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Ex-Ukraine Envoy And Former WH Aide Testifying; Ex-Envoy Amends Past Testimony, Now Says Ukraine Aid Was Linked To Biden Probe; Ex- Envoy: Trump Had "Strongly Negative" View Of Ukraine. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 19, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KURT VOLKER, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY TO UKRAINE: -- I believe it was -- I can't be hundred percent sure, but I believe it was the largest national delegation.
STEVE CASTOR, MINORITY COUNSEL: OK. And included in the delegation was Secretary Perry --
VOLKER: Secretary Perry, Ambassador Sondland, my self, Senator Ron Johnson was there and also the Charge d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy at the time, Joe Pennington.
CASTOR: And the -- we talked a little bit this morning but President Zelensky inauguration came together rather quickly?
VOLKER: It did. I believe we had about three days notice in which to put the delegation together.
CASTOR: There's been some discussion about whether the Vice President was going to be able to lead that effort and as it turned out he was not able to lead it. Do you have any information as to why the Vice President was unable to join?
VOLKER: I don't.
CASTOR: And Mr. Morrison, do you have any information as to why the Vice President was unable to participate in the delegation?
TIM MORRISON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL TOP RUSSIA EXPERT: No.
CASTOR: Ambassador Volker, you testified during your deposition that aid, in fact, does get held up from time to time for a whole assortment of reasons. Is that your understanding?
VOLKER: That is true.
CASTOR: And sometimes the hold-ups are rooted in something at OMB, sometimes at the Defense Department, sometimes at the State Department and sometimes on the Hill, correct?
VOLKER: That is correct.
CASTOR: And so when the aid was held up for 55 days for Ukraine, that didn't, in and of itself, strike you as uncommon?
VOLKER: No. It's something that had happened in my career in the past. I had seen hold-ups of assistance. I just assumed it was part of the decision-making process, somebody had an objection and we had to overcome it.
CASTOR: And, in fact, there were concerns that perhaps that, you know, President Zelensky wasn't going to be the reformer that he campaigned on?
VOLKER: That was a supposition that I made because of the meeting with the President on May 23rd. I thought that could be what's behind it.
CASTOR: And in fact the aid was lifted shortly after he was able to convene a parliament.
VOLKER: I believe he -- let me get the dates straight. I believe -- yes, he was able to convene the parliament around the first of September. And I believe the aid was released on the 11th of September.
CASTOR: And when is he able to convene a parliament he was able to push through a number of anti-corruption initiatives?
VOLKER: That began with the parliament seated on that day. It was a 24-hour session, but then it continued for some time.
CASTOR: And that was an encouraging sign.
VOLKER: It started off in a very encouraging way, yes.
CASTOR: And other than these things going on the background with the pause in the aid, the U.S. relationships with Ukraine you testified are -- you stated it was about as good as you'd want them to be?
VOLKER: Can you repeat the question? I'm sorry.
CASTOR: You testified at your deposition that once the aid was lifted, despite all of the things going on in the background, that U.S./Ukraine relations were strong?
CASTOR: Or as good as you want them to be?
CASTOR: And you referenced that the security sector assistance was lifted, you know, any hold on that that there was a positive meeting in New York --
VOLKER: That's correct.
CASTOR: -- and there was momentum in putting pressure on the Russians, is that correct? VOLKER: That is correct.
CASTOR: In your deposition you made it clear that President Trump had a deep rooted a negative view in Ukraine and their corruption environment?
CASTOR: And you first became aware of his views back in September of 2017?
VOLKER: That is correct.
CASTOR: Can you tell us a little bit about that?
VOLKER: Yes. In September of 2017 I was invited by Secretary Tillerson to do a pre-brief with President Trump before his meeting with President Poroshenko on the margins of the U.N. general assembly. I did the pre-brief and then I took part in the bilateral meeting.
CASTOR: And so long before President Zelensky was elected, President Trump had a negative view of --
VOLKER: Yes. He had a very strongly negative view.
CASTOR: Back in 2017, do you remember anything he said or did that gave you a feeling that he had these negative views?
VOLKER: Yes. I want to be very careful here because this was a bilateral meeting between the two presidents and I don't want to strain the classified material, but I can tell you my impression was that he had a very strongly negative view of Ukraine at the time.
CASTOR: Fair enough. And you described the President's skepticism at your deposition as a reasonable position?
CASTOR: And I believe you said most people who know anything about Ukraine would possibly think that?
CASTOR: And you viewed it as part of your role to help change his mind that President Zelensky was a genuine reformer, that he was not running for office for self-enrichment, that he was, indeed, a good person.
VOLKER: That is correct.
CASTOR: During the May 23rd meeting with the President in the Oval Office, could you just relate to us the concerns the President articulated about the Ukraine? VOLKER: Yes. The President came into the meeting and immediately started speaking. He had just a string of comments that Ukraine is a terrible place. They're all corrupt. They're terrible people. They tried to take me down.
I tried to explain along with the others that were there, each of us took turns speaking, I tried to explain that President Zelensky agrees with you, that he was elected because of that situation in Ukraine and he has a strong mandate from the people of Ukraine to change it. And that's why it's important that we actually show him very strong support now. But the President was not convinced and he said that Zelensky is no different, that he has terrible people around him. You know, it's not what I hear about Ukraine, what we're telling him. You know, I hear that, you know, nothing has changed. Talk to Rudy. That kind of dialogue as I described.
CASTOR: And when the President said that the Ukrainians tried to take him down, did you have any idea of what he was referring to?
VOLKER: I did. I believed he was referring to the rumors of efforts to interfere in the 2016 election by providing damaging information about the President or about Paul Manafort to the Hillary Clinton campaign. That was one of the rumors that had been out there and that had gotten some support from the Ukrainian prosecutor general.
CASTOR: And to the best of your knowledge the President genuinely believed that, right?
VOLKER: I believe he was concerned about it. I don't know what he actually believed but he brought it up.
CASTOR: And Mr. Morrison, you were also aware of the President's skeptical view of foreign aid generally?
CASTOR: And that there was initiative that he was looking at foreign aid pretty broadly?
CASTOR: Trying to scrutinize to make sure the U.S. taxpayers were getting their moneys worth?
CASTOR: And the President was also interested, was he not, in better understanding opportunities for increased burden sharing among the Europeans?
CASTOR: And what could you tell us about that?
MORRISON: The President was concerned that the United States seemed to bare the exclusive brunt of security assistance to Ukraine. He wanted to see the Europeans step up and contribute more security assistance.
CASTOR: And was there any interagency activity, whether it be with the State Department or the Defense Department coordination by the National Security Council to look into that a little bit for the President?
MORRISON: We were surveying the data to understand who was contributing what and sort of in what categories.
CASTOR: And so the presidency events (ph) concerns the interagency tried to address them?
CASTOR: And by late August we just discussed with Ambassador Volker that a new Rada was seated and did that give possibly some hope that President Zelensky would be able to push through some of these reforms?
CASTOR: ;And did you hope during this time period, during this 55 days where the aid was paused that potentially Zelensky would be able to demonstrate his, you know, bonafides and would subsequently be able to, you know, get the President to lift the aid?
CASTOR: In fact, you traveled with Ambassador Bolton to the Ukraine right around Labor Day weekend, correct?
CASTOR: And you met with President Zelensky on, I believe it was August 29th?
MORRISON: Ambassador Bolton had a meeting with President Zelensky and I staffed that meeting.
CASTOR: And that's right around the time when the Rada had met and they had started to push through their reforms?
MORRISON: As I recall the meeting -- the date of the meeting between Ambassador Bolton and President Zelensky was actually the first day of the new Rada.
CASTOR: And some of the reforms included naming a new prosecutor general?
MORRISON: New prosecutor general, a brand-new Cabinet, yes.
CASTOR: And they pushed through some legislation that eliminated immunity for Rada members?
MORRISON: Yes, eliminating parliamentary immunity. CASTOR: And I believe you provided some color into this experience, this meeting. You said that the Ukrainians had been up all night working on some of these legislative initiatives?
MORRISON: Yes. The Ukrainians with whom we met were by all appearances exhausted from the pace (ph) of activity.
CASTOR: And was Ambassador Bolton encouraged by the activity?
MORRISON: Yes, he was.
CASTOR: And was the meeting altogether favorable?
CASTOR: And at that point in time after the meeting, Ambassador Bolton, did he head off to Warsaw with the Vice President? Or did he just -- I know you went to Warsaw.
MORRISON: Well we had a few stops between Ukraine and Poland, but, yes, Ambassador Bolton proceeded to Warsaw where we were expecting to ensure everything was staged properly for the President's arrival.
CASTOR: And did you have an opportunity to brief the Vice President on --
MORRISON: I did not.
CASTOR: Did Ambassador Bolton?
MORRISON: He did.
CASTOR: And what do you remember from -- what Ambassador Bolton shared with the Vice President about the Zelensky meeting?
MORRISON: So, I was not there. The issue I remember most starkly was Ambassador Bolton was quite annoyed that Ambassador Sondland crashed pre-brief.
MORRISON: But the ambassador had everything he needed to ensure that the -- either the President or the Vice President were well prepared.
CASTOR: But did you brief Ambassador Bolton before he had an opportunity to meet with the Vice President?
MORRISON: I didn't need to. I was -- Ambassador Bolton was there.
CASTOR: OK. But as far as you know Ambassador Bolton communicated to the Vice President that the ongoing zone in Ukraine were positive --
MORRISON: That's my understanding.
CASTOR: -- with President Zelensky. And at this time Ambassador Bolton was advocating for the lifting of the aid.
MORRISON: He had been for some time, yes.
CASTOR: And did you participate in the Warsaw meetings?
MORRISON: We had a reduced schedule from what had been arranged for the President -- for the Vice President. But the Vice President met with President Duda of Poland and he met with President Zelensky, and I participated in both meetings.
CASTOR: And what do you remember from the meeting with President Zelensky?
MORRISON: It seemed very positive.
CASTOR: What was the message -- I mean, President Zelensky he raised the issue of the aid, correct?
CASTOR: And how did the Vice President respond?
MORRISON: He represented his support for the aid. He represented the strong commitment of the United States to Ukraine. And he explained that President Trump, because this is after the POLITICO article had come out that made clear there was a hold, he explained that what we doing was the United States government, the interagency was examining what more Europe could do in the security space and taking a look at how Ukraine was reforming what had -- has been a history of corruption.
CASTOR: And was there any discussion during the meeting with President Zelensky on the part of Vice President about any of these investigations we've come to talk about?
CASTOR: So, Burisma wasn't raised?
CASTOR: 2016 election wasn't raised?
CASTOR: And the Vice President didn't mention any investigations at all, did he?
CASTOR: You mentioned the August 28th POLITICO article, was that the first time that you believe the Ukrainians may have had a real sense that the aid was on hold?
CASTOR: So, from the 55-day period spanning July 18th through September 11th, it didn't really become public until August 28th?
MORRISON: That's correct. Ambassador Taylor and I had a number of phone calls where we, in fact, talked about do the Ukrainians know yet because we both felt very strongly it was important that we ensure that the President was able to make the decision to release the aid before the Ukrainians ever found out about it.
CASTOR: OK. And Ambassador Volker, is that also your recollection?
VOLKER: Yes, it is.
CASTOR: That it wasn't until the POLITICO article that --
VOLKER: That's correct. I received a text message from one of Ukrainian counterparts on August 29 forwarding that article and that's the first they raised it with me.
CASTOR: And can you share a little bit with us about your communications during that time period about the hold on the aid?
VOLKER: Yes. I didn't have any communications with the Ukrainians about the hold on aid until after they raised it with me for the same reason that Tim just gave. The hope that we could get it taken care of ourselves before it became something that they became aware of.
Inside of the U.S. government I was aware that the hold was placed, I was aware of that on July 18th. It was referenced at an interagency meeting and got a read out from that meeting from one of my assistants. I then immediately spoke with several people in the administration to object. I thought that this was a bad decision or a bad hold. Maybe not a decision but, you know, a process and I wanted to make sure that all of the arguments were marshalled to get it lifted.
And so I spoke with the Pentagon, with Laura Cooper, I spoke with assistant secretary of affairs at the State Department who was going to represent the State Department at the next higher level meeting. I believe I spoke with officials in the European bureau, the National Security Council staff. So I was actively trying to convey that this needed to be lifted. And wanted them to be able to use my name in doing so because I felt that the best prospect for positioning ourselves for negotiations with Russia is the strongest defense capability for Ukraine.
CASTOR: And during this time period, did you come to believe that any of these investigations were part of the hold up in the aid?
VOLKER: No, I did not.
CASTOR: Backtracking just a little bit on July 3rd you met in Toronto with President Zelensky and there has been some -- you know, Ambassador Taylor and Mr. Kent provided some testimony that they had some apprehension that the part of this irregular channel, that Ambassador Taylor referenced, would rear its head in Toronto. And I'm just wondering if you could tell us whether that, in fact, happened.
VOLKER: Yes. Thank you. I could only tell you what I know. There may have been other conversations or other things. But I know that we had a conversation, Bill Taylor and, I believe, Gordon Sondland and I around the 28th of June that later connected to a, I believe, a conversation with President Zelensky although I may not have been part of the latter.
That being said, I was convinced after that conversation we had gotten nowhere. We had our White House briefing of President Trump on May 23rd and signed a letter inviting President Zelensky to the White House on May 29th. And for several weeks we were just temporizing with the Ukrainians, saying, well, we're working on it. It's a scheduling issue. You know, we'll get there, don't worry.
And I told Bill and Gordon that I was going to see President Zelensky in Toronto and I feel an obligation to tell him the truth, that we have a problem here, we're not getting aid scheduled. Here is what I think the problem is. It's the negative information flow from Mayor Giuliani. And that he would -- also that I would advise him that he should call President Trump personally because he needed to renew that personal relationship and be able to convey to President Trump that he was serious about fighting corruption, investigating things that happened in the past and so forth. So I did all of that with President Zelensky in a pull-aside after our formal bilateral meeting.
CASTOR: OK. And during that meeting in Toronto or the series of meetings, there was no discussion of pre-conditions, investigations of anything of that sort?
VOLKER: No. No.
CASTOR: And you were there with Mr. Kent?
VOLKER: Yes, I believe so.
CASTOR: And did you ever have any discussions with him about pre- conditions or investigations?
VOLKER: Not at that time. I think later on these things came up about when we were talking about a statement whether there were investigations. But I believe at this time in Toronto it was really more referring to investigations generically that that is how you go about fighting corruption and that President Zelensky should reaffirm his commitment to President Trump in a direct phone call.
CASTOR: OK. And at any point in time did -- had Mr. Kent raised any concerns to you about any of this?
VOLKER: Not at that time.
CASTOR: Next event I want to cover is the July 10th meeting in Ambassador Bolton's office. Talked a little bit about this morning, I don't know if you caught the coverage, but there was a testimony that at some point Ambassador Sondland mentioned investigations and reportedly the meeting ended abruptly. What can you tell us about that fact?
VOLKER: Thank you. And let me answer that question first. I would like to come back to your prior question for a second too, if I may. But on the July 10th meeting, this was a meeting that we had arranged between Alex Danylyuk who was the head of the National Secuirty and Defense Council and the National Security Adviser Bolton, attending the meeting was also Secretary Perry, Ambassador Sondland, myself, I believe Fiona Hill and also Andriy Yermak. The purpose was really a counterpart visit.
I thought that this would be the best opportunities -- the first high- level meeting that we're having in Washington with a senior U.S. official, Ambassador Bolton, after President Zelensky's inauguration. I thought it would be a great opportunity for the Ukrainians to make their case, that they are the new team in town, real deal about fighting corruption. I was rather disappointed with the meeting as it transpired. It struck me as down in the weeds, talking about reform of national security structures in Ukraine, legislation that they were working on and not the big picture and not the bilateral relationship. So it's a bit disappointed by that.
At the end of the meeting I do recall having seen some of the other testimony. I believe Ambassador Sondland did raise the point of investigations in a generic way. This was after the meeting was already wrapping up and I think all of us thought it was inappropriate and the conversation did not pick up from there. It was -- the meeting was over. We all went outside and we had a picture taken in front of the White House.
And then all of us except Ambassador Bolton went down to the ward room to talk through follow-up, about how do we follow-up on this meeting to keep the momentum and the relationship. And I think we broke up into several small groups. I remember having a conversation with Secretary Perry in one of his assistants about energy reform as part of that. I don't recall other conversations following up on investigations or Burisma.
CASTOR: And to the best of your knowledge there certainly was no precondition discussed, right?
VOLKER: No. No, again, the issue of the security assistance was one where I thought that this was really related to a -- a general negative view about Ukraine. There was nothing specific ever communicated to me about it or the reasons why it was held and we certainly didn't want to talk about it with the Ukrainians, we wanted to fix it.
CASTOR: OK. And a couple of weeks later, the July 25th call happened and you were headed to Ukraine during that time period?
VOLKER: Yes. I was actually already on my way to Ukraine. I think two days prior to that.
CASTOR: And you received readouts both from the U.S. and the Ukrainian side. Could you tell us about that?
VOLKER: Yes. So I was not on the phone call and I arrived in Ukraine and I had that lunch with Mr. Yermak that we saw on the day of the phone call. I have been pushing for the phone call because I thought it was important to renew the personal connection between the two leaders and to congratulate President Zelensky on the parliamentary election.
The readout that I received from Mr. Yermak and then also from the U.S., although I'm not exactly sure who it was from on the U.S. side but there was a U.S. and a Ukrainian readout were largely the same. That it was a good call. It was a congratulatory phone call for the president winning the parliamentary election. And President Zelensky did reiterate his commitment to reform and fighting corruption in Ukraine and President Trump did reiterate his invitation to President Zelensky to come visit him in the White House. That's exactly what I thought the phone call would be so I was not surprised at getting that as the readout.
CASTOR: And did you ever have any discussions with Ambassador Taylor about this?
VOLKER: At that time, we were together in Ukraine. At that time we went the very next day to visit the conflict zone and I'm sure he read the same readout that I did.
CASTOR: And you meet a meeting with President Zelensky on 26th.
VOLKER: Yes, we had a meeting the day after the phone call in the 26th in the morning before heading out to the conflict zone.
CASTOR: Were any of these concerning elements some witnesses have raised about the call, raised in the meeting with President Zelensky?
VOLKER: No. Only the very bare bones read out that I had received that was also how it was discussed in the meeting with President Zelensky.
CASTOR: So, to the extent there's been assertions that President Zelensky was concerned about demands President Trump had made?
VOLKER: I don't recall that.
CASTOR: You don't recall that?
VOLKER: I do not recall being -- I don't recall. Well, let me turn that around and say he was very positive about the phone call.
VOLKER: I don't recall him saying anything about demands but he was very upbeat about the fact of the call.
CASTOR: OK. And there was no discussion on the part of President Zelensky on how to navigate the various --
VOLKER: I don't recall that.
CASTOR: -- you know, concerns that people have articulated about the call?
VOLKER: I don't remember that.
CASTOR: And Mr. Zeldin asked you in the deposition that in no way, shape or form in either readouts from the United States or Ukraine, did you receive any indication whatsoever or anything that resembled a quid pro quo, is that correct?
VOLKER: That 's correct.
CASTOR: And the same would go for this new allegation of bribery?
VOLKER: I have only seen an allegation of bribery in the last week.
CASTOR: OK. It's the same common set of facts. It's just instead of quid pro quo now it's bribery?
VOLKER: I was never involved in anything that I considered to be bribery at all.
CASTOR: OK. Or extortion?
VOLKER: Or extortion.
VOLKER: Mr. Castor, may I address two specific points?
CASTOR: Of course.
VOLKER: One is I'm reminded that the meeting with Ambassador Bolton and Mr. (INAUDIBLE) took place on July 10th and I did not become aware of the hold on security assistance until July 18th.
CASTOR: Right. OK.
VOLKER: So that is another reason why that did not come up.
CASTOR: OK. And at that point in time you didn't know that the potential pause in the security assistance was brewing?
VOLKER: I did not. No. I heard about it for the first time on the 18th of July.
VOLKER: May I make a second observation as well?
VOLKER: I do remember having seen some of the testimony of Mr. Kent, a conversation in which he had asked me about the conspiracy theories that were out there in Ukraine. I don't remember what the date of this conversation was. And my view was, well if there are things like that, then, why not investigate them. I don't believe that there's anything to them. If there is, 2016 election interference is what I was thinking of, we want to know about that but I didn't believe there's anything there to begin with.
CASTOR: You testified in your deposition to the extent the Ukrainians were going to investigate other Ukrainians for wrong doing, that was appropriate in your mind?
VOLKER: Correct. It -- that is U.S. policy for years.
CASTOR: So if certain Ukrainians involved with Burisma company --
VOLKER: Well, that I think is the only plausible thing to look at there. As I said, I don't find it plausible or credible that Vice President Biden would have been influenced in his duties. But whether individually Ukrainians in the society that we know Ukraine has been for decades were trying to act in a corrupt way or buy influence, that is plausible.
CASTOR: Right. All right, Deputy Assistant Secretary Kent last Wednesday told us about, you know, there was an investigation into Burisma, trying to recoup millions of taxpayer dollars and Ukrainians were pursuing an investigation. There was a bribe paid. Were you tracking that?
VOLKER: I was aware of those kinds of things. I couldn't give you those kinds of details. I just know that there was a reputation around the company.
CASTOR: OK. And subsequent to those facts and the bribe being paid, the Burisma company wanted to improve their image and added some folks to their board, including the President of Poland, including Hunter Biden. Are you familiar with that?
VOLKER: That is what I understand.
CASTOR: And to the extent the Ukrainians that the folks affiliated with Burisma wanted to hire those people for their board for protection purposes so they could continue to engage in misdeeds, if that was a fact worth investigating, you certainly would be supportive of Ukrainians trying to get to the bottom of that, correct?
VOLKER: Well, I can't speculate as to any of the specifics of what was motivating Burisma or not. Ukrainian government authorities investigating possible corruption by Ukrainian citizens is a perfectly appropriate thing for them to do.
CASTOR: Mr. Morrison, I want to turn our attention back to the July 25th call, you were in the room. Did anything concern you on the call?
MORRISON: No. CASTOR: And after the call ended you, like Colonel Vindman, one of your next steps was to engage the NSC lawyers. And your reasons for doing that were slightly different than Colonel Vindman's and you articulated three concerns. And do you want to share them with us or would you rather I do it?
MORRISON: So, I think I articulated two concerns if I'm for getting one please remind me.
MORRISON: But the two concerns I had were, one, I did not see representatives of NSC legal on the call. And so I wanted to make sure that the legal adviser and his deputy were aware of the call. And I was also concerned about taking steps to protect the Memcon Limited disclosure for fear of the consequences of it leaking.
CASTOR: And you were concerned about it leaking for -- because you were worried about how it would play out in Washington's polarized political environment, correct?
CASTOR: And you were also worried how that would lead to the bipartisan support here in Congress of -- toward Ukraine, right?
CASTOR: And you were also concerned that it might affect the Ukrainians perception negatively?
CASTOR: And in fact all three of those things have played out, haven't they?
CASTOR: You didn't ask the lawyers to put it on the code word system, correct?
MORRISON: I -- I want to be precise about the -- the lexicon here. I did not ask for it to be moved to a compartmented system.
OK. You just wanted the transcript to be controlled?
MORRISON: I wanted access to be restricted.
CASTOR: OK. And when you learned that the transcript had been stored on the compartmented server, you believed that was a mistake, correct?
MORRISON: Well, it was represented to me that it was a mistake. I -- I was trying to pull up that memcon because we were in the process of pulling together Ambassador Bolton's materials and the President's materials for what was a planned bilat between POTUS and President Zelensky.
And when I went to do that, I could not pull up the package in our system, and I did not understand why. I spoke with the NSC Executive Secretary of Staff, asked them why, and they did their research and they informed me it had been moved to the higher classification system at the direction of John Eisenberg, whom I then asked why.
I mean, that's -- that was the judgment he made. That's not necessarily mine to question, but I didn't understand it. And he essentially told me, I -- I gave no such direction.
He did his own inquiry, and he represented back to me that it was -- his understanding was it was a kind of administrative error that when he also gave direction to restrict access, the Executive Secretary of Staff understood that as an apprehension that there was something in the content of the memcon that could not exist on the lower classification system.
CASTOR: So to the best of your knowledge, there's no malicious intent in moving the transcript to the compartmented server?
CASTOR: And to your knowledge, anybody on the NSC staff that needed access to the transcript for their official duties always was able to -- to access it, correct? People that had a need to know and a need to access it.
MORRISON: Once it was moved to the compartmented system?
CASTOR: OK. The memcon on -- of the July 25th call was, in your experience, prepared normally?
CASTOR: That there isn't an exact transcription of what's said on the call, correct?
CASTOR: That there is notetakers in -- in the situation room and then they prepare a draft and it's circulated among relevant parties?
MORRISON: Essentially, yes.
CASTOR: And you had responsibility for coordinating any edits?
MORRISON: Yes. We -- we look at the -- the -- the, you know, shorthand -- we'll call the transcript, but the -- the memorandum of conversation. And we ensure that that transcription is as close to accurate as possible given our requirements under the Presidential Records Act. CASTOR: OK. And Colonel Vindman testified that he thought it was
very accurate. Did you, as well?
MORRISON: I viewed it as complete and accurate.
CASTOR: OK. Colonel Vindman did articulate that he -- he had a couple of edits. He wanted Burisma inserted, I think it was on page three or four, in place of the company in one of the sections where President Zelensky was talking. Are you aware of that edit request?
MORRISON: I understand that he said in either this proceeding or the deposition that -- that he wanted that request, yes.
CASTOR: OK. At the time, did you understand that he had asked for that?
MORRISON: I don't recall that. It was my practice if -- if an edit was -- if I believed an edit accurately represented the call, I would accept it. If I didn't hear it in the call, if it didn't exist in my notes, I wouldn't have made the edit.
CASTOR: OK. Yes, he -- just on page four, he wanted to swap out the word "company" for "Burisma." And when that edit from Colonel Vindman was not installed, did he give you any negative feedback that it was crucial that that edit get in the document?
MORRISON: Not that I can recall.
CASTOR: OK. Did he ever raise any concerns to you about the accuracy of the transcript?
MORRISON: Not that I can recall.
CASTOR: Did he ever raise any concerns to you generally about the call?
MORRISON: When we were discussing the -- the tracked changes version of the memcon, I believe he -- he had some concerns about the call. I believe we -- we both agreed we wanted that more full-throated embrace of President Zelensky and his reform agenda, and we didn't get it.
CASTOR: OK. You indicated in your deposition that when you took over the portfolio for Dr. Hill, July 15th, you were alerted to potential issues in Colonel Vindman's judgment.
CASTOR: Did she relay anything specific to -- specifically to you why she thought that?
MORRISON: Not -- not as such. It was more of an overarching statement from her and her deputy who became my deputy that they had concerns about judgment.
CASTOR: OK. Did any another NSC personnel raise concerns with you about Mr. Vindman?
CASTOR: All right, I'm sorry, Colonel Vindman. And what were some of those concerns that were brought to your attention?
MORRISON: There were --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry. We are not going -- I'm going to instruct him not to answer.
MORRISON: Talk about --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to instruct him not to answer because I think that it's -- it's beyond the scope of -- of what you're asking for. These -- these concerns, Mr. Castor, predated any involvement with the Ukrainian secretary assistance.
CASTOR: Well, during the deposition, I asked you, Mr. Morrison, whether others raised a concern that Colonel Vindman may have leaked information?
MORRISON: You did ask that, yes.
CASTOR: Yes, and your answer was?
MORRISON: Others had represented that, yes.
CASTOR: OK. And I asked you whether you were concerned Colonel Vindman did not keep you in the loop at all times with his official duties?
CASTOR: And in fact, when he went to the National Security Council lawyers following the July 25th call, he did not first come to you. Is that correct?
CASTOR: And you were his supervisor in the chain of command, correct?
CASTOR: And in hindsight, did you wish that he had come to you first before going to the lawyers?
CASTOR: And why is that?
MORRISON: One, if -- if he had concerns about something about the content of the call, that's something I would have expected to have been notified of. I also think, just as a matter of practice, since we both went to the lawyers, we didn't necessarily both need to and economy of effort may have prevailed. CASTOR: OK. At any point, subsequently, did -- did he become
frustrated that he felt cut out of some -- some of the Ukraine portfolio?
CASTOR: And what was the nature of his concerns?
MORRISON: Well, he -- the easiest way to say it is he was concerned with respect to, for example, the Ukraine trip that he was not -- he did not go. He asked me why. It is my practice to have a number of the conversations with Ambassador Taylor one-on-one, and there were certain other matters.
CASTOR: OK. And did you ever get the sense that you resolved his concerns, or did they linger?
MORRISON: I -- I explained to him my thinking and that was that.
CASTOR: OK. Before my time expires, Ambassador Volker, I want to turn quickly to the -- what Ambassador Taylor describes as the irregular channel. He -- he was a participant with you and Ambassador Sondland on hundreds of text messages, correct?
KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE NEGOTIATIONS: Correct.
CASTOR: And so, did he ever raise concerns about what was -- what was going on during the time period of -- the early August time period?
VOLKER: Only as you saw reflected in the text messages themselves where he said, is this now a linkage, or are we doing this?
He had a concern about, just in general, you know, Rudy Giuliani, which I think all of us had, but the issue is, what do you do about it, about the role that he's playing? And as you note, we were in frequent contact, near daily contact, throughout this entire period.
CASTOR: And so, did he ever engage you in a one-on-one telephone call to articulate his concerns?
VOLKER: Not -- we were on many one-on-one telephone calls. He did not raise those concerns that way, no.
CASTOR: OK. And this -- I mean, you're an experienced diplomat, at one point in time, Senate-confirmed. Ambassador Sondland is the Ambassador to the European Union, and Secretary Perry is a Secretary of Energy. Certainly not -- it doesn't sound like an irregular bunch.
Did he ever articulate to you that he -- he thought the three of you working on the Ukraine policy was a problem?
VOLKER: No, he did not.
CASTOR: And were you surprised during his testimony, when he came in for the deposition, when he sort of established these two tracks, that one was a regular channel that he was in charge of and the other was a --
VOLKER: Yes, I -- I don't agree with his characterization of that because I have been in my role for a couple of years. I have been the lead on U.S.- Ukraine negotiations and negotiating with Russia and the interagency work and the work with our allies.
And we have a Secretary of Energy who was a cabinet official. And I think having support from various U.S. officials for our -- strengthening our engagement with Ukraine, I viewed that as a very positive thing.
And if the concern is not us so much then because we're all U.S. officials but Mayor Giuliani, I don't view that as a channel at all because he's not a representative of the U.S. government. He's a private citizen.
I viewed him as perhaps a useful barometer in understanding what may be helpful communication from the Ukrainian government but not someone in a position to represent the U.S. government at all.
CASTOR: OK. Thank you.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: OK. Why don't we take a five or 10-minute break? If I could ask the audience to allow the witnesses to leave the room first. We are in recess.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We've been following these historic hearings all day. Four witnesses now. The second -- second session will continue after this quick break.
Tim Morrison, the former National Security Council senior director who is in overall charge of Ukraine policy and the former U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker, slightly different interpretations of what they saw but there was clearly, throughout all of these hearings, serious concern about this alternative foreign policy that was led by Rudy Giuliani towards Ukraine.
And there's a lot to discuss, different points of view to be sure. These last two witnesses, Tim Morrison and Kurt Volker, were called by the Republicans. They wanted to hear what they had to say.
Earlier in the day, Lieutenant Colonel -- Colonel Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, also from the White House, they were asked to come by the Democrats.
So, Gloria Borger, let's get your take on what we're hearing because, clearly, there was deep concern about this so-called Rudy Giuliani shadow diplomacy.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there was.
We're -- but whereas we heard this morning that there was belief that the President's phone call was not in the national interest, you know, this -- this evening, this afternoon, what we're hearing from these two people, particularly Mr. Morrison who worked for Bolton, is that -- not that it was not in the national interest. He said, quote, it is not what we recommend the President discuss.
It is -- so it's a little -- it's a little softer, shall we say. As for Rudy Giuliani, it was clear from listening to Mr. Volker who dealt with Rudy Giuliani quite -- quite frequently that -- Volker said a couple of things. One is he sounded like a character witness for Joe Biden. That he told -- that he -- you know, that -- that he told Giuliani, you're barking up the -- the wrong tree here with these conspiracy theories.
And that he felt that dealing with Giuliani was what the President had directed these three people to do in that May 23rd meeting and that he felt that it was a way for them to get the money to -- to Ukraine, which was what his policy goal was.
So he didn't see it as irregular -- as an irregular route the way Mr. Taylor did earlier -- in earlier testimony. He saw it as just one more way to get the money to Ukraine. So you do see why the Republicans called him to a degree.
One more thing I just want to say here is that he says -- and in hindsight, he wished he had seen it, but he says that he did not understand that when they said investigate Burisma, which is the energy company that Hunter Biden sat on the board of, that he didn't see that that equaled Joe Biden. He said, I wish in hindsight that I had known that.
And I think that's what we're going to hear from Gordon Sondland tomorrow also, which is, when I was told to look at Burisma, I wasn't sure.
BLITZER: All right, let -- let's listen -- let's listen to Ambassador Volker, the former U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine, making that point during his opening statement. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLKER: I did not know that President Trump or others had raised Vice President Biden with Ukrainians or had conflated the investigation of possible Ukrainian corruption with investigation of the former Vice President.
In retrospect, for the Ukrainians, it would clearly have been confusing. In hindsight I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company, Burisma, as equivalent to investigating former President -- Vice President Biden.
I saw them as very different; the former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable. In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently. And had I done so, I would have raised my own objections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Clearly, Jim Sciutto, a significant change in his attitude. This -- we're talking about Ambassador Volker saying it was totally unacceptable what others in this unofficial channel were trying to achieve led by the President and Giuliani.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And more than once, right? Kurt Volker was supposed to be a star witness for Republicans, right? Volker was on the list. They'd said after his private testimony that we can't wait to get Volker up there because he's going to tell a story that is better for the President.
He makes clear multiple times that that connection, whether or not -- and you know, it still is a question whether you believe that he made no such connection but -- but let's take that at face value. Whether or not you made that connection, he says that that connection as it existed was inappropriate.
And by the way, he amended his testimony. Because in his closed-door deposition -- I believe we have this on the screen -- on October 3rd, he was asked was there any discussion -- and this is in the July 10th meeting prior to the phone call -- about any investigations, particularly Giuliani's activities in Ukraine, et cetera, he said no definitively.
In his opening statement today, he to correct, ala Gordon Sondland, to say, as I remember, the meeting was essentially over when Ambassador Sondland made a general comment about investigations.
He goes on to say, I think all of us thought it was inappropriate. So even though that he's saying he didn't make a connection, Burisma with Biden, his -- he thinks that any investigation was inappropriate. And that is the universal view of all of these witnesses --
SCIUTTO: -- whether more friendly to the Democrats or more friendly to the Republicans. And that's a problem.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But the other thing is that he talks about how he did grow uncomfortable with Rudy Giuliani's role.
But instead of trying to scale back the influence that Rudy Giuliani had, he introduced him to a top Ukrainian aide to the President. And he hoped that by doing so, that that would convince Giuliani that, actually, this government isn't corrupt, they're not out to get the President.
Instead, Giuliani used that to push the top aide to the Ukrainian President to get the Ukrainian President to make a public statement. So you really question Volker here why he thought they wanted this investigation into Burisma if it wasn't to investigate the Bidens. Why else would he think that the President was so invested in that? SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Look, it's
such (ph) --
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: No, I mean, he sort of, I think, frames himself as somebody who is a participant but not able to make all of the connections, right?
Which, again, I think is a little bit unbelievable the he thinks somehow Burisma has nothing to do with the Bidens. I think he probably has access to a computer and Google. And the idea that he wasn't able to make that is a little hard to believe.
He also, in hindsight, realizes that there is some connection between these investigations in the money. He -- at the time, he says, well, no, this is just part of things that happen in terms of the delay in -- in the money going to Ukraine. He says this kind of thing happens all the time, but then he realizes later that other people are talking to the Ukrainians about a connection between the aid and the investigations.
HENNESSEY: Well, look, I think the most generous sort of interpretation you can give here is this is a case of willful blindness. He did not want to make this connection. Volker testified about attempting to thread this needle.
The needle he was describing was attempting to essentially appease the President who had this very inappropriate, unacceptable desire to have some investigation into the Bidens. To appease him with something that, to Volker, seemed facially legitimate, an investigation into Burisma.
In order to maintain that world view -- and we saw him cringe as he was being read through some of those text messages that -- that he himself had sent. In order to maintain that, he has to -- he has to convince himself that Burisma and the Bidens have nothing to do with each other.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, to -- to Susan's point, to appease the President. And I think this is something we're going to hear over and over again. And the words, in retrospect, I think a lot of people are going to -- to call upon that term of hour to do (ph).
One of the things that former White House officials have told me, who have been on phone calls with the President, is that his behavior and his speech is so outlandish, even when he doesn't cross the line the way people feel he did in this call that, it normalizes these conversations. And there is this sense we'll clean it up afterwards.
You remember in -- in Bob Woodward's book when he reported that President Trump said to General Mattis to go assassinate the Syrian President and Mattis said to an aide, you know, we'll -- we'll deal with that another way.
There is a problem for a lot of these officials, who were on the call or listening to some of this, that they get used to something that's not normal.
SCIUTTO: And here's -- here's the interesting thing --
BORGER: And Volker was --
SCIUTTO: -- it's more than language though, right? It's more than language.
Because as you heard Kurt Volker and Morrison and -- and the witnesses this morning describe -- they describe a cogent U.S. policy towards Ukraine, which was the official policy. We oppose Russian -- Russia's annexation of Crimea. We want to give them aid to push back the -- the invasion.
The fact is this President has repeatedly undermined that U.S. policy, not just by words by by actions, right? He withheld crucial military aid that -- that Ukraine needs to fight back against Russia. He has made public statements that, well, maybe Crimea belongs to Russia and not to Ukraine.
So the President -- they were describing a great textbook U.S. policy regarding Ukraine. But the fact is, the President, beyond words, his actions was undermining them.
BORGER: So you -- you have this picture at the White House that these gentlemen talk about, which is, it seems to me, that the -- the goal of everybody working there seemed to be pretty unified, which was, how do we get this money to Ukraine?
And so, the President has a meeting with his three amigos -- and I know Volker doesn't like to be called one of the three amigos, but he has this meeting with his -- with, you know -- with Perry, Volker, and Sondland, says, talk to Rudy. The Ukrainians, they're bad, but talk to Rudy.
So what do they do? They talk to Rudy. I mean, my reporting is that, first, Rick Perry talked to Rudy, and they all eventually talked to Rudy. As we now know, they reached out to Giuliani. And they try and figure out what's going on, but they don't get the whole story, or so they will say.
And they will say we thought Burisma -- this is, you know, the -- our reporting shows us. We thought Burisma was just another corrupt energy company. As you point out, they could have Googled it and figured out the Hunter Biden connection. And they were just trying to figure out how to thread the needle.
As Volker said, well, it was a bigger problem than that, and they didn't realize it at the time. And in hindsight, of course, Volker is saying, well, now, I wish -- I would have realized it because I never would have participated in it.
BLITZER: They all wanted to get the nearly $400 million --
BLITZER: -- in security assistance --
BLITZER: -- to the Ukrainians.
BLITZER: And so did Tim -- and so did Morrison.
BLITZER: Except the President of the United States didn't want to get the $400 million in security assistance to the Ukrainians. That was abundantly clear.
HENDERSON: It was 100 percent clear. And listen, Republicans like to say that this President was much more willing to back the Ukrainians, give them aid, much more willing to do that than President Obama.
Well, there's a little problem with that because in this instance, he actually wanted to hold up the aid, $400 million, in the middle of this war with Russia.
GANGEL: He wanted something for it.
HENNESSEY: Well, look --
GANGEL: He was willing to do it but he wanted something for it.
HENNESSEY: And that's one point that the Republicans really tried to make ahead of, that, well, corruption is a real issue in Ukraine. The President was really concerned about corruption. It even says in the law that there needs to be this anti-corruption certifications.
What they are essentially ignoring is that the anti-corruption certifications were completed by DOD.
HENNESSEY: This is congressionally appropriated money. This is not money for the President of the United States to hand out however and whenever he wants to.
BLITZER: And it's interesting because -- because, Kaitlan, tomorrow, we're going to hear from Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who is at the center of all of this. He is the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Ukraine is not a member of the European Union, but he seemed to be in overall charge because of his close relationship with the President. He was a political appointee, not a career diplomat, gave a million dollars to the Trump Inaugural Committee.
COLLINS: Yes. BLITZER: Here is an exchange that Tim Morrison, the NSC adviser --
the former NSC adviser, I should say, senior director at the NSC, had with Dan Goldman, who was the -- who is the Democratic majority counsel. I want you to listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORRISON: Vice President Pence left the room. And in sort of an anteroom, Ambassador Sondland and Presidential Adviser, Yermak had this discussion, yes.
DANIEL GOLDMAN, SENIOR ADVISOR AND DIRECTOR OF INVESTIGATIONS, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: And what did Ambassador Sondland say to -- tell you that he told Mr. Yermak?
MORRISON: That the Ukrainians would have to have the Prosecutor General make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition of having the aid lifted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Right, so there it is. There's the so-called quid pro quo, the investigations referring to Ukraine's involvement in hacking, whatever, the 2016 presidential elections on behalf of Hillary Clinton. You know, that was a -- that was a made point as well as investigation of the Bidens.
COLLINS: And that wasn't the only instance where he talked about that. He also talked about how, on September the seventh, he had just spoken with Sondland who had just gotten off the phone with Trump.
And he said -- he testified that Sondland related there was no quid pro quo, but Zelensky had to make a statement about the investigations and he had to want to do it. A.K.A., that's the exchange to get the military aid lifted.
That's really interesting in effect also because Morrison testified that every -- every time Sondland said he had spoken with President Trump, he went back and confirmed that they had actually spoken. Because some people have said that Sondland inflated himself, his connection with the President. Here, you're seeing that he actually did speak to the President, and that's why there's so much more weight on Sondland's testimony tomorrow.
COLLINS: And that's the one that people in the White House are the most worried about.
And the other flip side of that -- of that is that they thought Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison were going to be their two best witnesses that really help make their arguments there, and a lot of people don't think that that's what happened in that room this day.
[17:55:04] HENNESSEY: It's remarkable that they would consider these were
Republican witnesses and yet, under oath, they confirmed the most damning facts to the court, right? So these questions of sort of interpretation and -- and what the President was actually after, they did confirm exactly what the President wanted.
BLITZER: And that's important, you know, Nia --
BLITZER: -- because Tim Morrison, he was in the White House situation room listening in on the July 25th call between the President of the United States and the newly elected President of Ukraine, Zelensky.
But afterwards, he -- he felt it was his responsibility to go to the NSC legal adviser to say, you know what, maybe we should move this rough transcript to a very, very secure server.
He said, as I stated during my deposition, I feared at the time of the call on July 25th how its disclosure would play in Washington's political climate. My fears have been realized.
HENDERSON: Yes. He was afraid that it would be like -- I think, in his deposition, he felt like nothing was -- nothing illegal was said on the call.
Here, he said also that he didn't necessarily think that what was happening on the call was concerning to him, but he felt like somebody from the NSC legal should have been on the call. They should've been notified.
And the other thing, and you did see, I think, Republicans trying to make some inroads in tainting Vindman, essentially saying, listen, you know, you had some concerns --
HENDERSON: -- about his -- about -
BORGER: To Morrison.
HENDERSON: Yes, about Vindman, Morrison. That's what they said to Morrison, you had concerns about his judgment, and tried to get into that and his lawyer kind of stepped in. Morrison's lawyer.
BLITZER: You know, that's important, you know, Jamie, because they were trying to --
BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who testified for several hours earlier today, he was very powerful in his -- in his statements. And it was clear that Tim Morrison, he was trying to undermine his credibility a bit.
GANGEL: Right. So it seems to me that we're seeing something we have seen with the Republicans up on the Hill over and over again, which is when you can complain about process, when you can try to discredit a witness, they will go after them.
And that's what we saw all day long today with all of the witnesses. There's just one problem. As Susan just said, the facts did not change today.
SCIUTTO: Yes. And we just --
BORGER: Can we just talk about the chaos here in this White --
SCIUTTO: We should note how far we have --
BORGER: Can I finish --
SCIUTTO: Sure, please. Go ahead.
BORGER: Can we just talk about the chaos here in this White House? Because you have Morrison trying to get the money approved. You have Sondland whom they believe is an interloper. And you have this session on July 10 where it effectively blows up.
Bolton says I don't want to be in this media -- in this drug deal because Sondland is announcing that you've got to -- you know, you've got to -- you've got to do this quid pro quo, right? You have to have this announcement that the President of Ukraine is going to have to make.
And Bolton wants nothing to do with it. You have Sondland who has a good relationship apparently -- maybe not, I don't know, we'll see tomorrow -- with the --
BLITZER: He used to have a good relationship.
BORGER: -- with the President. You have a policy that's been approved by the United States Congress, as Susan points out. And nobody seems to have any idea of what's going on.
I -- earlier today, I -- it's like the parable of the blind man and the elephant. Everybody just sees one piece of this picture, and nobody sees the whole thing. And it's so -- it's a little chaotic -- or a lot chaotic, and nobody is sure who is in charge of this. It should be Bolton who, by the way, is the person we are missing here.
BORGER: We are missing.
BLITZER: Adam Schiff is now in his seat. He is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He's going to bring this session back to order momentarily, but, Jim Sciutto, you wanted to make a point about this?
SCIUTTO: So I think you could lose track of how far we've moved in such a short period of time. It -- because, of course, this started with the whistleblower complaint, a lot of attacks as to whether it was hearsay, et cetera.
Now, the facts of a quid pro quo are -- are almost stipulated by the witnesses, Democrat or Republican, by whatever their leanings are. Maybe Volker and Morrison were meant to exculpate the President here, and they're laying out further corroboration that there was a clear connection here between those.
And the conversation then moves, and you sensed this, to whether -- OK, that happened, whether it was serious enough to be impeachable. But that's remarkable distance to move in a short period of time.
GANGEL: To Jim's point, politically, we have seen people like Senator Rob Portman already stipulate that this happened, that it was bad. But politically, the Republicans are saying, not impeachable, not that bad.
GANGEL: So -- but all of this testimony, even witnesses that the Republicans had hoped to either undermine or would be favorable, not on the facts.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, the President has been, shall we say, relatively restrained today. Although in the photo-op earlier today, he was, you know, speaking ill of this entire process as he always does. And -- but his aides and his campaign, the White House, they have been sending out some very negative messages about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, for example.
COLLINS: Yes, they have.