Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s former senior director covering Russia and Ukraine, are Republicans who were on the list of witnesses for the impeachment inquiry drawn up by Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), the committee’s ranking Republican. But their testimony was sharply at odds with the stories about Ukraine peddled by Mr. Nunes.
Mr. Nunes has been slavishly pushing Mr. Trump’s false narratives: that Ukraine rather than Russia intervened in the 2016 election and that Joe Biden, as vice president, tried to protect a Ukrainian gas company that employed his son as a board member. Mr. Volker testified that the allegations against Mr. Biden were “not credible” and that asking for an investigation of him was “unacceptable.” As for the claims about Ukrainian interference in the election, he said, “I didn’t believe there was anything there to begin with.”
“I don’t think raising the 2016 election or Vice President Biden or these things I consider to be conspiracy theories are . . . things that we should be pursuing,” said the Republicans’ preferred witness.
Mr. Volker supported the Republican claim that there was not a direct quid pro quo between the political investigations Mr. Trump demanded and U.S. military aid or the White House meeting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted. But Mr. Volker described in detail how, in the attempt to set up a summit meeting, he tried to negotiate a statement by Mr. Zelensky promising investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company. While he maintained that he drew a distinction between investigating the company and Mr. Biden, Mr. Volker acknowledged that “most of the other people didn’t see . . . this distinction.”
For his part, Mr. Morrison confirmed that the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, had told him he had informed a senior aide to Mr. Zelensky that U.S. military aid would be withheld until the statement promising investigations was made. Mr. Sondland told Mr. Morrison about the connection a second time following a phone call between Mr. Sondland and Mr. Trump.
Republicans tried to use Mr. Volker to describe Mr. Trump as assiduously pursuing U.S. interests in Ukraine, including helping it fend off Russian aggression. But after describing what he saw as a series of positive steps by the administration, Mr. Volker was unambiguous about what happened following the intervention by Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani: “It’s a tragedy for the United States and for Ukraine that our efforts in this area, which were bearing fruit, have now been thrown into disarray.”
Other witnesses have been far more straightforward about Mr. Trump’s behavior. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who worked on Ukraine at the National Security Council, told the committee that “it is improper” for Mr. Trump “to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent,” adding that it would “undermine U.S. national security and advance Russia’s strategic objectives.” Republicans had no answer other than personal attacks against a decorated officer. They tried to portray Lt. Col. Vindman as disloyal. Yet even their own witnesses told substantially the same story.