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White House Russia expert Tim Morrison arriving for his deposition. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Tim Morrison, the National Security Council's former Russia and Europe director, has confirmed parts of the explosive testimony from Bill Taylor, the administration's top diplomat to Ukraine, according to a copy of his opening statement reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: House Democrats were eager to speak with Morrison because of his direct ties to the White House and because he was on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The bottom line: Morrison told House investigators he had been told directly that President Trump tried to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate the 2016 election and the Biden family, and that hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine hinged on whether the government agreed to do so.

  • Morrison also said that he believes Trump and administration officials' actions were legal but "problematic for U.S. policy in supporting an ally in the region."
  • The Washington Post was first to report on the opening statement.

Key excerpts from Morrison's opening statement:

  • Morrison said he listened to the July 25 call from the White House Situation Room and, to the best of his recollection, the summary of the call released by the White House “accurately and completely reflects the substance of the call.”
  • Morrison said he does not recall any NSC lawyers being on the call, so afterward he “promptly” asked the NSC's legal advisor and his deputy to review the summary.

Morrison said he had three concerns about a potential leak of the memo:

  1. “How it would play out in Washington’s polarized environment”
  2. “How a leak would affect the bipartisan support our Ukrainian partners currently experience in Congress”
  3. “How I would affect the Ukrainian perceptions of the U.S. - Ukraine relationship.”

Morrison also said Trump's former Russia advisor Fiona Hill “informed me of her concerns about two Ukraine processes that were occurring: the normal interagency process led by the NSC with the typical department and agency participation and a separate process that involved chiefly the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union,” Gordon Sondland.

  • Hill told him that Sondland and Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani were trying to get Zelensky to reopen Ukrainian investigations into Burisma, Morrison said.
  • At the time, Morrison said he did not know what Burisma was or what it entailed. He also claimed he did not know why Sondland would be involved in Ukraine policy, often without the involvement of Taylor.
  • Morrison said he warned Taylor about Trump's attempts to withhold aid and block the Ukranian president from visiting the White House.
  • Morrison also told lawmakers that he spoke with Taylor to share a “sinking feeling” about a conversation between Trump and Sondland.

Worth noting: Although Morrison confirmed the substance of Taylor’s testimony as it relates to the conversations the two had, he said his memory differs on two details:

  1. Morrison said his recollection of a Sept. 1, 2019 conversation he had with Sondland, as described in Taylor's testimony, is that Sondland proposed to a top Ukrainian official that aid to Ukraine was reliant on whether the new Ukrainian prosecutor general — not Zelensky — would commit to investigating Burisma.
  2. He also clarifies that he did not meet with the Ukrainian national security advisor Oleksandr Danyliuk in his hotel room, as Taylor had said. Instead Morrison, an NSC aide, and Danyliuk met with in the hotel’s business center.

The big picture: Morrison's confirmation of Taylor's deposition comes as the House voted to formalize its impeachment inquiry.

Go deeper: Trump's new reality: the daily dump

Go deeper

Updated 10 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

11 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.