Former U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, and Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s former senior director covering Russia and Ukraine, and previously a longtime Republican congressional staffer, were called to testify by Republicans. They were supposed to be their star witnesses.
Instead, these witnesses blew up the conspiracy theories being propagated by Republicans in the impeachment hearings, and implicated Donald Trump by confirming the testimony of other witnesses that aid to Ukraine was conditioned on making a public announcement of investigations into the 2016 election, and Burisma (Hunter Biden).
Chris Cillizza at CNN describes how Kurt Volker had to amend his prior deposition testimony. How Republicans’ star impeachment witness turned on them:
Former US Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker was widely seen as Republicans’ impeachment ace in the hole. On Tuesday on Capitol Hill, it didn’t work out that way.
Volker’s opening statement repeatedly acknowledged that statements he made during his October 3 closed-door deposition in front of House investigators had been not fully informed. And that, in the six weeks between that first appearance and his public appearance before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, much had changed that forced him to also revise and extend his original contentions.<
Among the key changes Volker made to his original testimony:
*He acknowledged that he lacked a full understanding of the fact that many people involved in the Trump administration’s push for an investigation into an Ukrainian natural gas company on whose board Joe Biden’s son, Hunter sat, viewed that pressure campaign as synonymous with a call to investigate the Bidens.
“I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company, ‘Burisma’ as equivalent to investigating former Vice President Biden,” said Volker. “I saw them as very different. The former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable.”
*Volker initially said that investigations into Trump’s conspiracy theories and the release of almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine were not mentioned in a July 10 meeting at the White House. But on Tuesday, Volker said he now knows that the investigations were mentioned.
*Volker said in his October testimony that any conversations with the Ukrainians about making an announcement on the opening of an investigation into the Bidens had ended in August. But on Tuesday, Volker acknowledged that US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland had told a top Ukrainian official on September 1 that he believed the military aid was tied to the announcement of an investigation.
No longer is Volker claiming — as he did in his original testimony — that there were no efforts on the part of the Americans to force the Ukrainians to announce an investigation had ended in August, long before the September 11 decision was made to release the hold on nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.
No longer is Volker claiming that the idea of investigations — into the Bidens and into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine somehow had meddled in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton and might be in possession of the hacked Democratic National Committee server — never came up in a White House meeting two weeks before the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
No longer is Volker claiming that no one thought the push by some members of the Trump administration to investigate Burisma had anything to do with investigating a potential 2020 presidential challenger to Trump.
All of which is a big change from what Volker said last month — and what Republicans had to expect he would say.
The Washington Post adds, Even Republicans’ preferred witnesses are implicating Trump:
Rep. Devin Nunes has been slavishly pushing Donald Trump’s false narratives: that Ukraine rather than Russia intervened in the 2016 election and that Joe Biden, as vice president, tried to protect a Ukrainian gas company that employed his son as a board member. Mr. Volker testified that the allegations against Mr. Biden were “not credible” and that asking for an investigation of him was “unacceptable.” As for the claims about Ukrainian interference in the election, he said, “I didn’t believe there was anything there to begin with.”
“I don’t think raising the 2016 election or Vice President Biden or these things I consider to be conspiracy theories are . . . things that we should be pursuing,” said the Republicans’ preferred witness.
Ambassador Volker, who said he has known Joe Biden for many years, gave a full throated endorsement of his honesty, integrity and character, entirely refuting the Republican smears. This was more effective than any campaign ad.
Mr. Volker [ostensibly] supported the Republican claim that there was not a direct quid pro quo between the political investigations Mr. Trump demanded and U.S. military aid or the White House meeting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted. But Mr. Volker described in detail how, in the attempt to set up a summit meeting, he tried to negotiate a statement by Mr. Zelensky promising investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company. While he maintained that he drew a distinction between investigating the company and Mr. Biden, Mr. Volker acknowledged that “most of the other people didn’t see . . . this distinction.”
As Aaron Blake of The Post notes, Volker’s assertion that there was not a direct quid pro quo is not believable given his proximity to events and his own role in effectuating it. This answer from Kurt Volker makes very little sense.
Tim Morrison confirmed that the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, had told him he had informed a senior aide to Mr. Zelensky that U.S. military aid would be withheld until the statement promising investigations was made. Mr. Sondland told Mr. Morrison about the connection a second time following a phone call between Mr. Sondland and Mr. Trump.
While Morrison, who was on the July 25 call between President Trump and President Zelensky, testified that he did not hear anything improper on the call. But he also testified that “I feared at the time of the call on July 25th how its disclosure would play in Washington’s political climate. My fears have been realized.”
If nothing improper happened on the call, then why did Morrison previously testify that he immediately spoke with lawyers at the NSC, asking them to review the call? He would not have gone to the lawyers if there was nothing to be concerned about. This does not pass the smell test.
Morrison testified that NSC legal adviser John Eisenberg decided to move the call transcript to a highly classified server, which he characterized as a “mistake” or an “administrative error” that hadn’t been fixed as of late September when the readout of the call was released by the White House.
This testimony is not believable. The protocols for moving materials to the highly classified server do not allow for a mistake or administrative error to occur. This was an attempt to coverup the call readout.
Lawfare blog breaks down a Summary of Tim Morrison’s Deposition Testimony (excerpt):
Morrison listened in on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky during which Trump asks Zelensky to pursue the Burisma investigation. He testified that he became concerned about the impact of the phone call on Ukrainian diplomacy but “was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed” at the time. Morrison did not know that the White House was “holding up” security-sector assistance, he said, until Deputy National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman informed him of this after Morrison took over from Ambassador Hill. He also said he has “no reason to believe” that Ukraine knew the funds were being held up until the news became public on Aug. 28.
* * *
Morrison became concerned about the contents of the call when he heard discussion of “the server,” at which point he grew worried that Hill had been right to be concerned about U.S.-Ukraine policy, as “the call was not the full-throated endorsement of the Ukraine reform agenda that [he] was hoping to hear.” He recalled “an oblique reference” to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as well as discussion of the Bidens and said that, immediately after the call, he brought his concerns to the NSC Legal Office asking them to review the call. His primary concern was not illegal activity, Morrison said, but rather what could happen if the call memo was leaked.
When asked by Schiff whether he thought the call was appropriate, Morrison claimed to have no view on the matter. Following up, Schiff asked whether Morrison was specifically concerned about how the mention of the Bidens would play politically. Morrison stated he did not think mentioning the Bidens was especially significant and was worried primarily that the call memo could erode bipartisan support for Ukraine in Congress. In response to majority questions, Morrison also said he was not concerned about Trump’s suggestion that Zelensky meet with Giuliani: He did not know at the time, he said, about Giuliani publicly advocating for investigations in Ukraine.
In sum, Morrison claimed he did not sense political ulterior motives behind the call at all. Schiff pressed him on this, asking whether it was unusual for him to go immediately to legal counsel after a call. After being asked several times, Morrison ultimately stated that this was not his usual practice.
After Morrison’s first conversation with NSC legal counsel, he recommended that access to the call package be restricted in order to prevent it from leaking. Eventually, he learned that the call transcript had been placed in a highly classified system—Morrison had tried to access the call transcript to help prepare the president for a planned meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw when he saw it was not there. He checked with NSC Legal Counsel John Eisenberg, who told him this was “a mistake.” After Morrison told Eisenberg to restrict access, Eisenberg had passed this instruction along to the executive secretary staff in the White House but that they must have incorrectly classified it. Morrison said he had envisioned restriction access to “by name” access, which does not involve a high level of classification.
Morrison was dissembling, trying to give the Republicans something to work with, but in the end he testified that there was a linkage between Ukrainian aid and the investigations Trump had requested in his phone call:
It was during this [Warsaw] visit, Morrison said, that he learned of Sondland’s visit with Yermak. He said he was not consulted on this meeting before it happened and after he learned about it from Sondland, he immediately wanted to call Ambassadors Bolton and Taylor as well as communicate the content of the meeting to NSC legal counsel. Sondland had told him his mandate from the president was to go make deals and that Hill had “thwarted him” in his earlier efforts to coordinate a meeting between Trump and Zelensky.
Morrison also recalled a Sept. 7 conversation with Sondland, during which Sondland conveyed that the president had told him that there was no quid pro quo arrangement, but that Sondland felt Zelensky should “go to the microphone and announce personally” his commitment to investigate Burisma and that a prosecutor general would be insufficient as a mouthpiece for this announcement. At this point, Morrison said, the political nature of the diplomatic efforts became clear; he had a sinking feeling because he did not think he could get the right people in the room with the president to get the aid released, and he did not think it was a good idea “for the Ukrainian President to … involve himself in our politics.”
This only confirmed the narrative of the testimony from other witnesses.
As Jennifer Rubin of The Post wryly notes, “These were supposed to be helpful witnesses for Trump. They plainly were not.” Republicans should have thought twice before calling Volker and Morrison.