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Volker’s and Morrison’s Testimony Didn’t Help Trump

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“In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections,” Volker said.

As for Morrison, Republicans had interpreted his private deposition to lawmakers on October 31 as favorable. In this morning’s hearing, GOP lawmakers used Morrison’s words to try to undermine Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman’s credibility, pointing out that Morrison had raised concerns about his judgment. Morrison stood by that critique in the afternoon, but he would not elaborate, and his portrait of his NSC colleague fell far short of the “deep state,” anti-Trump partisan the president’s loyalists had painted.

Moreover, on the questions central to impeachment, Morrison did little to help the president’s case. He acknowledged that both he and Vindman were disappointed with the message that Trump delivered to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in their July 25 call—the one in which the president asked him for the “favor” of an investigation into Biden. Both men, Morrison said, had hoped Trump would deliver a stronger message of support for Ukraine. And when asked by Democrats whether it was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign government to investigate a domestic political opponent, Morrison replied: “It’s not what we recommended the president discuss.”

In the first two hours of testimony, the best Republicans could get from Volker and Morrison was a firm “no” when they were asked whether anyone at the White House had ever asked them to extort or bribe anyone. Indeed, the clearest defense of Trump’s actions today did not come from testimony on Capitol Hill at all, but from an unsolicited statement issued by Vice President Mike Pence’s national-security adviser, Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg. He is the direct supervisor of Jennifer Williams, a Pence adviser who testified alongside Vindman in the morning. Kellogg said he was also on the July 25 call, but unlike Williams, he did not find anything amiss. “I heard nothing wrong or improper on the call. I had and have no concerns,” Kellogg said in his statement.

Perhaps that’s what Republicans were hoping to hear from Volker and Morrison, their chosen witnesses. What they presented to lawmakers, however, was consistent with the testimony that’s been delivered in the House for the last week—that Trump’s demand for an investigation of Biden was, at best, unusual and inappropriate, and perhaps much worse. In fairness to GOP lawmakers, the witnesses they most want to haul before the House, Biden’s son Hunter and the original whistleblower, have been rejected out of hand by Democrats. So they had to settle for Volker, Morrison, and David Hale, an undersecretary of state who will testify tomorrow.

When it was his turn to question Volker and Morrison, Representative Devin Nunes of California began with a wry lament. “I have some bad news for you,” he said. “The TV ratings are way down.” It was another way of saying the day’s testimony was a dud, but it was really an admission cloaked as a joke—and the joke was on Republicans: If Volker and Morrison had actually helped the president’s case, Nunes and his colleagues would have wanted millions more people to have heard what they had to say.

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