Nov 19, 2019

Read Adam Schiff's opening statement in the Volker-Morrison hearing

Photo: Shawn Thew - Pool/Getty Images

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) gave an opening statement Tuesday in the second impeachment hearing of the day, featuring former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security Council official Tim Morrison.

The big picture: Schiff pointed out that both witnesses were requested by Republicans on the committee, but he also outlined a number of episodes detailed in both Volker and Morrison's closed-door depositions that could be perceived as damaging to President Trump.

Read Schiff's full opening statement:

"This afternoon we will hear from two witnesses requested by the Minority, Ambassador Kurt Volker, the State Department’s Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, and Tim Morrison, the former Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council. I appreciate the Minority’s request for these two important witnesses, as well as Under Secretary of State David Hale, from whom we will hear tomorrow.
As we have heard from other witnesses, when Joe Biden was considering whether to enter the race for the Presidency in 2020, the President’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, began a campaign to weaken Vice President Biden’s candidacy by pushing Ukraine to investigate him and his son.
To clear away any obstacle to the scheme, days after the new Ukrainian President was elected, Trump ordered the recall of Marie Yovanovitch, the American ambassador in Kyiv, who was known for pushing anticorruption efforts. Trump also cancelled Vice President Mike Pence’s participation in the inauguration of President Zelensky on May 20 and instead sent a delegation headed by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Ambassador to the European Union Gordan Sondland, and Ambassador Kurt Volker.
These three returned from Kyiv and briefed President Trump on their encouraging first interactions with the new Ukrainian administration. Hopes that Trump would agree to an early meeting with the Ukrainian President were soon diminished, however, when Trump pushed back. According to Volker, “He just didn’t believe it. He was skeptical. And he also said, that’s not what I hear. I hear, you know, he’s got some terrible people around him.” President Trump also told them he believed that Ukraine “tried to take” him down. He told the three Amigos: “talk to Rudy.”
And they did. One of those interactions took place a week before the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, when Volker had breakfast with Rudy Giuliani at Trump Hotel. Volker testified that he pushed back on Giuliani’s accusation against Joe Biden. On July 22, just days before Trump would talk to Zelensky, Volker held a telephone conference with Giuliani and Andrey Yermak, a top advisor to the Ukrainian President, so that Giuliani could be introduced to Yermak.
On July 25, the same day as the call between Trump and Zelensky, but before it took place, Volker sent a text message to Yermak: “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. Good luck!”
Later that day, Donald Trump would have the now infamous phone call with Zelensky in which he responded to the Ukrainian’s appreciation for U.S. defense support and request to buy more Javelin anti-tank missiles by saying, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.” And the favor involved the two investigations that Giuliani had been pushing for – into the Bidens and 2016. Volker was not on the call, but when asked about what it reflected, he testified that no president of the United States should ask a foreign leader to help interfere in a U.S. election.
Among those listening in on the July 25 call was Tim Morrison, who had taken over as the NSC’s Senior Director for European Affairs at the NSC only days before, but had been briefed by his predecessor, Fiona Hill, about the irregular second channel that was operating in parallel to the official one.
Like Col. Vindman and Ms. Williams from whom the committee heard this morning, Morrison emerged from the call troubled. He was concerned enough about what he heard on the July 25 call, that he went to see the NSC legal advisor soon after it had ended. Col. Vindman’s fear was that the President had broken the law, but Morrison said his concern was that the call could be damaging if it were leaked. Soon after this discussion with lawyers at the NSC, the call record was hidden away on a secure server used to store highly classified intelligence, where it remained until late September when the call record was publicly released.
Following the July 25 call, Volker worked with Sondland and the Ukrainian president’s close advisor Yermak on a statement that would satisfy Giuliani. When Yermak sent over a draft that still failed to include the specific words Burisma and 2016, Giuliani said the statement would lack credibility. Volker then added both Burisma and 2016 to the draft statement.
Both Volker and Morrison were, by late July, aware that the security assistance had been cut off at the direction of the President and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
As the Ukrainians became aware of the suspension of security assistance and the negotiations over the scheduling of a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky dragged on, the pressure increased and any pretense that there was no linkage soon dropped away.
Morrison accompanied Vice-President Pence to Warsaw on September 1, where Pence and Zelensky met and Zelensky raised the suspended security assistance. Following that meeting, Sondland approached Yermak to tell him that he believed that what could help them move the aid was if the [Ukrainian] prosecutor general would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation.
On September 7, Ambassador Sondland had a telephone call with Trump and asked him what he wanted from Ukraine. According to Morrison, who spoke with Sondland after the call, Trump insisted that there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelensky must personally announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it. Sondland also said that, if President Zelensky didn’t agree to make a public statement about the investigations, the U.S. and Ukraine would be at a stalemate—meaning, it would not receive the much-needed security assistance.
Morrison had “a sinking feeling” after the call as he realized that the ask was now being directed at Zelensky himself and not the Prosecutor General as Sondland had relayed to a senior Ukrainian aide in Warsaw on September 1. While Trump claimed there was no quid pro quo, his insistence that Zelensky himself publicly announce the investigations or they would be at a stalemate, made clear that at least two official acts — a White House meeting and $400 million in military aid — were conditioned on receipt of what Trump wanted, the investigations to help his campaign.
The efforts to secure the investigations would continue for several more days, but appear to have abruptly ended soon after three Committees of Congress announced an investigation into the Trump-Giuliani Ukraine scheme. Only then, would the aid be released."

Go deeper: Live updates from the Volker-Morrison hearing

Go deeper

China approves Hong Kong national security law

Hong Kong riot police round up a group of protesters during a demonstration on Wednesday. Photo: Willie Siau/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Chinese lawmakers approved a plan on Thursday for a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong that would criminalize sedition, foreign influence and secession in the Asian financial hub.

Why it matters: China bypassed Hong Kong's legislature and chief executive to introduce the law, prompting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to announce Wednesday that the city is no longer autonomous from the Chinese mainland and does not warrant special treatment under U.S. law.

Minneapolis unrest as hundreds protest death of George Floyd

Protesters and police clash during demonstration on Wednesday over the death of George Floyd in custody outside the Third Police Precinct. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

A man died in a Minneapolis shooting during a second night of clashes between police and protesters in the city over the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died in police custody, per AP.

The latest: Police said officers were responding to reports of a stabbing just before 9:30 p.m. and found a man lying in "grave condition on the sidewalk" with a gunshot wound, CBS Minnesota reports. On man is in custody over the incident.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,695,968 — Total deaths: 355,701 — Total recoveries — 2,351,638Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,699,933 — Total deaths: 100,442 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. Public health: CDC issues guidelines for reopening officesFauci says data is "really quite evident" against hydroxychloroquine.
  4. States: California hospitals strained by patients in MexicoTexas Supreme Court blocks mail-in expansion to state voters.
  5. Business: MGM plans to reopen major Las Vegas resorts in June — African American business owners have seen less relief from PPP, Goldman Sachs says.
  6. Tech: AI will help in the pandemic — but it might not be in time for this one.
  7. World: EU proposes a massive pandemic rescue package.
  8. 1 🎶 thing: Local music venues get rocked by coronavirus.
  9. 🎧 Podcast: Trump vs. Twitter ... vs. Trump.
  10. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  11. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy