Former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security Council staffer Tim Morrison testified beginning around 3:30 p.m. ET. Earlier Tuesday, NSC staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, testified for around 4.5 hours starting at 9 a.m ET.
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Volker, citing Biden link, becomes latest witness to revise testimony
Kurt Volker, the former U.S. envoy for Ukraine negotiations, told the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday he now sees that others in the Trump administration sought an investigation into the Biden family and that they told Ukraine's government that military aid depended on it — a shift in his account that he said reflected new information he'd only recently learned.
Volker, who was the first witness to be deposed behind closed doors last month in the inquiry, told the House at the time that "official representatives" of the U.S. had “never communicated to Ukrainians" that the aid had been suspended for a specific reason. He added, "We never had a reason."
But in the weeks since, other officials have testified that the ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, had, in fact, told a top Ukrainian presidential aide that the country would not likely get the money unless the investigations were announced, a fact Sondland himself ultimately conceded.
"I have learned many things that I did not know at the time of the events in question," Volker said Tuesday in his new account to Congress, which took place during the open, televised portion of the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment proceedings.
Schiff presses Morrison on concerns about Ukraine call
Schiff grilled Morrison about his concerns over Trump's Ukraine call. Morrison appeared uncomfortable describing the call as Trump pressuring Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens.
Schiff asked why, if it was a “perfect call” as Trump has repeatedly claimed, Morrison went to the national security council’s legal adviser. Morrison answered that he would have been concerned if the call leaked despite the content.
Morrison, however, agreed that it would be hypothetically problematic if Trump had asked to open an investigation into other U.S. political officials, including Pelosi and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. But Morrison stopped short of saying asking a probe of Joe Biden was inappropriate.
“I can only speak to what I understood at the time and why I acted the way I did at the time,” he told Schiff.
Schiff wants to know why Volker doesn’t remember July 10 meeting details
Schiff grilled Volker on how he forgot so many details of the July 10 meeting at the White House that included himself, Sondland, Vindman, then-national security adviser John Bolton and several Ukrainian officials, including Ukraine’s national security adviser.
During that meeting, Sondland allegedly said he’d worked out a deal with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that Zelenskiy could have a meeting with Trump if Ukraine opened investigations.
Bolton “stiffened” after the exchange and ended the meeting, later telling colleague Fiona Hill to report it to the National Security Council’s lawyer, she testified. “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this,” Hill said Bolton told her.
“Why didn’t you tell us about this?” Schiff asked Volker, referring to his Oct. 3 closed-door testimony.
“Because that’s what I remembered,” Volker replied. He added that he “learned other things” about the meeting from having read the testimony of Vindman and Hill, including that “at the very end of that meeting ... Gordon did bring that up, and that was it.”
Schiff pressed Volker how he could possibly have forgotten a term like “drug deal” and how the meeting ended so abruptly.
Volker replied that “I do not still, to this point, remember” the meeting ending that way.
Goldman grills Volker: How could you not know?
Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman grilled Volker on how he could avoid seeing a political aim in the pursuit of Ukrainian investigations and recalling the same details to which his colleagues testified.
"If there are two staffers who took notes of that meeting and testified that the subject of that meeting of sensitive topics or investigations came up, are we better off trusting their notes?" Goldman asked after Volker testified the topic of investigations did not come up in a July 26th meeting with the Ukrainian president.
Volker repeatedly said he didn’t recall certain details or realize there was a political aim of an inquiry into corruption, but also declined to say he doubted colleagues whose recollection differed from him.
Instead, Volker said that while he discussed investigations with Sondland and Giuliani — and pushed back against Giuliani in one instance — he did not see the rest.
Nunes complains about the process, witnesses
Nunes used his extra 15 minutes allotted by chairman Schiff to again complain about how the hearings are conducted. He again called it a “drug deal,” which is a phrase Bolton allegedly used to describe the pressure campaign on Ukraine.
Nunes said he did not have any questions for the witnesses and sparred with Schiff about why these “magical” 15 minutes are allowed to which Schiff noted is a part of the resolution formalizing the process.
The California Republican also lamented the witnesses as being Democrat witnesses, even though they were actually requested by the GOP.
Nunes yielded the remaining time to Castor to question the witnesses.
Hearing resumes after brief break
After a short break, the hearing has returned. They are doing another round of staff questioning. There will be a 15-minute staff round for Dems and then 15-minute staff round for Republicans. After those are wrapped up, member questions will begin.
ANALYSIS: Morrison’s attention to politics doesn’t add up
Morrison repeatedly has insisted that he wanted to keep Trump’s July conversation with Zelenskiy to a limited number of people because he was worried it could leak. He also has insisted that his concern was not about the content of the call — that he didn’t worry that something improper had happened.
Instead, he testified, he was worried that Democratic support for Ukraine would waver if the details became public. But apparently that was not as alarming to him as the fact that Trump already had frozen aid to Ukraine. That is, he worried less about the actual loss of Trump’s backing for Ukraine than the potential loss of Democratic backing.
Neither of the lawyers followed up on why the president’s position didn’t bother him.
Volker downplaying how much he knew about demands for investigations
Volker has repeatedly downplayed how much he personally knew about tying investigations Trump wanted into Burisma and a conspiracy theory related to do the 2016 election to a White House visit by Zelenskiy and, potentially, military aid to Ukraine.
“The issue of the security assistance was one where I thought that this was really related to a general negative view of Ukraine,” Volker said, responding to questions from members of the House Intelligence Committee.
He added moments later that he wouldn’t call a public announcement by Zelenskiy for the desired investigations “a condition” for the Zelenskiy-White House meeting.
“I wouldn’t have called it a condition; it’s a nuance, I guess,” Volker said.
Volker, however, added that he nevertheless viewed the production of such a public statement “as very helpful.”
“If we could get this done, it would help improve the perception that President Trump and others had,” he said, responding to questions from Goldman.
But Volker’s statements that suggest he didn’t know, or knew little, about conditioning a White House visit to the investigations contradict what he wrote in a July 25 text to a top Zelenskiy aide.
“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,” Volker wrote in a text — sent just before Trump spoke by phone to Zelenskiy. The text message was one of several provided to, and released by, House Democrats as part of their inquiry.