Tim Morrison, the former White House national security adviser who engaged in multiple crucial conversations with Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr. about the quid pro quo that withheld military aid to try to leverage Ukraine into doing President Trump’s political bidding, has been testifying in the impeachment inquiry.
In preparation for my appearance today, I reviewed the statement Ambassador Taylor provided this inquiry on October 22, 2019. I can confirm that the substance of his statement, as it relates to conversations he and I had, is accurate.My recollections differ on two of the details, however. I have a slightly different recollection of my September 1, 2019 conversation with Ambassador [Gordon] Sondland. On page 10 of Ambassador Taylor’s statement, he recounts a conversation I relayed to him regarding Ambassador Sondland’s conversation with Ukrainian Presidential Advisor [Andriy] Yermak. Ambassador Taylor wrote: “Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that security assistance money would not come until President [Volodymyr] Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.”My recollection is that Ambassador Sondland’s proposal to Mr. Yermak was that it could be sufficient if the new Ukrainian prosecutor general — not President Zelensky — would commit to pursue the Burisma investigation.I also would like to clarify that I did not meet with the Ukrainian National Security Advisor in his hotel room, as Ambassador Taylor indicated on page 11 of his statement. Instead, an NSC aide and I met with Mr. [Oleksandr] Danyliuk in the hotel’s business center.
Pro-Trump Twitter is trying to spin the minor discrepancies between the two accounts into something big, but that’s just absurd. In one case, the difference is over where Morrison met with a Ukrainian official. In the other, the difference is over who would announce the investigation into Burisma, the company on whose board Joe Biden’s son Hunter sat, as part of the quid pro quo.
But what is not in dispute is that the quid pro quo was articulated plainly and clearly. Let me isolate out the part of Morrison’s testimony where he says this explicitly:
Ambassador Taylor wrote: "Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation."My recollection is that Ambassador Sondland’s proposal to Mr. Yermak was that it could be sufficient if the new Ukrainian prosecutor general — not President Zelensky — would commit to pursue the Burisma investigation.
Thus, Morrison is saying that Sondland — the ambassador to the European Union who was a leading agent in this whole plot — did indeed tell him that the military aid was conditional on the Ukrainians committing to the Burisma investigation.
Sondland simply proposed a version of this that might be more amenable to the Ukrainians, since it wouldn’t require Zelensky himself to announce it. Thus it is that Morrison says the “substance” of Taylor’s testimony about their conversations was “accurate.”
Importantly, this account comes from someone who discussed these matters directly with Sondland.
Morrison confirms the quid pro quo elsewhere as well:
I had no reason to believe that the release of the security sector assistance might be conditioned on a public statement reopening the Burisma investigation until my September 1, 2019 conversation with Ambassador Sondland. Even then I hoped that Ambassador Sondland’s strategy was exclusively his own and would not be considered by leaders in the Administration and Congress.
After talking to Sondland, Morrison understood that the money was conditioned just that way. And in this context, it’s important to note that Morrison’s hope that this didn’t represent the views of the administration was in vain: You will recall that Sondland was taking his direction straight from the president.
Some have pointed out that Morrison claims he didn’t see anything illegal on Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president. But so what? That’s not his decision, and the question of the conduct’s legality is not even necessarily relevant to an impeachment context. What’s more, the list of people who actually were deeply alarmed by the conduct is already very long.
They really wanted a public statement
One other point: It’s important to underscore that Trump and his lawyer Rudolph Giuliani didn’t just want an investigation of Biden. They wanted a public announcement of it, to get news organizations to start treating the allegations seriously and help them create an aura of vague corruption around Biden.
This is Trumpworld’s M.O. As Stephen K. Bannon revealed to journalist Joshua Green, the key to this is to vault such charges, no matter how spurious, out of the conservative media, in order to get them merely covered in the mainstream press, to “weaponize” them, as Bannon put it. This helps create what Green described as the “whiff of corruption.”
As those texts show, there were extensive negotiations with the Ukrainians over what that public statement might look like, precisely because Giuliani, acting as Trump’s consigliere, cared about it so much. Thus it might be expected that Sondland and the Ukrainians would haggle over who made the statement, as Sondland tried (but ultimately failed) to get them to do it.
In this sense, Morrison has helped underscore another important part of the story here.