Trump pressured Zelensky to make a phone call on July 25 to open those investigations – a conversation whose interpretation underlies the impeachment investigation. The president says the call is "perfect"; Democrats say it was blackmail and bribery.
On Friday, a State Department official in Ukraine, David Holmes, pulled Sondland deeper into the scandal when he revealed that the day after Trump called Zelensky, Sondland spoke to the president over the phone at a Kiev restaurant and held him. up so others can hear the conversation.
Holmes describes hearing Trump ask about the state of the investigations and hear Sondland confirm that Zelensky agreed to his request. He also testified that Sondland, after speaking with the president, told him that Trump was not "stupid" about Ukraine but more interested in Biden's investigation.
Morrison told impeachment investigators that until he spoke with Sundland on September 1
Morrison also testifies that Sondland briefed President Trump prior to the fatal call on July 25, which circumvents the usual procedures of the National Security Council.
"Ambassador Sundland emailed me and several other White House officials to let us know that he had spoken to the President that morning to inform him of the conversation," he said.
The Morrison account pays tribute to the version of events that current US envoy to Ukraine William Taylor told deputies both during a closed-door deposition and during public testimony on Wednesday. He also stressed the extent of Sondland's planned public testimony next week.
Lawmakers wondered if Sondland had lied to them about his talks with Trump.
Sondland has already changed his testimony once to show that he thinks he intends to condition military assistance and a visit to the White House for Zelensky at the start of his preferred investigations. Sundland also makes no mention of the July 26 episode described by Holmes.
Complicating the Story
The testimonies of Morrison and other senior administration officials round out the story told by a CIA official who filed a formal complaint with the intelligence community's inspector general in August.
But Morrison's testimony may complicate the Democratic-popular narrative that senior members of Trump's team were so embarrassed by his call with Zelensky that they tried to bury the records.
One of the most explosive allegations in the offender's complaint was that a partial transcript of the July 25 call was placed in a highly classified computer system designed for high-quality information, not political sensitive material.
Morrison acknowledged that he recommended that access to call records be restricted.
But he told House researchers that the partial transcript, known as MEMCON in NSC terminology, was originally inserted into the system at a codeword level called NICE by "error."
Morrison discovered the mistake, he said, when he went to review the record before a scheduled meeting between President Trump and Zelensky in Warsaw, Poland. This meeting never took place, and Vice President Mike Pence was sent instead.
Nothing in the document required it to be included in the NICE system, Morrison testified. He said John Eisenberg, a senior legal advisor to the National Security Council, told him that White House executive staff misunderstood his instructions this way.
But Morrison, unlike his lieutenant-colonel, Alexander Windman, testifies that he does not hear anything inappropriate in the telephone conversation between Trump and Zelensky. "I was hoping for a greater embrace of President Zelensky's reform agenda than the president," he said.
When asked why he consulted Eisenberg after the call, Morrison gave two reasons.
"I was concerned about leaks," he said, "but I also wanted to make sure the package was reviewed with due regard at the highest level."
Morrison also said he was worried about any announcement of the conversation. would jeopardize bilateral support for Ukraine in Congress and could also be used as partisan nonsense. But pressed by lawmakers for what he believed would be harmful to Trump, Morrison did not elaborate.
"I was afraid … if it expired, it would become a partisan political issue," he said, adding: "I wanted to essentially put myself between my staff and the issue. I was the chief. It was my responsibility.
Morrison also seems to contradict Windman's view of the accuracy of the edited transcript, testifying that he has accepted all the revisions of his deputy.
Windman told the researchers that the final recording of the conversation leaves a mention of Deer for "Burrism," a pass he views as "significant," since it means he was well aware of what President Trump planned to ask him for.
But Morrison said he did not recall the mention of
He also seems annoyed that Windman, as his armpit, went directly to Eisenberg to express his concern about the call instead of notifying his superior.
"My predecessor had a different style of personnel management. you're from me, "he said, referring to Hill. "She did not have the same opinion as reporting on the chain of command."