Transcripts released Saturday in the impeachment inquiry show Ambassador Gordon Sondland playing a central role in President Donald Trump’s effort to push Ukraine to conduct political investigations as a condition for receiving needed military aid.
The fresh details come from hundreds of pages of testimony released by House investigators from Tim Morrison, a former top official at the National Security Council. They contradict much of the ambassador’s own testimony behind closed doors. Both Morrison and Sondland are expected to testify publicly before the House next week.
While some, including Trump himself, have begun to question Sondland’s knowledge of events, Morrison said the ambassador “related to me he was acting — he was discussing these matters with the President.”
Morrison, a longtime Republican defense hawk in Washington, largely confirmed testimony from current and former officials testifying in the impeachment inquiry. But his account also provided new insight on what others have called a shadow diplomacy being run by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, often at odds with U.S. national security interests.
As Sondland, Giuliani and others tried to persuade new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch the investigations Trump wanted of his Democratic rivals, Morrison said he “tried to stay away.”
Morrison called this the Burisma “bucket,” and it included investigations into the family of one of Trump’s potential Democratic rivals, Joe Biden, and the role of Democrats in the 2016 election. It’s a reference to the gas company in Ukraine where Biden’s son Hunter served on the board
In particular Morrison described a meeting Sondland held with a top Zelenskiy aide, Andriy Yermak, on the sidelines of a summit in Warsaw.
Morrison said he witnessed the exchange and that afterward Sondland bounded across the room to tell him what was said.
Sondland told him that “what could help them move the aid was if the prosecutor general would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation,” Morrison testified. The prosecutor general is Ukraine’s top legal official.
“My concern was what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics,” Morrison said. He added: “It was the first time something like this had been injected as a condition on the release of the assistance.”
Morrison, who announced Oct. 30 he would be stepping down from the NSC, was brought to the White House by then-national security adviser John Bolton.
Testimony from Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, also raised new questions about how much Pence knew about the alleged trade-off that’s central to the impeachment inquiry.