Republicans are pointing to this line from Morrison’s opening statement regarding Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky: “I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed."
That’s an open-and-shut moment, to hear some Republicans tell it.
“Morrison’s testimony today is devastating to the false Democrat narrative that anything illegal or improper happened on the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call,” Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) tweeted. “It’s also devastating to the credibility of certain other witnesses who have asserted there was anything illegal or improper.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said, “Mr. Morrison’s testimony was very damaging to the Democrats’ narrative.” He added on Fox News: “I can tell you today’s opening testimony — they aren’t going to leak it out. Some of my Democrat colleagues look like they’re sucking lemons this morning as we are starting to hear from another witness behind closed doors.”
Well, turns out, his opening statement and other details did leak out. And what we have seen is hardly the rebuke of Democrats’ narrative and other witnesses that these Republicans seem to want us to believe.
While Morrison says he didn’t think Trump’s conversation with Zelensky involved anything illegal or improper, he did express concern about it for a few other reasons:
- “how it would play out in Washington’s polarized environment”
- “how a leak would affect the bipartisan support our Ukrainian partners currently experience in Congress”
- “how it would affect the Ukrainian perceptions of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship”
He also, most importantly, corroborated the testimony of the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., who said last week that Morrison described to him what can only be described as a quid pro quo. Taylor testified that Morrison told him that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told a Ukrainian official that military aid had been conditioned on Ukraine announcing an investigation into the company that employed Hunter Biden, Burisma Holdings.
Morrison says: “I can confirm that the substance of his statement, as it relates to conversations he and I had, is accurate."
He does raise two details that he remembers somewhat differently than Taylor. He says that Sondland said it would be acceptable for Ukraine’s prosecutor general to announce Trump’s desired investigations, while Taylor had cited only Zelensky doing it, and he says he met with a Ukrainian official in a hotel’s business center, while Taylor cited a hotel room.
Republicans seem to think this is a big deal for them for two reasons: (a) Morrison questions a couple of Taylor’s details, and (b) he says he didn’t think there was anything illegal on the July 25 call.
On the first point, as you can see above, these are rather small details and neither affects the narrative or erases the alleged quid pro quo. Whether the prosecutor general or Zelensky needed to make the announcement, it doesn’t change the contention that there was a request. And you could make an argument that he’s nitpicking on that hotel one.
As to the it-wasn’t-illegal thing, that could be somewhat helpful to Trump’s cause. But it’s also a completely subjective opinion based upon what we’ve already seen in the rough transcript of the call. Whether people involved in any of these things think they were illegal isn’t really the point; the evidence is.
What’s more, the fact that Morrison is the rare witness making that case kind of proves the trend. Many of these people were hired by the White House; the fact that one of them sees this in a less-problematic light isn’t terribly surprising — indeed, it’s what you’d expect — but the fact that so many others disagree is.
And Morrison pretty much tells you where his loyalty lies at the end of his opening statement.
“I am proud of what I have been able, in some small way, to help the Trump administration to accomplish,” he says.
It’s hardly a blockbuster moment to find that one White House aide isn’t terribly interested in going all-out against the administration and Trump — especially given how other witnesses have been attacked.
But even if you set that aside, what we have is essentially a sixth person confirming some kind of quid pro quo involving official U.S. concessions being conditioned on Ukraine pursuing investigations that help Trump politically.
To celebrate that is really to suck on a lemon.