The Ukraine Connection

Nov. 19 Volker and Morrison Impeachment Hearing Opening Statements

By Gordon Ahl
Tuesday, November 19, 2019, 4:12 PM

In the afternoon on Nov. 19, the House Intelligence Committee held a public hearing in its impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. The committee heard testimony from Tim Morrison, the former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, and Kurt Volker, U.S. special envoy to Ukraine. Both of their opening statements are provided below, along with those of Chairman Adam Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes.

Tim Morrison

Kurt Volker

Chairman Schiff

This afternoon we will hear from two witnesses requested by the Minority, Ambassador Kurt Volker, the State Department’s Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, and Tim Morrison, the former Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council. I appreciate the Minority’s request for these two important witnesses, as well as Under Secretary of State David Hale, from whom we will hear tomorrow.

As we have heard from other witnesses, when Joe Biden was considering whether to enter the race for the Presidency in 2020, the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, began a campaign to weaken Vice President Biden’s candidacy by pushing Ukraine to investigate him and his son.

To clear away any obstacle to the scheme, days after the new Ukrainian President was elected, Trump ordered the recall of Marie Yovanovitch, the American ambassador in Kyiv, who was known for pushing anticorruption efforts. Trump also cancelled Vice President Mike Pence’s participation in the inauguration of President Zelensky on May 20 and instead sent a delegation headed by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Ambassador to the European Union Gordan Sondland, and Ambassador Kurt Volker.

These three returned from Kyiv and briefed President Trump on their encouraging first interactions with the new Ukrainian administration. Hopes that Trump would agree to an early meeting with the Ukrainian President were soon diminished, however, when Trump pushed back. According to Volker, “He just didn’t believe it. He was skeptical. And he also said, that’s not what I hear. I hear, you know, he’s got some terrible people around him.” President Trump also told them he believed that Ukraine “tried to take” him down. He told the three Amigos: “talk to Rudy.”

And they did. One of those interactions took place a week before the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, when Volker had breakfast with Rudy Giuliani at Trump Hotel. Volker testified that he pushed back on Giuliani’s accusation against Joe Biden. On July 22, just days before Trump would talk to Zelensky, Volker held a telephone conference with Giuliani and Andrey Yermak, a top advisor to the Ukrainian President, so that Giuliani could be introduced to Yermak.

On July 25th, the same day as the call between Trump and Zelensky, but before it took place, Volker sent a text message to Yermak: “heard from White House – assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/ “get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016, we will nail down date for a visit to Washington. Good luck!”

Later that day, Donald Trump would have the now infamous phone call with Zelensky in which he responded to the Ukrainian’s appreciation for U.S. defense support and request to buy more Javelin anti-tank missiles by saying, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.” And the favor involved the two investigations that Giuliani had been pushing for – into the Bidens and 2016. Volker was not on the call, but when asked about what it reflected, he testified that no president of the United States should ask a foreign leader to help interfere in a U.S. election.

Among those listening in on the July 25th call was Tim Morrison, who had taken over as the NSC’s Senior Director for European Affairs at the NSC only days before, but had been briefed by his predecessor, Fiona Hill, about the irregular second channel that was operating in parallel to the official one.

Like Col. Vindman and Ms. Williams from whom the committee heard this morning, Morrison emerged from the call troubled. He. was concerned enough about what he heard on the July 25 call, that he went to see the NSC legal advisor soon after it had ended. Col. Vindman’s fear was that the President had broken the law, but Morrison said his concern was that the call could be damaging if it were leaked. Soon after this discussion with lawyers at the NSC, the call record was hidden away on a secure server used to store highly classified intelligence, where it remained until late September when the call record was publicly released.

Following the July 25th call, Volker worked with Sondland and the Ukrainian president’s close advisor Yermak on a statement that would satisfy Giuliani. When Yermak sent over a draft that still failed to include the specific words Burisma and 2016, Giuliani said the statement would lack credibility. Volker then added both Burisma and 2016 to the draft statement.

Both Volker and Morrison were, by late July, aware that the security assistance had been cut off at the direction of the President and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

As the Ukrainians became aware of the suspension of security assistance and the negotiations over the scheduling of a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky dragged on, the pressure increased and any pretense that there was no linkage soon dropped away.

Morrison accompanied Vice-President Pence to Warsaw on September 1, where Pence and Zelensky met and Zelensky raised the suspended security assistance. Following that meeting, Sondland approached Yermak to tell him that he believed that what could help them move the aid was if the [Ukrainian] prosecutor general would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation.

On September 7, Ambassador Sondland had a telephone call with Trump and asked him what he wanted from Ukraine. According to Morrison, who spoke with Sondland after the call, Trump insisted that that there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelensky must personally announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it. Sondland also said that, if President Zelensky didn’t agree to make a public statement about the investigations, the U.S. and Ukraine would be at a stalemate—meaning, it would not receive the much-needed security assistance.

Morrison had “a sinking feeling” after the call as he realized that the ask was now being directed at Zelensky himself and not the Prosecutor General as Sondland had relayed to a senior Ukrainian aide in Warsaw on September 1. While Trump claimed there was no quid pro quo, his insistence that Zelensky himself publicly announce the investigations or they would be at a stalemate, made clear that at least two official acts — a White House meeting and $400 million in military aid — were conditioned on receipt of what Trump wanted, the investigations to help his campaign.

The efforts to secure the investigations would continue for several more days, but appear to have abruptly ended soon after three Committees of Congress announced an investigation into the Trump-Giuliani Ukraine scheme. Only then, would the aid be released.

Rep. Devin Nunes

Welcome back to the circus, ladies and gentlemen.

We are here to continue what Democrats tell us is a serious, somber, and even “prayerful” process of attempting to overthrow a duly elected president. If they’re successful, the end result would be to disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans who thought the president is chosen by the American people—not by thirteen Democrat partisans on a committee that’s supposed to be overseeing the government’s intelligence agencies.

And isn’t it strange how we’ve morphed into the Impeachment Committee, presiding over a matter that has no intelligence component whatsoever? Impeachment, of course, is the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee, not the Intelligence Committee.

But putting this farce in our court provides two main advantages for the Democrats: it made it easier for them to shroud their depositions in secrecy, and it allowed them to avoid giving too big a role in this spectacle to another Democrat committee chairman in whom Democrat leaders obviously have no confidence.

Who can possibly view these proceedings as fair and impartial? They are being conducted by Democrats who spent three years saturating the airwaves with dire warnings that President Trump is a Russian agent. And these outlandish attacks continue to this very day.

Just this weekend, in front of a crowd of Democratic Party activists, the Chairman of this committee:

  • Denounced President Trump as a “profound threat to our democracy.”
  • And vowed that “We will send that charlatan in the White House back to the golden throne he came from.”

How can anyone believe that people who would utter such dramatic absurdities are conducting a fair impeachment process and are only trying to discover the truth? It’s obvious the Democrats are trying to topple the president solely because they despise him, because they’ve promised since Election Day to impeach him, and because they’re afraid he will win re-election next year.

No witnesses have identified any crime or impeachable offense committed by the President, but that doesn’t matter. Last week the Democrats told us his infraction was asking for a quid pro quo. This week, it’s bribery. Who knows what ridiculous crime they’ll be accusing him of next week.

As witnesses, the Democrats have called a parade of government officials who don’t like President Trump’s Ukraine policy, even though they all acknowledge he provided Ukraine with lethal military aid after the Obama administration refused to do so. They also resent his conduct of policy through channels outside their own authority and control. These actions, they argue, contradict the “interagency consensus.”

They don’t seem to understand that the President alone is constitutionally vested with the authority to set the policy. The American people elect a president, not an interagency consensus.

And of course, our previous witnesses had very little new information to share in these hearings. That’s because these hearings are not designed to uncover new information, they’re meant to showcase a handpicked group of witnesses who the Democrats determined, through their secret audition process, will provide testimony most conducive to their accusations.

In fact, by the time any witness says anything here, people are hearing it for the third time. They heard it first through the Democrats’ cherry-picked leaks to their media sympathizers during the secret depositions, and second when the Democrats published those deposition transcripts in a highly staged manner.

Of course there are no transcripts from crucial witnesses like Hunter Biden, who could testify about his well-paying job on the board of a corrupt Ukrainian company, or Alexandra Chalupa, who worked on an election meddling scheme with Ukrainian officials on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

That’s because the Democrats refuse to let us hear from them.

As for evidence, what we’re left with is the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call, which the President has made public. That means Americans can read for themselves an unremarkable conversation with President Zelensky, who repeatedly expressed satisfaction with the call afterward.

The Democrats, however, claim President Zelensky was being bribed, and therefore he must be lying when he says the call was friendly and posed no problems.

There’s some irony here—for weeks we’ve heard the Democrats bemoan the damage President Trump supposedly caused to U.S.−Ukrainian relations. But when the Ukrainian President contradicts their accusations, they publicly dismiss him as a liar. I may be wrong, but I’m fairly sure calling a friendly foreign president a liar violates the interagency consensus.

So overall, the Democrats would have you believe President Zelensky was being blackmailed with a pause on lethal military aid that he didn’t even know about, that President Trump did not mention to him, and that diplomats have testified they always assumed would be lifted—which it was, without the Ukrainians undertaking any of the actions they were supposedly being coerced into doing.

This process is not serious, it is not somber, and it is certainly not prayerful. It’s an ambitious attack to deprive the American people of their right to elect a president that the Democrats don’t like.

As I mentioned, the Chairman of this committee claims that democracy is under threat. If that’s true, it’s not the President who poses the danger.