Aide admits Ukraine call restriction

Source:AFP Published: 2019/11/17 22:18:40

Top official feared summary of exchange would damage Trump

US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on Oct. 25, 2019. (Photo by Ting Shen/Xinhua)


A top US official restricted access to the summary of Donald Trump's Ukraine call that triggered an impeachment probe, fearing it would damage the president, testimony released Saturday showed.

White House Ukraine expert Timothy Morrison told House investigators he knew immediately how sensitive the call was when he heard Trump press Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former US vice president Joe Biden.

Morrison said in his October 31 deposition that he had asked National ­Security Council (NSC) lawyers to review the call because he thought it would be "damaging" if it leaked.

"I recommended to them that we restrict access to the package... that we did not need quite so many people to have access to the package," said Morrison, who left the NSC a day before testifying.

The conversation, which took place on July 25 while the White House was withholding military aid to Ukraine, is central to the House impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Democrats leading the probe say the call summary shows the president abused his office by bullying a vulnerable ally into interfering on his behalf in the 2020 US election.

The investigation threatens to make Trump the third US president to be impeached, although the Republican-controlled Senate would need to convict him to remove him from office.

"The testimony released today shows that President Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky immediately set off alarm bells throughout the White House," Adam Schiff, the congressman leading the inquiry, said in a statement released jointly with other senior Democrats.

Morrison said, however, the summary had been placed on a highly classified system due to a "mistake" by White House staff - casting doubt on allegations that it was squirreled away as part of a deliberate coverup.

He also broke with other witnesses who have spoken out against the call, telling House investigators he heard nothing wrong.

House investigators also released testimony on Saturday from Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, who told lawmakers Trump's push for Ukraine to open investigations was "unusual and inappropriate."

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