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White House Policy Official Corroborates Ukraine Narrative — But Saw Nothing Illegal

Timothy Morrison arrives for a deposition in the House impeachment inquiry on Thursday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Timothy Morrison arrives for a deposition in the House impeachment inquiry on Thursday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Updated at 5:03 p.m. ET

A key White House policy official corroborated other witnesses' accounts of the Ukraine affair in a closed-door deposition on Thursday but said he didn't view President Trump's actions as improper or illegal.

Timothy Morrison, director of European affairs for the National Security Council, told House investigators that he was briefed about Trump's intent to lean on the government of Ukraine by his predecessor, Fiona Hill, at the time of their handover inside the White House.

A copy of Morrison's opening statement was obtained by CBS News and later verified by NPR.

Morrison also confirmed the substance of earlier testimony given by Ambassador William Taylor to House investigators about the details of the Ukraine affair, with a few caveats.

Morrison said he remembered different details about conversations between the Trump administration and its Ukrainian interlocutors and was not involved personally with one meeting that Taylor described.

However, overall Morrison said the public outlines of the story match his own understanding.

What concerned him about Trump's now-famous July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president wasn't potential illegality but the potential political and geostrategic blowback that could arise from the request the president made of his Ukrainian counterpart.

"After the call, I promptly asked the NSC legal adviser and his deputy to review it," Morrison wrote in his opening statement. "I had three concerns about a potential leak ... first, how it would play out in Washington's polarized environment; second, how a leak would affect the bipartisan support our Ukrainian partners currently experience in Congress; and third, how it would affect the Ukrainian perceptions of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship. I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed."

Resignation to come

NPR was first to report that Morrison is leaving his post.

Morrison confirmed that he's leaving but told House investigators he hasn't submitted his resignation yet. He said he sought to quash any impression that he was leaving the White House to testify.

"I plan to finalize my transition from the NSC after my testimony is complete," he said.

Morrison is one of a number of administration witnesses who've been sought by Democrats working to establish the facts in the Ukraine affair, but a few others haven't yet appeared.

Morrison's former bosses, including former acting National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, are among those who've been invited.

An official working on the impeachment inquiry said on Thursday that others include the National Security Council's top lawyer, his deputy and other White House aides.

The situation is complicated because although the White House has said it won't cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, that hasn't stopped several key current and former officials from talking.

Although Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and people at their level appear unlikely to cooperate, lower-level professionals and staffers have been taking part.

Trump and Republican supporters say Democrats' inquiry is a "sham" that doesn't accord equal privileges to the minority and violates their rights to due process.

Some defenders also argue that the narrative about the Ukraine affair so far has revealed Trump acting within his rights. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Thursday that Democrats were abusing "secret process and selective leaks to portray the president's legitimate actions as an impeachable offense."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has said that he doesn't want to litigate with witnesses who are declining to appear and get into a game of "rope-a-dope" with the Trump administration. Democrats reserve the right to consider failures to testify as evidence of obstruction of Congress, Schiff says, which could form part of eventual articles of impeachment.

The House voted 232-196 on Thursday to authorize its impeachment inquiry and proceed to a new phase that includes public hearings. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Thursday that impeachment isn't a foregone conclusion and that it will depend on the outcome of the inquiry.

Sharp partisan break

Republicans said of Morrison on Thursday that they welcomed his deposition and the take he offered on events.

"The deposition was really positive, and I look forward to this transcript getting public," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. "This is one I'll look forward to."

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., emphasized how strongly Thursday's vote on the impeachment inquiry had broken along party lines. In fact, he said, it was "a bipartisan vote against impeachment," noting that two Democrats broke with their majority to oppose the legislation.

But New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski emphasized that Morrison and other witnesses are there to deliver facts, not interpretations.

"I think every single witness has corroborated the fundamental facts that previous witnesses have conveyed to us," Malinowski said of Morrison's testimony.

Malinowski bristled when asked about the portions of Morrison's statement that alluded to concerns about political consequences but no concerns about improper or illegal activity.

"The only thing we're interested here is figuring out what the facts are, not the various opinions of people but what the facts are with respect to the president's conduct," Malinowski said. "Did he pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival? ... It's for us to judge whether that's appropriate or not."

Copyright NPR 2019.

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