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Russia Official Set To Leave White House Post

Oct 31, 2019
Originally published on October 31, 2019 11:15 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The top Russia official on President Trump's National Security Council is resigning. Tim Morrison has emerged as a crucial figure in the House impeachment inquiry, and he is expected to testify before House committees today. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez broke the story about Morrison's resignation and joins us now in studio. Good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So why is Tim Morrison leaving?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, we learned from three sources familiar with the plans that he was not planning to return to his post after testifying. The administration's kind of keeping it quiet - or at least they did at first. But after we published, they did say that he was leaving to pursue other opportunities. You know, they said he was leaving for - that he was considering to leave for some time, but we should note that the White House has pressured aides not to testify in the impeachment inquiry. And his attorney has said all along that he planned to appear before the House investigators if subpoenaed.

MARTIN: It would be a strange coincidence, I think it's fair to say, if it just happened to be that he was resigning on the eve of his testimony. How did he become such an important figure in the inquiry?

ORDOÑEZ: As the senior director for the region, Morrison would be the person at the NSC with the closest relationship to Ukraine. His name was cited more than a dozen times in the explosive testimony of another U.S. diplomat, William Taylor. According to that testimony, Morrison alerted NSC lawyers about demands that Ukraine investigate a company with ties to the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

MARTIN: This is Burisma.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. Morrison also conveyed that Trump wanted the Ukrainian president to go to a microphone and say he is opening an investigation before the United States would release millions in security aid.

MARTIN: So I want to ask about another potential high-profile witness. Former national security adviser John Bolton has been invited to testify next week. Is that going to happen?

ORDOÑEZ: It does not appear that he's going to do it voluntarily. According to a source familiar with his legal strategy, Bolton is expected to testify only if a subpoena compels him to do so and if that subpoena is upheld by the courts. Bolton is represented by the same lawyer as former deputy of national security Charles Kupperman. Kupperman is the person who did not show up for his deposition earlier this week. He instead filed a lawsuit asking a judge to tell him whether he needs to adhere to a congressional subpoena or a White House directive not to testify.

MARTIN: Franco, do we know if the House committees have prepared a subpoena for Bolton at this point? You would think they would have that in their back pocket, considering others have not been able to testify until that happens.

ORDOÑEZ: At this point, as we understand it, that request is voluntary. I can tell you in past cases, the subpoena typically does not come until the day of the testimony. But everybody expects this will happen.

MARTIN: OK. Also this morning, I got to ask you about this vote. There's a procedural vote happening in the House on the impeachment resolution. This is going to formalize the inquiry, is the word that keeps being used to characterize it. How's it going to substantively change anything?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it ups the ante. This will lay out the ground rules for public hearings and procedures for how the president will respond to evidence. It's a way for Democrats to try and take away that primary attack from Republicans that this process is illegitimate and because there was no vote formalizing it. Nonetheless, Republicans are saying it does not go far enough. GOP leaders are also sending out talking points describing this as a, quote, "Soviet-style process," and they say that it has a predetermined outcome of, frankly, impeaching President Trump. It's a big deal. In many ways, this is kind of a test vote on impeachment.

MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.