropriate, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg,” Colonel Vindman said in a halting statement, referring to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer at the National Security Council. “It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent.”
Anticipating attacks from critics, Colonel Vindman said he expressed his concerns “in official channels” through his chain of command, adding that “my intent was to raise these concerns because they had significant national security implications for our country.”
Jennifer Williams, a national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, said she found the president’s call unusual because it included discussion of a “domestic political matter.”
The pair is kicking off three days of testimony from nine diplomats and national security officials as Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee continue to build their case that Mr. Trump tried to extort Ukraine by withholding security aid until the government agreed to announce investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden.
The top White House Ukraine expert denounced as “vile” attacks on impeachment witnesses.
Colonel Vindman used his opening statement before impeachment investigators to denounce the attacks leveled by President Trump and his allies against those who have appeared, or are scheduled to testify, in the impeachment inquiry.
“The vile character attacks on these distinguished and honorable public servants is reprehensible,” Colonel Vindman said.
His remarks came after Mr. Trump has lashed out repeatedly against witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, disparaging their records and calling them “Never Trumpers” who are trying to take him down. Amid the threats, the Army has been assessing potential security threats to Colonel Vindman and his brother Yevgeny, who also works at the National Security Council. There have also been discussions about moving the Vindmans and their families on to a military base for their protection, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
The colonel, who came to the United States as a refugee at the age of 3, referred to his family’s history in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, noting that in Russia, “offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life.”
“Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” Colonel Vindman said. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
Colonel Vindman was one of the officials who listened in to Mr. Trump’s July 25 phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and privately expressed concerns about it. On Tuesday, he was to testify that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was among the “disruptive actors” who were “promoting false information that undermined the United States’ Ukraine policy.”
He said the National Security Council and other agencies, including the State Department, “grew increasingly concerned about the impact that such information was having on our country’s ability to achieve our national security objectives.”
Colonel Vindman played down the decision by White House officials to put the Trump-Zelensky call transcript on a secure server.
Colonel Vindman on Tuesday downplayed the decision by White House lawyers to put the transcript of Mr. Trump’s July 25 call on a secure server, saying that “I didn’t take it as anything nefarious” on the part of the officials.
“I think it was intended to prevent leaks and limit access,” he said.
He also discounted the importance of two words being left out of the reconstructed transcript of the call. Colonel Vindman has said that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine used the word “Burisma” in reference to a company that employed Hunter Biden, former vice president’s son.
The word was not included, however, in the transcript that was later released by the White House. Colonel Vindman said the transcript also did not include Mr. Trump’s use of the word “recordings,” a reference he said was to video of the former vice president.
But Colonel Vindman called the missing words “administrative errors” that “might be meaningful but not that big of a deal.”
Williams declined to publicly answer questions about Pence call, saying it is classified.
The lawyer for Ms. Williams told lawmakers that she could not answer questions about a September 18 call between Vice President Mike Pence and the president of Ukraine because the White House has determined that it was classified.
In her closed-door deposition, Ms. Williams answered questions about the call, telling lawmakers that the two had a “very positive” discussion and that there was no discussion about investigations that Mr. Trump wanted.
Ms. Williams said on Tuesday that she would be willing to answer questions in a classified setting or in writing to the committee.
A decorated Iraq war veteran expressed deep concern about Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign.
Colonel Vindman arrived at the hearing room in his dark blue Army dress uniform with military ribbons on his chest. Democrats are betting that Mr. Trump’s defenders will have a difficult time dismissing the testimony of a Ukrainian-American immigrant who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq by a roadside bomb.
Colonel Vindman’s testimony was filled with declarations of duty and patriotism as he described his concern at learning that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was leading a pressure campaign on Ukraine to announce the investigations that Mr. Trump wanted.
“The uniform I wear today is that of the United States Army,” he said. “We do not serve any particular political party, we serve the nation. I am humbled to come before you today as one of many who serve in the most distinguished and able military in the world.”
Republicans were hoping to portray Colonel Vindman’s strong opinions about the president’s call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, as just that — his own opinions about a telephone call for which a reconstructed transcript has already been released. They have signaled they intend to point out that the president makes no mention of security aid during the call.
In his opening statement, Colonel Vindman insisted that he did not have a partisan motivation when he reported his concerns about the pressure campaign on Ukraine to his superior.
“My only thought was to act properly and to carry out duty,” he said. “I focused on what I have done throughout my career, promoting America’s national security interests.”
Trump’s Ukraine envoy will say he was out of the loop, while a national security aide says he heard nothing illegal on President Trump’s call.
Kurt D. Volker, President Trump’s special envoy for Ukraine, will testify Tuesday afternoon that he was out of the loop as Mr. Giuliani effectively sought to pressure Ukraine for investigations of the Bidens. Other witnesses, however, have challenged Mr. Volker’s testimony, describing him as a member of a trio known inside the Trump administration as the “three amigos,” who were running a shadow foreign policy on Ukraine with Rick Perry, the energy secretary, and Gordon D. Sondland, a Trump megadonor and the United States ambassador to the European Union.
Mr. Volker will be joined on the afternoon panel by Timothy Morrison, a longtime Republican congressional aide who has previously testified about a conversation between the president and Mr. Sondland in which Mr. Trump insisted that Ukraine must publicly announce investigations.
But Republicans plan to focus on Mr. Morrison’s assessment of the president’s July 25 call with Mr. Zelensky. Mr. Morrison told lawmakers that he heard nothing illegal as he listened to the call, though he was concerned that it could leak and cause political problems.
Catch up on some important background on the impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump repeatedly pressured Mr. Zelensky to investigate people and issues of political concern to Mr. Trump, including the former vice president. Here’s a timeline of events since January.
A C.I.A. officer who was once detailed to the White House filed a whistle-blower complaint on Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Zelensky. Read the complaint.