Donald Trump did withhold military aid to Ukraine while demanding its president launch an investigation into Joe Biden’s son, in an apparent quid pro quo deal, a top White House security official has said.
Tim Morrison confirmed to members of Congress on Thursday that he had a “sinking feeling” after speaking to Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, and learning of the president’s desire for Ukraine to publicly announce a corruption probe. Mr Sondland had told Ukrainian officials aid would be released if the investigation went ahead, according to a report of Mr Morrison’s testimony in the Washington Post.
The White House political appointee corroborated an account given by William Taylor, the US envoy in Ukraine, that the pair had twice spoken about the pressure campaign. The substance of Mr Taylor’s account of those conversations was accurate, he said.
“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 1 September, 2019, conversation with Ambassador Sondland,” Mr Morrison testified.
Mr Trump has repeatedly denied he intended a “quid pro quo”, but has been contradicted by evidence to the impeachment inquiry.
After listening in to the July phone call between Mr Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr Morrison feared for the future of relations between the two countries if details of the leaders’ conversation were leaked, he said, adding that he asked national security council lawyers to review the call.
However, he told impeachment investigators: “I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed.”
Mr Trump thanked Mr Morrison for that particular piece of testimony. “But the Crooked Democrats don’t want people to know this! Thank you to Tim Morrison for your honesty,” he said in a tweet.
Republicans were quick to seize on Mr Morrison’s words. In particular, they claimed he painted a different picture than that provided by Lt Col Alexander Vindman, the army officer who handled Ukraine issues at the national security council. Mr Vindman testified on Tuesday that he twice sounded the alarm over the Trump administration’s actions.
“It’s a very compelling witness today that is giving testimony that contradicts some of the testimony we heard from Mr Vindman,” said Republican congressman Mark Meadows, an ally of Mr Trump.
“Mr Morrison’s testimony is very damaging to the Democrat narrative. They’ve all of a sudden gotten quiet today because this particular witness is very credible and has given evidence that suggests some of the other witnesses have been less than candid,” he said.
Another Republican, congressman Chip Roy of Texas, said: “When you all see what he had to say, it will be interesting.”
Part of the challenge in assessing the importance of Mr Morrison’s words is that they were not released to the public. Democrats did not immediately offer comment on his deposition.
Mr Morrison, a defence hawk, was the national security council’s top advisor for Russian and European affairs until he stepped down on Wednesday.
A senior administration official said he had “decided to pursue other opportunities”.
The official said Mr Morrison had been considering leaving the administration for “some time”.
It was Mr Morrison who first alerted Mr Taylor to concerns over Mr Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president.
Mr Morrison’s name appeared more than a dozen times in testimony by Mr Taylor, who told impeachment investigators that Mr Trump was withholding military aid unless Mr Zelensky went public with a promise to investigate Mr Trump’s political rival, Mr Biden and his son, Hunter. Mr Taylor’s testimony contradicted Mr Trump’s repeated denials that there was any quid pro quo.
Mr Morrison’s testimony came as Congress formally voted to proceed with the impeachment probe.
Additional reporting by agencies
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