WASHINGTON – A former top White House official who raised concerns about President Donald Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his political rivals testified behind closed doors Thursday in the House impeachment investigation.
Tim Morrison, the first White House political appointee to testify, did not respond to reporters’ questions as he arrived on Capitol Hill. But his information could be central to the effort to remove Trump from office.
Morrison was the National Security Council’s top adviser for Russian and European affairs until he stepped down Wednesday. A senior administration official said he had “decided to pursue other opportunities.” The official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison’s job and spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said Morrison has been considering leaving the administration for “some time.”
Morrison was expected to be asked to explain the “sinking feeling” that he reportedly got when Trump demanded that Ukraine’s president investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and interfere in the 2016 election. The national security hawk, brought on board by then-national security adviser John Bolton , has been featured prominently in previous testimony from diplomat William Taylor .
It was Morrison who first alerted Taylor to concerns over Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
In fact, Morrison’s name appeared more than a dozen times in testimony by Taylor, who told impeachment investigators that Trump was withholding military aid unless Zelenskiy went public with a promise to investigate Trump’s political rival Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. Taylor’s testimony contradicted Trump’s repeated denials that there was any quid pro quo.
Morrison and Taylor spoke at least five times in the weeks following the July phone call as the defense expert and the diplomat discussed the Trump administration’s actions toward Ukraine, according to Taylor’s testimony.
As the security funds for Ukraine were being withheld, Morrison told the diplomat, “President doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all.”
Their concerns deepened when Morrison relayed on Sept. 7 the conversation he had with Ambassador Gordon Sondland a day earlier that gave him that “sinking feeling.” In it, Sondland explained that Trump said he was not asking for a quid pro quo but insisted that Zelenskiy “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference,” Taylor testified last week.
Morrison told Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this call between Trump and Sondland, according to Taylor’s testimony.
The spotlight has been on Morrison since August, when a government whistleblower said multiple U.S. officials had said Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
Morrison was brought on board to address arms control matters and later shifted into a role as a top Russia and Europe adviser. It was then that he stepped into the thick of an in-house squabble about the activities of Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who had been conversing with Ukrainian leaders outside of traditional U.S. diplomatic circles.
The impeachment probe has been denounced by the Republican president, who has directed his staff not to testify.
Regardless of what he says, GOP lawmakers will be hard-pressed to dismiss Morrison, formerly a longtime Republican staffer at the House Armed Services Committee. He’s been bouncing around Washington in Republican positions for two decades, having worked for Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and as a GOP senior staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, including nearly four years when it was chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
Morrison told people after Bolton was forced out of his job that the national security adviser had tried to stop Giuliani’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine and that Morrison agreed, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison’s role in the impeachment inquiry and spoke only on the condition of anonymity. The official said Morrison told people that with the appointment of Robert O’Brien as Bolton’s successor, his own future work at the NSC was in a “holding pattern.”
Bolton brought Morrison into the NSC in July 2018 as senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefence. He’s known as an arms control expert or an arms treaty saboteur, depending on who you ask.
Morrison, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from George Washington University, keeps nuclear strategist Herman Kahn’s seminal volume on thermonuclear warfare on a table in his office.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Bolton and Morrison are likeminded. Kimball said both have been known for calling up GOP congressional offices warning them against saying anything about arms control that didn’t align with their views.
“Just as John Bolton reportedly did, I would be shocked if Morrison did not regard Giuliani’s activities as being out of bounds,” said Kimball, who has been on opposite sides of arms control debates with Morrison for more than a decade.
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