Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council official, testified side-by-side before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday about the events at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Volker said he had no knowledge of any efforts to urge Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.
Morrison was the third witness testifying Tuesday who listened in on President Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He said he wasn’t concerned about the content of the call, but he did worry there would be “political consequences” if more people had access to the call summary.
Republicans also questioned Morrison about his closed-door testimony, in which he raised questions about the judgment of another witness, Alexander Vindman, who is the White House National Security Council Ukraine expert. After Fiona Hill left the NSC, it was Morrison who took over, and Vindman reported to him.
Here are some of the highlights:
- “My fears have been realized”
Morrison told the Intelligence Committee, “I feared at the time of the call on July 25 how its disclosure would play in Washington’s political climate. My fears have been realized.”
He begged lawmakers “not to lose sight of” the ongoing Ukraine conflict or the illegal occupation by Russia of Crimea, and work to reform Ukraine. “Every day that the focus of discussion of Ukraine is centered on these proceedings instead of those matters is a day when we are not focused on the interests” mutually shared by Ukraine and the U.S., he warned.
2. Never urged Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden
“At no time was I aware of or knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden,” Volker said in his opening statement. “As you know from the extensive, real-time documentation I have provided, Vice President Biden was not a topic of our discussions. I was not on the July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelenskyy. I was not made aware of any reference to Vice President Biden or his son by President Trump until the transcript of that call was released on September 25, 2019.”
Volker later said he would have “objected” to Ukraine opening an investigation into Biden and did not realize Mr. Trump saw the request to investigate Ukrainian energy company Burisma as tantamount to investigating Biden until he heard the July 25 call.
“I think the allegations against Vice President Biden are self-serving and not credible,” Volker said. Volker reiterated that he saw the investigations into Burisma and into Biden as separate but that in retrospect, he understood how Ukrainian officials could be confused.
3. “Not some irregular channel”
Volker disputed the notion that he had been a participant in what’s been portrayed as an outside or “irregular” channel of Ukraine policy. “My role was not some irregular channel, but the official channel,” he told lawmakers.
He denied that he, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry formed an “irregular” channel, for which they were known as the “Three Amigos.”
Volker said he never used the term “three amigos” and added, “I frankly cringe when I hear it.”
4. Questioning Vindman’s judgment
Republican counsel Steve Castor asked Morrison about concerns within the NSC about Alexander Vindman’s judgment. He asked Morrison about concerns his predecessor, Fiona Hill, might have had, but Morrison’s lawyer said the question was outside the scope of his testimony.
Morrison did reference his earlier testimony, in which he said others had raised concerns about Vindman potentially leaking information, a prospect Vindman denied earlier in the day.
Morrison also said he was surprised that Vindman did not come to him about concerns regarding the July 25 call but instead went straight to the NSC legal counsel.
“If he had concerns about the content of the call, that’s something I would’ve expected to be notified about,” Morrison, Vindman’s superior, said. In his testimony Tuesday morning, Vindman said he was told by former National Security Adviser John Bolton — Morrison’s supervisor — to go straight to the NSC legal counsel with his concerns.
Morrison also testified that Vindman had become frustrated over his exclusion from some important meetings relating to Ukraine policy.
5. Ukraine military aid and mixed messaging
“I opposed the hold on U.S. security assistance as soon as I learned about it on July 18, and thought we could turn it around before the Ukrainians ever knew or became alarmed about it,” Volker said. He added that he viewed the delay “as a U.S. policy problem that we needed to fix internally.”
Volker said he first discussed the delay with the Ukrainians at the end of August, after Politico reported the aid had been paused.
“Instead of telling them that they needed to do something to get the hold released, I told them the opposite – that they should not be alarmed, it was an internal U.S. problem, and we were working to get it fixed,” Volker said. “I did not know others were conveying a different message to them around that same time.”
6. “The Gordon problem”
Morrison testified that he didn’t always follow through on suggestions from Sondland. He said his predecessor, Fiona Hill, had dubbed Sondland’s role in forming Ukraine policy as “the Gordon problem.”
7. “The Giuliani problem”
Volker told the committee he tried to work with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to try to convince him, and therefore the president, that the new Ukrainian president was not corrupt. However, he said the July 25 call made him realize Giuliani and the president still believed Ukraine needed to investigate Burisma and the Bidens.
“So it’s fair to say you have not fixed the ‘Giuliani problem’?” Schiff asked.
“That’s correct,” Volker said.
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