White House official corroborates diplomat’s account that Trump appeared to seek quid pro quo

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OCTOBER 31, 2019

Tim Morrison, a former top national security adviser to President Trump, arrives on Capitol Hill Thursday for a closed-door meeting with House impeachment investigators. – J. Scott Applewhite/AP

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tim Morrison, the top Russia and Europe adviser on President Trump’s National Security Council, on Thursday corroborated the testimony of a senior U.S. diplomat who last week offered House impeachment investigators the most detailed account to date for how Trump tried to use his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, according to people familiar with his deposition.

Morrison told impeachment investigators that the account offered by William B. Taylor Jr., the acting ambassador to Ukraine, is accurate. He said that he alerted Taylor to a push by Trump and his deputies to withhold both security aid and a White House visit for the Ukrainian president until Ukraine agreed to investigate the Bidens and interference in the 2016 presidential election, said one person, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive discussions.

Morrison, who told colleagues Wednesday that he plans to leave the Trump administration, said he did not necessarily view the president’s demands as improper or illegal, but rather problematic for U.S. policy in supporting an ally in the region.

As Morrison gave his deposition Thursday, the House voted to formalize its impeachment inquiry, with a 232-196 vote split mostly along party lines. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement attacking the proceedings as a violation of the president’s due process and declaring that Trump did nothing wrong.

“The Democrats want to render a verdict without giving the Administration a chance to mount a defense. That is unfair, unconstitutional, and fundamentally un-American,” the statement reads.

Morrison’s testimony was sought because of his proximity to critical White House decisions and recurring presence in testimony from previous U.S. officials. House investigators have also requested testimony from Morrison’s boss, former national security adviser John Bolton.

(Pictured) Donald Trump, accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaks on Oct. 23 in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Morrison corroborated that he spoke with Taylor at least twice in early September. The first conversation was to alert him that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had told the Ukrainians that no U.S. aid would be forthcoming until they announced an investigation of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that had hired Biden’s son Hunter, a person familiar with the matter said.

Morrison also told lawmakers that he spoke with Taylor again on Sept. 7 to share a “sinking feeling” about a worrisome conversation between Trump and Sondland, the person said. Morrison said that, during that conversation, Trump said he wasn’t seeking a “quid pro quo” but went on to insist that Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky had to publicly announce that he was opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.

Robert Luskin, an attorney for Sondland, said that Sondland never mentioned Biden by name and did not know that Burisma was linked to the vice president’s son.

Despite confirming Taylor’s account about the pressure placed on Ukraine, Morrison did not come off during his closed-door testimony as outraged or particularly troubled by the effort, said people familiar with his deposition.

Yet Morrison twice reached out to the National Security Council’s attorneys with apparent concerns about Trump’s conversations pertaining to Ukraine policy, according to various witness’ testimony. People familiar with his deposition said that Morrison reported the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky — as another White House official, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, had done. In September, Morrison also alerted NSC lawyers about a separate conversation between Trump and Sondland, according to Taylor’s testimony to Congress, though his rationale remains unclear.

Democrats hope Morrison’s testimony will take away an often-cited Republican complaint that many of the accounts from U.S. officials describing a quid pro quo are secondhand. Taylor mentioned Morrison’s name 15 times in the 15-page opening statement of his congressional testimony, portraying him as an official often in the know about critical U.S. policy in Ukraine.

Morrison has been on the job for about 15 months, having joined the National Security Council during Bolton’s tenure as national security adviser. In a statement on Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said Morrison “decided to pursue other opportunities — and has been considering doing so for some time.”

Morrison has been brief with lawmakers about why he is leaving the White House and appears uncomfortable answering those questions, said people familiar with his testimony.

To replace Morrison, the White House has hired Andrew Peek, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, said a person familiar with the decision.

Morrison’s departure from the National Security Council removes an important vestige of Bolton’s tenure in the administration. Bolton handpicked Morrison to join the NSC because of his shared opposition to arms-control agreements, which both men consider an unacceptable constraint on American power. Morrison was initially brought on as the senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense.

He is a staunch foe of nuclear nonproliferation advocates, who view arms control accords as the only workable means to reducing the risk of nuclear war and managing defense budgets.

During his tenure, Morrison oversaw the U.S. withdrawal from the Reagan-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and continued to look for ways the United States could pull out of other nuclear accords.

This summer, Morrison urged Republican offices not to support an amendment to a defense authorization bill encouraging the administration to extend a landmark nuclear arms-reduction treaty known as New START, which will expire in February 2021.

In July, Morrison replaced Fiona Hill — who also testified in the impeachment inquiry — as the president’s top Russia adviser.

Taylor testified that Morrison told him Trump didn’t want to provide “any assistance at all” to Ukraine.

“That was extremely troubling to me,” Taylor said, adding, “If the policy of strong support for Ukraine were to change, I would have to resign. Based on my call with Mr. Morrison, I was preparing to do so.”


Courtesy/Source: Washington Post

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