Republicans mistakenly celebrate Morrison’s impeachment testimony

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/31/19, 9:00 PM ET

As impeachment enters next phase, witnesses tell consistent story

Rachel Maddow reports on the vote in the House to move ahead with the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry, and the way each new witness corroborates the overall picture of a Trump quid pro quo with Ukraine.
Up until a few days ago, Tim Morrison was the top adviser on the White House National Security Council on policy related to Russia and Europe. He was also a close ally of former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton and an official who had earned a reputation as a conservative hawk on foreign policy. For Donald Trump’s detractors, Morrison hardly fits the role of an ally.

But Morrison testified for about eight hours yesterday as part of the congressional impeachment inquiry, and as the Washington Post reported, his perspective didn’t do the president and his allies any favors.

A White House adviser on Thursday corroborated key impeachment testimony from a senior U.S. diplomat who said last week he was alarmed by efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate President Trump’s political rivals in exchange for nearly $400 million in military aid.

Tim Morrison … told House investigators over eight hours of closed-door testimony that the “substance” of his conversations recalled by William B. Taylor Jr., the acting ambassador to Ukraine, was “accurate,” according to his prepared remarks and people familiar with Morrison’s testimony.

In particular, Morrison verified that Trump’s envoy to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, conveyed to a Ukrainian official that the military aid would be released if the country investigated an energy firm linked to the son of former vice president Joe Biden.

Trump, perhaps not paying close enough attention, suggested last night that he saw Morrison’s testimony as good news. Echoing some of the commentary heard in conservative media yesterday, the president tweeted his thanks to Morrison last night, celebrating the witness’ “honesty.” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) added that Morrison’s testimony “was very damaging to the Democrats’ narrative.”

The basis for this was simple: Morrison said that from his perspective, he considered Trump’s demands on Ukraine to be problematic, but not criminal. According to his publicly released opening statement, his exact words were, “I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed.”

And that, for some Republicans, was a huge phrase. They are mistaken.

For one thing, it’s not altogether relevant that a top conservative on Team Trump made a subjective analysis about his “concerns” related to possible illegalities.

For another, as Politico’s Josh Gerstein noted, since Morrison was reportedly involved in moving the July 25 call summary to a secret server reserved for highly classified materials, he had no choice but to say he had no concerns about the president crossing legal lines. “Otherwise,” Gerstein concluded, “he’d potentially have been obstructing.”

But even putting these relevant details aside, let’s not miss the forest for the trees: Tim Morrison corroborated earlier testimony and said the Trump White House did, in fact, orchestrate a quid-pro-quo scheme in which military aid to a vulnerable ally was held up in the hopes of forcing Ukraine to go after the president’s domestic opponents.

For the White House and its allies to see this as good news is folly.

At this point, Bill Taylor testified that there was a quid pro quo. So did Gordon Sondland. And Alexander Vindman. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney didn’t testify, but he acknowledged a quid pro quo in front of a room full of reporters. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he learned about the quid pro quo, and now Tim Morrison has told lawmakers that the quid pro quo really did happen.

Remember, throughout the month of October, leading Republican officials said the key to convincing them that this scandal is real was proving that there was a quid pro quo. That was the test. It was where the goalposts were set in cement.

And yet, here we are, watching one witness after another make clear that the quid pro quo was real. For Trump and his followers to suggest testimony like Morrison’s was good news is emblematic of just how dreadful the recent revelations have been for the White House.