Pence Russia advisor says Trump’s call with Ukraine president was ‘unusual and inappropriate’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House on November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. During their meeting, Trump and Erdogan were scheduled to discuss Turkey’s purchase of a Russian air defense system as well as the Turkish offensive against the Kurds in Syria.
Alex Wong | Getty Images
House committees on Saturday released the closed-door transcripts of two top national security officials who listened to the July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s president which is at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
The depositions are from National Security Council official Timothy Morrison and Jennifer Williams, a special advisor to Vice President Mike Pence. Morrison and Williams are both experts on Russia and European affairs.
In her deposition, Williams told the committees that she found the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to be “unusual an inappropriate.” Trump asked Zelensky on that call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Williams said that the call “shed some light on possible other motivations” for freezing nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.
“I found the specific references to be — to be more specific to the president in nature, to his personal political agenda, as opposed to a broader…foreign policy objective of the United States,” Williams said about Trump’s request for investigations.
House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry against the president over allegations that he violated his oath of office and jeopardized U.S. national security by asking a foreign leader to investigate a political rival for personal gain. The House concluded its first week of public impeachment hearings and additional witnesses, including Williams, will testify publicly next week.
Prior to the call, Williams said she had not heard any type of conversation in the office about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election or investigating the Bidens.
Williams also said that Trump had told Pence not to attend Zelensky’s inauguration.
“My understanding from my colleague — and, again, I wasn’t there for the conversation — was that the President asked the Vice President not to attend,” she said.
Rudolph Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas had reportedly told the Ukrainians that they had to investigate Biden and his son, or else Pence would not go to Zelensky’s swearing-in and the U.S. would freeze aid. That claim has been disputed.
‘Damaging’ if call record leaked
In his testimony, Morrison said he advised lawyers on the national security council to restrict access to the written record of the call because the contents would be “damaging” if leaked. Morrison indicated that his recommendation was misinterpreted, which resulted in the call record being placed on a classified server. Nothing in the call justified moving it to a classified server, he said. The decision to move the call record to that server has led to allegations of a cover-up.
Morrison also said he learned from U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland that the military assistance for Ukraine was being tied to Trump’s calls for investigations. According to Morrison, Sondland told an advisor to Ukraine’s president, Andriy Yermak, that publicly announcing an investigation into the gas company Burisma would help move the assistance forward. Hunter Biden had a seat on the board of Burisma.
“He [Sondland] told me that in his — that what he communicated was that he believed the — what could help them move the aid was if the prosecutor general would to go the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he informed national security official John Bolton, the top diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor and national security council lawyers about Sondland’s conversation with Yermak. Morrison said he was concerned about Zelensky being drawn into U.S. domestic politics and American interests in Ukraine being sidetracked