Impeachment Investigators Grill Ex-Trump Adviser on Quid Pro Quo Concerns

Tim Morrison, former top national-security adviser to President Donald Trump, arrives Thursday for a closed-door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry of Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — House lawmakers conducting the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump met Thursday with the first White House political appointee to testify, a day after the official resigned as the president’s national-security adviser on Russia and Europe.

Tim Morrison joined the administration in July 2018 at the call of then national security adviser John Bolton. Last week, as the committees conducting the impeachment probe interviewed Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, Morrison was mentioned more than a dozen times as a deputy who raised concern over Trump’s push to withhold aid to the country.

Taylor testified that Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 call to publicly announce an investigation into 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. Trump’s insistence that such an announcement occur for Ukraine to receive the aid it had already been allotted from Congress purportedly spurred almost half a dozen communications between Morrison and Taylor after the July 25 call.

Taylor additionally testified that a Sept. 7 conversation between Morrison and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland gave Morrison a “sinking feeling.” During the call, Sondland told Morrison that Trump was not using military aid for a quid pro quo between the officials but wanted Zelensky to “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference,” Morrison purportedly told Taylor. 

When the White House released a summary of the Zelensky call, it quoted Trump as telling the Ukrainian president he would be in touch with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani about investigating the alleged interference.

Alexander Vindman, an Army lieutenant colonel who later became a diplomat, told impeachment investigators on Tuesday that he tried to change the White House’s memo about the call to include Trump’s mention of Burisma, a Ukraine gas company where Hunter Biden sat on the board.

Thursday’s testimony is eagerly anticipated by Democrats as Morrison is a former Republican staffer on the House Armed Services Committee with two decades of experience working for various lawmakers, including Representatative Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., and Senator Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Speaking to reporters briefly Thursday in the Capitol Visitors Center, Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said he was unable to share any specific details of Morrison’s testimony and there is no timeline for public hearings.

“I think all of the evidence points to what we understand, the president conducted an operation which he tried to pressure Ukraine to give him political favors and he used the power of the presidency to do it,” Raskin said.

As to claims by Republican lawmakers that the investigation violates due process, Raskin said the rules provided by the three committees are as fair, if not fairer to Trump, than rules established to investigate Presidents Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon.

“But of course, they’re not pleased because they want to run away from the merits of the case,” Raskin said. “They don’t want to talk about the fact that the president of the United States shook down — he besieged an ally resisting Russian aggression for political favors. That’s just unprecedented in American history. I can’t believe there are members of Congress who would hide under the covers rather than confront the reality of what’s happening.” 

Representative Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said Republicans were ready to start arguing the substance of allegations into Trump’s call rather than attack the process, now that the House has passed a resolution setting rules on the proceedings of open hearings.

Meadows said Trump “hasn’t done anything impeachable” and called Morrison’s testimony “very damaging to the Democrat narrative.”

“That’s why you haven’t seen any leaks from my Democrat colleagues today,” Meadows said. “I know that surprises a lot of you that they’ve all the sudden gotten quiet today, because this particular witness has been very credible and has given evidence that would suggest that some of the other witnesses have been less than candid.”

Bolton, the former national security adviser Trump fired last month, is scheduled to appear for a closed-door interview with lawmakers on Nov. 7.

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