The testimony on Tuesday of Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council official, was supposed to help President Trump. That was not a good idea. Not in the least.

Volker testified that only after all the other witnesses testified did he realize that “Burisma” meant an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden. He said he did not realize he was facilitating an extortion plot. Whether you believe Volker was willfully blind to the president’s extortion of an ally, or you think he tried to lie during his deposition when he denied knowledge of the plot, his story makes little sense. He was present for the July 10 meeting when Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, improperly brought up the Biden question, for example. Nevertheless, Volker insisted, “I did not understand that others believed that an investigation of the Ukrainian company Burisma, which had a history of accusations of corruption, was tantamount to investigating Vice President Biden. I drew a sharp distinction between the two.”

Many observers did not buy that Volker could have missed what was going on. Susan Hennessey of the Lawfare blog remarked, “Volker seems to be trying to say he was hoping he could appease Trump’s improper desire for a political investigation of the Bidens by getting what was a facially legitimate investigation of Burisma.”

Kurt Volker, Trump's former special envoy to Ukraine, told a House investigative committee that he rejected allegations of corruption against the Bidens. (The Washington Post)

For that to be true, Volker would have had to ignore public news reports in which Giuliani bragged about going to Ukraine to initiate an investigation of Biden. It strains credulity to believe that a seasoned foreign policy expert with experience in the region such as Volker would think there was something specific to investigate at Burisma other than the Bidens.

Volker’s testimony only got worse for Trump. Volker said the conspiracy theory that the president and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, cooked up was “self-serving and not credible.” He also declared, “I have known former Vice President Biden for a long time and I know how he respects his duties of higher office. It’s just not credible to me that a vice president of the United States is going to do anything other than act as how he sees best for the national interest.” (Perhaps Biden, a Democratic candidate for president, will use that in his campaign ad.) Volker also said that if he had known what was going on he would have objected, and said that creating conspiracy theories about the Bidens is not how we should be conducting foreign policy.

Morrison was not much better from the White House’s standpoint. He said he was “disappointed” that the president did not press the anti-corruption message on the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but insisted he was merely concerned about “political” fallout from the call, not any illegality — although he contacted NSC lawyers. He conceded that “CrowdStrike” and the Bidens were not part of the recommended talking points drafted ahead of that call. Morrison added dryly said that invoking domestic politics is not something they recommend a president doing.

Morrison also made very clear that Sondland was in direct communication with Giuliani, Trump and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Among the most problematic exchanges was this one with Daniel S. Goldman, counsel to the House Intelligence Committee:

Goldman: You understood from [Sondland] that Trump was withholding security assistance as additional leverage to get Ukraine to publicly announce . . . investigations that President Trump had discussed . . . ?
Morrison: I was concerned about what [Sondland] was saying were requirements.

There was also this back-and-forth:

Goldman: What did Ambassador Sondland tell you that he told [Zelensky aide Andriy] Yermak?
Morrison: That the Ukrainians would have to have the prosecutor general make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition of having the aid lifted.

In other words, Morrison confirmed that the investigation into the Bidens was a hurdle to get U.S. military aid, and he was aware that this came from the president. Morrison confirmed that Ukraine, by Sept. 1, was well aware that aid was being held up over an announcement of an investigation into the Bidens.

These were supposed to be helpful witnesses for Trump. They plainly were not. They both stated that investigation of the Bidens was not a legitimate national security objective. Moreover, Volker’s change of heart likely previews Sondland’s testimony tomorrow, during which he will be able to confirm direct contact with Trump. In sum, Republicans have egg on their face, raising the legitimate question as to whether they have the slightest idea what they are doing.

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