In his opening statement to House impeachment investigators on Thursday, a top National Security Council official who listened to President Donald Trump’s now-infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that he didn’t believe at the time that the two discussed anything illegal during the chat.
“I listened to the call as it occurred from the Situation Room,” NSC senior director for European affairs Tim Morrison said in prepared testimony reviewed by Blaze Media. “I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed.”
Morrison also testified that the transcript that the White House released last month “accurately and completely reflects the substance of the call” and that at the time he expressed concerns that information about the call would be leaked because of “how it would play out in Washington’s polarized environment,” how a leak would affect the support of Ukrainian aid in Congress and “how it would affect the Ukrainian perceptions of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship.”
The July phone call is the incident at the heart of House Democrats’ ongoing impeachment proceedings. The main question behind those proceedings — at least for now — is whether or not President Trump used the withholding of military aid to pressure Ukrainian officials into reviving an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who has bragged about being responsible for firing Ukraine’s chief prosecutor.
Morrison, however, says that Ukrainian leaders weren’t aware of an aid holdup until over a month after the phone call.
“I have no reason to believe the Ukrainians had any knowledge of the [funding] review until August 28, 2019,” the statement reads. That was the same day that Politico reported on the holdup of military aid.
According to other testimony given to House investigators, President Trump was skeptical about providing aid to the Ukraine prior to the call, primarily as a result of the country’s reputation for corruption. Morrison’s statement speaks to this concern as well.
“I was aware that the President thought Ukraine had a corruption problem, as did many others familiar with Ukraine,” the statement says. However, he adds, “I was confident that our national security principals … could convince president Trump to release the aid because President Zelensky and the reform oriented [Ukrainian parliament] were genuinely invested in their anti-corruption agenda.”
Morrison also contradicts testimony offered by top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine Bill Taylor about a proposed statement about the Burisma matter to be given by Zelensky. Where Taylor testified that Gordon Sondland told a Ukrainian official “that security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation,” Morrison said that Sondland’s proposal “was that it could be sufficient if the new Ukrainian prosecutor general — not President Zelensky — would commit to pursue the Burisma investigation.”
Regarding the proposed August statement, Sondland testified that the draft language was primarily written by the Ukrainians with the guidance of former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker. Volker testified that the idea was “shelved” over concerns that mentioning Burisma or the Bidens would appear to be interference in a U.S. election.
Overall, Morrison said he was proud that the process was able to overcome the president’s skepticism and allow for the release of the funding.
“I am pleased our process gave the president the confidence he needed to approve the release of the security sector assistance,” he said. “I am proud of what I have been able, in some small way, to help the Trump administration accomplish.”
The statement concluded with the announcement of Morrison’s resignation from the NSC.
“I have not submitted a formal resignation at this time because I do not want anyone to think there is a connection between my testimony today and my impending departure,” the statement reads. “I plan to finalize my transition from the NSC after my testimony is complete.”