House impeachment probe witness and the White House’s top Ukraine expert, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, with the help of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), was evasive in answering questions from Republicans during the colonel’s closed-door deposition late last month.
Schiff, the leader of the impeachment inquiry, repeatedly interrupted the Republicans, ordering the witness not to answer questions, according to the transcripts of Vindman’s October 23 testimony unveiled Friday.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Schiff and Vindman’s lawyer prevented the witness from answering several questions, including whom he spoke to after listening to the July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky that triggered the impeachment efforts.
The Democrats’ potential obstructions of justice by ordering Vindman to leave out details while testifying under oath suggest that the White House National Security Council (NSC) official focused on Ukraine may have shared information about the call with the so-called “whistleblower.”
Some Republicans have accused Schiff of coaching and coordinating with the “whistleblower,” believed to be anti-Trump, to damage the U.S. President. The “whistleblower” met with Schiff’s office.
Another question sidelined by the Democrats was whether Vindman intentionally worked to undermine Trump’s policy.
“You are interrupting us, and we have questions. He has counsel who can tell him he’s not to answer that,” Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told Schiff.
Republicans accused Schiff of obstructing the impeachment probe by “coaching” Vindman on what he could and could not say.
Vindman is the director of European Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) official who listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which ultimately triggered the impeachment probe.
Jordan asked Vindman, “Who else did you talk to following the July 25th call?”
“I reached out to a group of counterparts and informed them of a call. And, frankly, the reasoning behind it, I don’t think I could talk about in this context,” Vindman replied.
Rep. Swalwell (D-CA), one of Trump’s fiercest critics, ordered Vindman to stop answering Jordan’s questions, citing protecting the “whistleblower’s” identity as the reason.
“Chairman, I want to object that the question calls to reveal the whistleblower,” Swalwell interjected as Vindman was trying to respond to the question.
“I’m not asking about that, I’m just asking who this gentleman shared this information with,” Jordan proclaimed.
Justifying the blockade against specific Republican questions, however, the Democrats argued that they were merely trying to prevent Vindman from disclosing the identity of the whistleblower.
Col. Vindman, however, explicitly said in his opening remarks that he did not know who the whistleblower is and would not speculate on his identity.
Current law only prohibits the intelligence community inspector general (ICIG) who received the “whistleblower” complaint from revealing the leaker’s identity, National Public Radio (NPR) reported this week, citing legal experts.
Although the left-wing mainstream media refuses to do so, some conservative news outlets have mentioned the name of a CIA analyst floating around as the “whistleblower.” The leaker’s lawyers refuse to confirm or deny the name.
Vindman’s lawyers appeared obstructive when they prevented their client from answering questions relevant to the impeachment probe.
Lawyers are allowed to coach their witnesses to a certain extent, but the judge or a moderator, which appears to be the role Schiff is taking, is supposed to be neutral.
Former federal prosecutor Dan Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School, explained in an article published by Slate in March 2006:
Lawyers are under an ethical obligation to avoid coaching a witness in such a way that would distort his testimony. A prosecutor who violated this code might not face criminal and civil contempt citation … but she could find herself in front of a state ethics committee.
Rep. Devin Nunes from California, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, indicated that Schiff’s interference during Vindman’s deposition was unprecedented on Fox News.
Coaching witnesses to leave details out can amount to obstruction of justice, the Washington Post reported in January 1999, citing a memo from House prosecutors in President Clinton’s impeachment trial.
House Democrat impeachment investigators have accused Trump of engaging in a quid pro quo during the July 25 call in which he pressured Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in exchange for aid.
Trump, Ukraine, and some impeachment probe witnesses have denied the allegation. Other witnesses, however, presumed that a quid pro quo took place, citing second-hand knowledge.