“Ms. Williams, that’s not the question. How did it make you feel?”
“I guess for me it shed some light on possible other motivations behind a security assistance hold.”
It’s not a smoking gun, it’s more than that. It’s a smoldering crater.
A deposition transcript of Jennifer Williams, Special Advisor to the Vice President, was released last night:
PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE, joint with the
COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND REFORM
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS,
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
DEPOSITION OF: JENNIFER WILLIAMS
Q Was there any discussion of the reason for the hold in that small group?
Q No. I mean, it seems a litt1e odd that there’s this hold in place that’s been in place since July 3, as you said, the entire interagency supports lifting the hold, the Vice President anticipates getting questions about it from President Zelensky, but there’s no discussion of like why are we even doing this, like why is this hold in place?
A That’s correct.
Q Okay. Are you familiar with a firsthand on first-person cable that Ambassador Taylor drafted and sent to Secretary Pompeo, and that we believe was further distributed possibly to the White House?
A I am. I’ve read the cable.
Q Were you on the distribution of the cable?
A I received it, I believe, from State Department colleagues, but not on the original distribution, since it was a limited cable that went straight to the Secretary’s office.
Q Do you remember who sent it to you or how you got it?
A I don’t recall, to be honest. It might have been from NSC colleagues.
Q Do you recall what the cable said?
A It was a cable outlining Ambassador Taylor’s rationale on the importance of our U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, and why it was important for the security assistance to continue to flow.
Q Do you recall him saying that the hold was folly?
Q Do you recall anything else that he said, on any other recommendations that he made?
A It was a lengthy cable. I don’t remember it verbatim, but I thought it was a very persuasive case.
Q Do you remember approximately when you received a copy of it, on obtained a copy of it? Was it before the Warsaw bilat?
A It was certainly before the Warsaw trip, because I recall reading it in the process of preparing for the trip. I don’t recall the precise date, but it would have been around that timeframe, end of August.
Q And I believe you testified that prior to the July 25 call, you had listened in on about a dozen other calls between President Trump and other foreign heads of state. Is that night?
A Probably, around that number.
Q Okay. During the July 25 call, did you have any concerns about the conversation that you heard between President Trump and President Zelensky?
A I certainly noted that the mention of those specific investigations seemed unusual as compared to other discussions with foreign leaders.
Q And why were they unusual?
A I believed those references to be more political in nature and so that struck me as unusual.
Q Were you involved in preparing talking points for President Trump for that July 25 call?
Q Okay. Did you see the call package on talking points in advance of the call?
Q So you just — you learned about the call and were asked to participate in it?
Q Okay. As you were sitting in the Situation Room and you were taking notes, did you notice whether other people were taking notes?
A Yes, others were taking notes as well.
Q Do you recall who took notes during the call?
A I believe everybody in the room was taking notes, yes.
Q Okay. Prior to the July 25 call, you said that these things, the investigations that you said were political and unusual, had you even heard President Trump or anybody else in the Office of the Vice President on the White House raise the issue of CrowdStrike or the Ukrainian server?
Q. I mean, on the DNC server?
Q So that was — that struck you as — that was something new?
A I had never heard the word “CrowdStrike” before, so that’s why it struck me as noteworthy.
Q Okay. And what about the — President Trump’s raising the issue of the 2016 election during the call? Had there been discussion in the Office of the Vice President or the White House, to your knowledge, about concerns about possible Ukrainian interference in the 2O16 U.S. Presidential election? Had you heard anything —
A No, not to my knowledge.
Q Okay. So that wasn’t anything that was part of the official U.S. policy channel?
Q What about investigating the Bidens?
A I had never heard discussion of that issue prior to that phone call.
Q Okay. Do you recall what language President Zelensky was speaking during the phone call?
A I don’t. My understanding, he’s more comfortable in Russian. But not speaking either Ukrainian on Russian, I can’t confirm that.
Q Well, was he speaking English —
Q — the whole time?
A No. The call was interpreted on both sides.
Q So in your other calls with — that you listened in on between President Trump and foreign heads of state, had any other issues that you would describe as political been raised, on domestic political issues been raised in those calls?
Q How did General Kellogg react when President Trump raised these political issues on the July 25 call?
A I didn’t sense any reaction. We were all really just focused on taking notes.
Q Did you notice a reaction from anyone in the room?
A No. Honestly, we were all petty busy taking notes in the moment, and we didn’t have any follow-on conversations about it.
Q And I believe you testified you never spoke to General Kellogg about the call afterwards?
A I did not.
Q Did you speak to anybody about the fact that you found these — the call unusual on that political issues had come up in a call with a foreign leader?
A No, I did not.
Q Were you aware of whether Ambassador Vo1ken on Ambassador Sondland had prepared the Ukrainians to expect President Trump to raise these political issues on the call? Were you aware of that?
A I was not aware of that.
Q So you weren’t aware of like text messages and phone conversations they were having with Andrey Yenmak behind the scenes?
Q Okay. Were you aware, after the Warsaw bilat in September, of a proposal to have President Zelensky do a televised interview during which he would announce the investigations into 2016 election interference, Burisma, on the Bidens? Were you aware of that?
A No, I was not aware of that.
Q So there was no discussions of that in the official Ukraine policy — policymaking channel?
Q No, okay. Now, I believe minority counsel had asked you that — or maybe it was Mr. Meadows had asked about the fact that after the bilat in Warsaw, Vice President Pence was going to call President Trump to relay, I guess, the positive feedback he got from President Ze1ensky. Did you participate in that phone call that night?
A No, I didn’t.
Q Okay. Do you know that a phone call did occur though between the Vice President and the President?
A I believe he did have a phone call with the President, but, again, I don’t know what topics they discussed.
Q Okay. But President Trump didn’t — after that phone call did not immediately release the hold on the security assistance, did he?
Q It wasn’t until about 10 days later that the hold was lifted?
A That’s connect.
Q And I believe you testified that it was on September 9, so 2 days before the hold was lifted, that you became aware that the Congress had launched an investigation into the freeze and the Ukrainian issues more generally. Is that night?
A I believe so. I can’t recall if it was the 9th or the 10th, but, yes it was before the hold was lifted
Q Was that investigation discussed within the Office of the Vice President?
Q Did you have any discussions with General Kellogg about the investigation?
A No. I’m trying to remember where I learned of it, but, no, I didn’t have any conversations.
Q Okay. Are you aware of the call between Vice President Pence and President Zelensky on September 18?
Q What was the purpose of that call?
A The purpose was to follow up on his successful meeting with President Zelensky on September 1, and to reiterate the news that the security assistance hold had been lifted, and that the security assistance would be provided. We knew at that point that President Zelensky was already aware that the security assistance would be
released. But because the Vice President had a successful meeting with President Zelensky, it was a good opportunity for them to have a follow-on conversation.
Q And did you listen in on the call?
Q Can you describe the conversation for us?
A Sure. It was a very positive discussion, again, kind of following up on their successful meeting from September 1, as well as, at that point, I believe it was just prior to President Trump’s first meeting with President Zelensky in New York, which, I believe, took place the following week. So it was a good opportunity to kind of bridge that gap and to convey that the President — President Trump was looking forward to meeting President Zelensky in New York the following week, and the Vice President reiterated the news that the security assistance had been released.
MR. RASKIN: Some people would say that diplomacy itself is inherently political, and so everything diplomatic is, by definition, political a1so, but you had a strong reaction to that. Can you spe1l out what you saw as improperly political about those mentions?
MS. WILLIAMS: I believe 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 —
MR. RASKIN: Do you mean related to a campaign?
MS. WILLIAMS: Potentially, as opposed to a broader foreign policy objective of the United States.
MR. RASKIN: Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chainman.
MR. HECK: Thank you, Mr. Chainman. Ms. Wi11iams, thank you again very much for being here. I actually want to briefly follow up on a question that Congressman Swalwell asked. He asked you how it made you feel when you heard the President in the July 25th call invoke the specter of investigations for which you’ve now characterized as personal political interest. And your response to that was that you found them unusual and political. But the question was how did it make you feel? Given that what you’ve just said, would it be fair to infer that it made you
MS. WILLIAMS: I guess I would say, as a diplomatic professional, I try to keep my own personal feelings out of, you know, the day-to-day work, but —
MR. HECK: You had no personal feeling response to that, given how you’ve characterized it?
MS. WILLIAMS: Again, I would say that it struck me as unusual and inappropriate.
MR. HECK: Ms. Williams, that’s not the question. How did it make you feel?
MS. WILLIAIMS: I guess for me it shed some light on possible other motivations behind a security assistance hold.
Q The information you received from Marc Short’s assistant on May 13th — was that the day?
Q You were told by Marc Short’s assistant that the VP was not going on the trip?
Q And did the assistant — I think you said it was a she, right?
Q Did she explain why on how she came to learn that?
A My best recollection is that she informed me that the VP would not be traveling to Ukraine for the inauguration. And I asked her, why not? And my best recollection is that she then let me know that the President had determined that the Vice President should not go.