Politics: Testimony: White House lawyer told Vindman not to discuss Ukraine call - - PressFrom - US

Politics Testimony: White House lawyer told Vindman not to discuss Ukraine call

21:20  01 november  2019
21:20  01 november  2019 Source:   politico.com

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The senior White House lawyer who placed a record of President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president in a top-secret system also instructed at least one official who heard the call not to tell anyone about it, according to testimony heard by House impeachment investigators this week.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.© Alex Wong/Getty Images Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Army officer who served as the National Security Council’s director for Ukraine, told lawmakers that he went to the lawyer, John Eisenberg, to register his concerns about the call, in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, according to a person in the room for Vindman’s deposition on Tuesday.

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Eisenberg recorded Vindman’s complaints in notes on a yellow legal pad, then conferred with his deputy Michael Ellis about how to handle the conversation because it was clearly “sensitive,” Vindman testified. The lawyers then decided to move the record of the call into the NSC’s top-secret codeword system—a server normally used to store highly classified material that only a small group of officials can access.

Vindman did not consider the move itself as evidence of a cover-up, according to a person familiar with his testimony. But he said he became disturbed when, a few days later, Eisenberg instructed him not to tell anyone about the call—especially because it was Vindman’s job to coordinate the interagency process with regard to Ukraine policy.

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Eisenberg’s decision to move the call record to the codeword system following his conversation with Vindman was first reported by The Washington Post. But Eisenberg’s subsequent request that Vindman not disclose the content of the call to anyone has not been previously reported.

An NSC spokesperson and Eisenberg did not return requests for comment.

Tim Morrison, the NSC’s top Russia and Europe adviser, reportedly told lawmakers in his opening statement during a deposition on Thursday that he was worried the July 25 call, which he listened in on along with Vindman, would leak. According to CNN, Morrison “was involved with discussions after the call about how to handle the transcript.”

POLITICO previously reported that the White House started placing transcripts of calls with Trump’s counterparts into the codeword system after the president’s calls with foreign leaders leaked in 2017. But Eisenberg’s purported request that Vindman keep the call a secret raises questions about whether the lawyers’ intent was to bury the conversation altogether.

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Several National Security Council officials had complained to Eisenberg in the weeks leading up to the July 25 call about the shadow Ukraine policy being run by Giuliani and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland. Those include Vindman’s then-boss Fiona Hill, who went to Eisenberg at the instruction of then-National Security Adviser John Bolton.

It’s not clear whether Eisenberg, who has a legendary reputation for secrecy, ever took those concerns up the chain to his boss in the White House counsel’s office, Pat Cipollone.

“John was distrustful of information flows to everywhere else in the building,” a former NSC colleague told POLITICO earlier this month. “He inherently was of the view that anything that could leak would leak and so he was also incredibly conscious of trying to restrict conversations to only those that he really, really, really felt needed to know.”

The White House counsel’s office is now conducting a review of all documents relevant to the Ukraine pressure campaign, according to a person familiar with the matter, in an effort to push back on the Democrats’ central charge—an allegation corroborated by several administration officials—that Trump withheld military assistance aid and a White House summit from the Ukrainians in exchange for Zelensky’s public commitment to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

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A few weeks after the July 25 call, a whistleblower’s concerns about the conversation and events leading up to it made their way to the CIA’s general counsel, Trump appointee Courtney Simmons Elwood, according to NBC News.

Elwood reportedly notified Eisenberg, and they called the Justice Department’s top national security lawyer, John Demers, on August 14 to recommend that DOJ examine the complaints. By August 12, though, the whistleblower had already filed a formal complaint with the intelligence community’s inspector general.

Trump’s conversation with Zelensky and the whistleblower complaint spurred Democrats to launch a formal impeachment inquiry after months of skepticism from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who repeatedly expressed her concern that voters would punish the party in swing districts.

House Democrats have called Eisenberg to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry on November 4, but it is not certain he will show up.

The White House has refused to cooperate with the Democrats’ investigation, and previously invoked executive privilege to prevent former White House counsel Don McGahn from complying with a congressional demand for testimony.

Democrats filed a lawsuit seeking enforcement of a subpoena for McGahn in August, and DOJ responded by asking for an immediate dismissal.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson expressed skepticism with DOJ’s arguments, particularly the administration’s claim that the president—and the White House more broadly—has “absolute immunity.”

But she hinted at a distinction between whether current or former officials could be compelled to testify.

“I see all day, many of us do, all kinds of former executive branch officials giving information to the media,” Jackson said. “We understand that people do that even under circumstances in which they could not have done so, perhaps, if they were still in the White House.”

U.S. House panels release two more impeachment depositions .
U.S. House panels release two more impeachment depositions

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