UPDATE – White House aide says Trump's Ukraine call 'improper'

ADDS FURTHER DETAILS THROUGHOUT

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – A top White House official with the National Security Council told lawmakers Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump's July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart was "improper" and "inappropriate."

"It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent," Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's director of European affairs, told the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee.

During the call, Trump repeatedly pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open a corruption probe into Democratic front-runner Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, asking for a "favor." He additionally asked Zelensky to probe a conspiracy theory that seeks to submit that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered in the 2016 White House race.

Vindman was testifying alongside Jennifer Williams, a career State Department official who is Vice President Mike Pence's top Russia adviser.

Their testimonies come as the House opened its second week of public testimony, hearing for the first time in open session from individuals with first-hand knowledge of the conversation which has been at the heart of the ongoing impeachment probe.

Vindman said he was among the White House staffers in the Situation Room who listened in on the "inappropriate" call.

"It was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 elections, the Bidens and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play," he said, referring to the company on whose board Biden's son sat, Burisma Holdings.

Williams said the call was the first time she heard a president asking Ukraine to open a criminal probe, calling the conversation "unusual."

"In contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter," she said.

"I thought that the references to specific individuals and investigations such as former Vice President Biden and his son struck me as political in nature, given that the former vice president is a political opponent of the president."

When asked if the request was designed to help with Trump's re-election, Williams deferred, declining to speculate on Trump’s motive.

On Sunday, Trump lashed out at Williams on his favorite medium, Twitter, saying "she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!"

Asked to respond during her testimony, Williams denied being involved in any sort of effort that the president alleged.

"It certainly surprised me," William said, referring to the tweet. "I was not expecting to be called out by name."

The Democrat-led impeachment process is investigating whether Trump abused the power of his office in seeking to have Zelensky open corruption probes into the Bidens as well as the hold-up of $400 million in congressionally-appropriated military aid.

Trump and his Republican allies have denied that wrongdoing took place, maintaining the aid holdup was unrelated to Trump's desire to have the Ukrainian leader investigate his political opponent.

Three witnesses, including the U.S.'s ousted top diplomat to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified last week.

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