Yesterday was the first day in which the House impeachment inquiry featured public testimony from witnesses requested specifically by Republican members of the panel. As NBC News reported, these witnesses "were expected to provide testimony helpful to the president."
The report added, succinctly, "They did not."
Not surprisingly, the proceedings covered an enormous amount of ground over the course of several hours, but as Rachel noted at the top of last night's show, this was among the most striking moments of the afternoon session:
Under questioning from Democrats, Tim Morrison, the former top National Security Council official for Russia and European affairs, was asked to recall a September 1 conversation between US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and Ukraine official Andriy Yermak. That discussion has become central to the question of whether US military assistance to Kyiv was conditioned upon Ukraine opening investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden's family and other Democrats.According to Morrison, it clearly was."What did Ambassador Sondland tell you that he told Mr. Yermak?" Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman asked Morrison. Morrison replied, "That the Ukrainians would have to have the prosecutor general make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition of having the aid lifted."
Morrison went on to describe a conversation with Sondland, following the ambassador's conversation with Trump, who said Zelensky had to make a statement the White House wanted to hear as a condition for security assistance to be released.
Oh. So the committee members and everyone watching heard from Morrison -- a Republican-called witness who, up until very recently, was part of Donald Trump's White House team -- confirm that there was, in fact, a quid pro quo, communicated to Ukraine by a Trump emissary. If our vulnerable ally was going to get the military aid it was desperate to receive, the Ukrainian government would have to publicly declare an investigation into one of the American president's domestic political rivals.
NBC News' report added, "So much for helping Trump."
Of course, the man sitting alongside Morrison, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, didn't make things any better for the White House.
Volker amended his testimony from his Oct. 3 closed-door deposition, telling the members of the committee Tuesday that he now sees that others in the Trump administration sought an investigation into the Biden family and that they told Ukraine's government that millions in military aid depended on it. [...]This was a significant shift by Volker and it reinforces the emerging narrative being established by House Democrats that military aid for Ukraine was, in fact, conditioned on the launching of specific investigations by Ukraine.
A Washington Post editorial added that it was "striking" to see that witnesses called by the committee's Republican members "added to the evidence that President Trump abused his office and twisted long-standing U.S. policy in Ukraine to serve his personal political interests."