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Former White House adviser says Ukraine aid was tied to probe

Billy House, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- A former top White House adviser told House impeachment investigators Ukrainians were advised Sept. 1 that U.S. military aid was being withheld until their president announced an investigation of a company that had hired former Vice President Joe Biden's son.

Tim Morrison, a former senior director of European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, said Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told him how he had informed a high-ranking Ukrainian official that release of $400 million in aid was being linked to the investigations, according to a transcript of his closed-door testimony released Saturday.

The House committee also released testimony from Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, who said she found some of discussion on the July 25 call between the two leaders to be "unusual and inappropriate."

Morrison also said Sondland later claimed such a statement from Ukraine's prosecutor general wouldn't do, because President Donald Trump had told him "there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelenskiy had to do it and he should want to do it." He added: "Sondland believed and at least related to me that the president was giving him instruction."

Morrison said in closed-door testimony Oct. 1 that he was among officials who listened in on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskiy, which has become the subject of the impeachment inquiry. He testified that it raised some concerns, but that he heard nothing illegal discussed -- and that a rough transcript of the call later released by the White House was "accurate and complete."

That contradicts testimony from at least one other witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, who has testified he also listened in on that call and that the memo summary left out some phrases, edits he tried to put back in -- including a mention, by name, of Burisma, the energy company on whose board Biden's son, Hunter, served.


Morrison also said NSC lawyer John Eisenberg told him the transcript of that call was not intended to end up in a highly classified system. "It was a mistake," Morrison said Eisenberg claimed.

Pence's aide Williams, who also was on the call, kept notes and told investigators the energy company was mentioned. "My notes did reflect that the word Burisma had come up in the call, that the president had mentioned Burisma," she testified, her recall more in line with Vindman. She also said she felt "the mention of these specific investigations" into the Bidens and the 2016 election was "unusual and inappropriate."

"I believe 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," she said.

It is Sondland who has emerged as a central figure in Trump's alleged efforts to leverage nearly $400 million in U.S. military assistance in return for Ukraine investigations of Biden, a potential Trump 2020 presidential campaign opponent, and other Democrats.


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