A former top US security official was concerned about the role of the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, in Donald Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to carry out political investigations in return for military aid.
According to transcripts from the impeachment inquiry released on Saturday, Tim Morrison, a former senior director for Europe and Russia for the national security council (NSC), also said he tried to “stay away” as Sondland and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pushed for Ukraine to investigate the president’s political rivals.
Regarding Sondland’s role in Ukraine affairs, Morrison told House investigators he and Fiona Hill, a former NSC senior director, were concerned about how the EU ambassador was conducting himself.
“It was less about his role in Ukraine and more about how he conducted himself. He did not participate in the process,” Morrison said, according to testimony to the House made in private earlier this month that was released on Saturday.
Morrison said: “So we are very process-oriented on the NSC; we have a way we do things that works. And so when people come in and get involved in issues and they’re not of that process, it creates risk.”
Morrison, a Republican Trump appointee, and Sondland are expected to testify in public this week.
Morrison also listened in on a 25 July phone call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump requested Zelenskiy begin two investigations. One was focused on an energy company called Burisma, which had put the son of former vice president Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, on its board, and the other was into a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine meddling in the 2016 election.
Morrison said he did not think anything improper or illegal occurred on the call, but he raised concerns about it with NSC attorneys because he was afraid it would leak and he wanted the call reviewed by the appropriate senior officials.
An aide to vice president Mike Pence, Jennifer Williams, also listened on the call, which she said included discussions about specific investigations that “seemed unusual as compared to other discussions with foreign leaders”.
The transcripts were released after House impeachment investigators met on Saturday to question a senior official from the White House budget office, Mark Sandy. He was the the first official from the Office of Management and Budget to defy Trump’s instructions not to testify. Like others, he received a subpoena to appear.
Trump personally kept pressure on Ukraine, says impeachment inquiry witness
On Friday, David Holmes, a US embassy official in Kiev, testified in a closed-door deposition about a call he overheard in a restaurant between Trump and Sondland, in which he said the EU ambassador observed the president did not “give a shit” about Ukraine.
The call was the day after Trump had spoken to the newly elected Zelenskiy, requesting a “favour” and suggesting the Ukrainians investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.
Sondland, a wealthy hotelier who donated $1m to Trump’s inauguration celebration, assured Trump that Zelenskiy “loves your ass”.
“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it’,” adding that Zelenskiy will do “anything you ask him to,” Holmes testified in his opening statement to House investigators, which was leaked to US media.