Senior NSC Official Tim Morrison Believed ‘Nothing Improper’ Occurred During Trump-Zelensky Call

White House Russia expert Timothy Morrison arrives for a deposition for the House Impeachment inquiries at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Tim Morrison, a senior National Security Council official, testified last month that he believed nothing improper occurred during President Trump’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

During a recent closed-door deposition as part of the impeachment inquiry, Morrison was asked under oath, “In your view, there was nothing improper that occurred during the call?”

“Correct,” he answered.

Morrison, as the top U.S. official at the NSC on Russia and Europe, listened to the July 25 phone call that is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry. He was promoted to the position after Fiona Hill resigned on July 19.

He said he does not believe the word “Burisma” came up on the call — contrary to what a more junior NSC official, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, testified. Vindman testified that Zelensky brought up the word “Burisma,” but when Vindman suggested that the word be added to the transcript, it was not accepted.

Morrison was asked, “You were on the call. Do you remember whether the name Burisma came up on the call?”

“No, I don’t believe it did,” he said.

Morrison also testified that he was the “final clearing authority” on the call transcript, and would have been the one to make any edits to the transcript. Vindman testified that he suggested the word “Burisma” be edited in, but Morrison said he recalls no such request.

“Do you remember whether anyone suggested edits adding the word Burisma to the [memorandum of conversation]?” Morrison was asked.

“I do not,” he responded.

Morrison said he would have agreed to the edit if someone who was on the call suggested it, and if he had also had it in his notes. “Had I recalled or had it in my notes that was mentioned, yes, I would have agreed to the edit,” he said.

Morrison testified that he actually accepted all of Vindman’s proposed edits. “I accepted all of them,” he said.

Vindman testified that after listening to the call, he was so concerned that he went with his twin brother — a lawyer at the NSC — to complain to the NSC counsel John Eisenberg.

Morrison testified that he purposely kept Vindman out of the loop because he had questions about his judgment, which were also raised by other officials:

I had concerns about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman’s judgmen. Among the discussions I had with Dr. Hill in the transition [period] was our team, my team, its strengths and its weaknesses. And Fiona and others had raised concerns about Alex’s judgment.

When pressed further, Morrison said, “I had concerns that he did not exercise appropriate judgment as to whom he would say what.”

Morrison also testified that while he did not have concerns about Vindman leaking, others on the NSC did believe he had leaked information and that “multiple” NSC personnel told him they were concerned he had access to information he was not supposed to have.

“Did anyone ever bring concerns to you that they believed Colonel Vindman leaked something?” Morrison was asked.

“Yes,” he said. “It was brought to my attention that some had — some of my personnel had concerns that he did [have access to things he was not supposed to see].”

Morrison testified that those concerns were brought to him in person and by email.

Morrison also testified that Vindman had never expressed his concerns to him about the content of the July 25 call being improper or illegal, despite him going to Eisenberg afterwards.

“I have no recollection of him doing so,” Morrison said.

Morrison also testified that after the July 25 call, he went to NSC counsel John Eisenberg with concerns over the transcript being potentially leaked:

I was concerned about how the contents would be used in Washington’s political process. I was concerned about how it could be used. I didn’t necessarily fully understand how everybody could use it, but I was concerned about how it could be used.

I didn’t necessarily fully understand how everybody could use it, but I was concerned that it would wind up politicizing Ukraine. I was concerned that that would, in turn, cost bipartisan support. And I was concerned about how the Ukrainians would internalize that.

Asked why he was concerned about how Ukrainians would interpret it if they were on the phone call, Morrison said, “Well, there’s one thing for what they hear firsthand from the President; there’s another thing for how that then gets used in the political process.”

Asked why he was concerned about a leak, he said, “Because it’s been my experience in government there.”

Morrison said Eisenberg told him that the transcript was mistakenly put on a highly classified server.

Morrison also confirmed that Trump generally did not like foreign aid — which could explain why the White House ordered a pause on security assistance going to Ukraine.

He was asked about his comment to the top U.S. official in Ukraine, Amb. Bill Taylor, about the president not wanting to provide any assistance to Ukraine at all.

When asked to explain what he meant, Morrison reinforced the explanation the White House has given as to why the aid was paused:

“The President’s general antipathy to foreign aid, as well as his concerns that the Ukrainians are not paying their fair share, as well as his concerns when our aid would be misused, because of the view that Ukraine has a significant corruption problem,” he said.

 

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