Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released the long-awaited transcript from senior National Security Council official Tim Morrison on Saturday, and immediately distorted it for the benefit of the anti-Trump media.
It was a typical example of how Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and his staff have tried to skew the fact-finding process in an effort to inflate public support for impeachment, believing few will read the lengthy transcripts for themselves.
First, the committee withheld the transcript since October 31, only releasing it after the first public hearings began last week. Morrison’s testimony was rumored to be very good for President Donald Trump’s defense — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) had described Democrats in the room during the closed-door hearing as “sucking lemons” — and Republicans would have made good use of it, had they had the transcript available. But it was not provided.
In the interim, Democrats had sole possession of the document. Schiff does not allow copies of the transcripts to be released to Republicans, either in paper or electronic form. If they want to read transcripts, they must do so one by one, in the presence of a Democrat committee staffer. Not only is that rule humiliating, but it also allows Democrats to control the flow of information and to prepare their public arguments with no fear of timely Republican rebuttal.
In the Morrison case, Democrats released “key excerpts” that highlighted the few facts in his testimony that, they believe, help push the case for impeachment. Chief among these is that Morrison confirmed that he heard U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland claim that he told a Ukrainian official, in a private “sidebar” meeting, that aid would be released if the Ukrainian prosecutor general would publicly announce an investigation into Burisma.
But that is just hearsay evidence, as is Morisson’s confirmation of Charge d’affairs William Taylor’s testimony (repeated in public last week) that Sondland, after speaking to President Trump, “there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelensky must announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it.”
— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) November 17, 2019
Sure enough, CNN and other networks highlighted these and other supposedly damaging sections of Morrison’s testimony.
These are the top news results on Google for the search “Tim Morrison,” as of Sunday morning, November 17:
- CNN: “Ex-NSC official corroborates Sondland said he was directed by Trump on Ukraine“
- NPR: “NSC Official Faults Sondland’s Role In ‘Shadow’ Ukraine Policy“
- USA Today: “Morrison said he was ‘not comfortable’ with Ukraine President Zelensky being involved in US politics: the latest“
- Daily Beast: “National Security Official Tim Morrison Feared Leaks of Trump’s Call to Ukraine President Would Be Damaging“
- Politico: “Sondland said he was acting on Trump’s orders, aide told investigators“
But these reports downplay or omit the most important parts of Morrison’s testimony for Trump’s defense:
- Morrison testified “I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed” on the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to which he himself listened. That statement does not appear anywhere in the Democrats’ “key excerpts” document. He also testified that he “did not have a view” on whether President Trump’s comments to Zelensky on the phone call were “improper.”
- Morrison testified that he was afraid that the conversation would leak — not because he thought the president had done anything wrong, as Democrats’ “key excerpts” document implies, but because he knew about what would happen, given “Washington’s polarized environment.” The Democrats’ summary of the document omits this telling exchange between Morrison and chairman Adam Schiff — no doubt, because it damages their case:
THE CHAIRMAN: Okay. I just wanted to follow up a bit on this.
One of the concerns, and there may be an overlap between the first two concerns you mentioned about the caII, and if the call became public. First, you said you wene concerned how it would play out in Washington’s polarized environment and, second, how a leak would affect bipartisan suppont for our Ukrainian partners.
Were those concerns nelated to the fact that the President asked his Ukrainian countenpant to look into on investigate the Bidens?
MR. MORRISON: No, not specifically.
THE CHAIRMAN: So you didn’t think that the President of the United States asking his counterpart to conduct an investigation into a potential opponent in the 2020 election might influence bipartisan support in Congress?
MR. MORRISON: No.
THE CHAIRMAN: And you weren’t concerned that the President bringing up one of his political opponents in the Presidential election and asking a favor with respect to the DNC server or 2016 theory, you weren’t concerned that those things would cause people to believe that the President was asking his counterpart to conduct an investigation that might influence his reelection campaign?
MR. MORRISON: No.
THE CHAIRMAN: That never occurred to you?
MR. MORRISON: No.
THE CHAIRMAN: Did you recognize during the — as you listened to the call that if Ukraine were to conduct these investigations, that it would inure to the President’s political interests?
MR. MORRISON: No.
- Morrison contradicted Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Democrats’ star witness in the closed-door hearings, who reported to Morrison directly. Morrison testified that while he admired his subordinate’s patriotism, he was irritated that Vindman failed to report concerns about the call directly to him. He said Vindman never raised concerns that something illegal had happened. He also said he accepted all of Vindman’s proposed edits to the call record, contrary to Vindman’s testimony. And while he did not think that Vindman was a leaker, he testified: “I had concerns that he did not exercise appropriate judgment as to whom he would say what.” He said that Vindman’s sloppy practices were partly the result of his own predecessor at the NSC, Dr. Fiona Hill — another one of the Democrats’ star witnesses, who, like Morrison, is due to testify publicly this week.
- Morrison testified that other foreign aid being offered by the U.S. at the time was reportedly under review — not just to Ukraine. And he confirmed earlier testimony that the aid being held up did not include the essential Javelin anti-tank missiles, which were being delivered to Ukraine through a separate procurement process.
- Morrison testified that he had no concerns that President Trump asked President Zelensky, during the July 25 phone call, to meet with his personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
- Morrison kept NSC lawyers informed about what was going on — not because he was concerned Trump had done anything wrong, but because he wanted “to protect the president” from whatever Sondland was doing.
All of these facts are missing in the Democrats’ “key excerpts.” The Democrats do acknowledge a few exculpatory moments, but downplay them.
For example, the “key excerpts” document includes Morrison’s testimony that the transcript of the July 25 call was placed on a more secure server by “mistake” — but focuses on the fact that it was not removed from the more secure server after that.
Morrison also confirmed that the Ukrainians did not know that the aid was being held up until a Politico article appeared on August 28, and he said that Sondland’s side conversation with a Ukrainian official in September was “the first time something like this [investigations] had been injected as a condition on the release of the assistance.” Democrats include that latter quote, but downplay it.
Similarly, Democrats distorted the testimony of Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, whose testimony was also released on Saturday. Democrats highlighted the fact that Williams testified that she was told by another aide that Trump told Pence to skip Zelensky’s inauguration in May — though she did not hear that first-hand.
They quote her as saying the July 25 call “for me shed some light on possible other motivations behind a secunity assistance hold.” But they leave out her saying she “didn’t have any firsthand knowledge as to the reasoning.”
Both Morrison and Williams are scheduled to testify in public hearings before the committee on Tuesday.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.