11/1/2019 1:11:00 PM Ex-Trump aide testifies that military aid to Ukraine linked to Biden probe
WASHINGTON (AP) — A former top White House official confirmed that military aid to Ukraine was held up by President Donald Trump’s demand for the ally to investigate Democrats and Joe Biden but testified that there’s nothing illegal, in his view, about the quid pro quo at the center of the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry.
Tim Morrison, who stepped down from the National Security Council the day before his Thursday testimony, was the first White House political appointee to appear and spent more than eight hours behind closed doors with House investigators.
“I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed,” Morrison said about a pivotal phone call between Trump and the Ukraine president, according to prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.
Late Thursday, Trump tweeted about Morrison’s comment that no law was broken: “Thank you to Tim Morrison for your honesty.”
But Morrison also confirmed what diplomat William Taylor told investigators in earlier testimony — that Morrison had a “sinking feeling” when he learned that Trump was asking the Ukrainians to publicly announce an investigation of Biden and the Democrats, even as the Republican president denied it was a quid pro quo.
“I can confirm,” Morrison wrote, that the substance of the diplomat’s testimony “is accurate.”
Morrison told investigators that he and Taylor did not realize the money was being withheld for the investigation of Burisma, the gas company connected to Biden, until a conversation with European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland in September.
“Taylor and I had no reason to believe that the release of the security sector assistance might be conditioned on a public statement reopening the Burisma investigation until my Sept. 1, 2019, conversation with Ambassador Sondland,” Morrison testified.
A defense hawk, Morrison was the National Security Council’s top adviser for Russian and European affairs until he stepped down Wednesday. He was brought into the White House by John Bolton, the former national security adviser who was critical of Trump’s Ukraine policy and the back-channel diplomacy being run by the Republican president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Morrison testified that he was told by his predecessor, Fiona Hill, who also testified in the impeachment inquiry, that Giuliani and Sondland were trying to get Ukraine President Voldymyr Zelenskiy “to reopen investigations into Burisma.”
Bolton resigned in September, and Morrison had similarly been expected to leave for some time. “I do not want anyone to think there is a connection between my testimony today and my pending departure,” he wrote.
As a national security adviser, Morrison was among those listening to Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian leader that sparked a whistleblower’s complaint and the impeachment inquiry.
He said he asked NSC lawyers to review the call because he had three concerns if word of the discussion leaked: how it would play out in polarized Washington, how it would affect bipartisan support in Congress for Ukraine and how it would affect U.S.-Ukraine relations.
Republican lawmakers portrayed the opening remarks of the longtime GOP policy operative as shifting the debate favorably toward Trump. They said Morrison’s opening statement contradicted other witnesses, but they did not provide details.
“It’s a very compelling witness today that is giving testimony that contradicts some of the testimony we heard,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
Another Republican, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, said, “When you all see what he had to say, it will be interesting.”
Democrats, though, have said the witnesses are largely corroborating the central argument of the impeachment inquiry — that aid to Ukraine was being withheld as the Trump administration pushed the young democracy for the political investigation. It is against the law to seek or receive assistance of value from a foreign entity in a U.S. election.