- In this Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 file photo,
President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the
InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the
United Nations General Assembly in New York. The
House impeachment inquiry is zeroing in on two White
House lawyers privy to a discussion about moving a
memo recounting President Donald Trumps phone
call with the leader of Ukraine into a highly
restricted computer system normally reserved for
documents about covert action.
WASHINGTON The House
impeachment inquiry is zeroing in on two White House
lawyers privy to a discussion about moving a memo
recounting President Donald Trump's phone call with the
leader of Ukraine into a highly restricted computer system
normally reserved for documents about covert action.
Deepening their reach into
the West Wing, impeachment investigators have summoned
former national security adviser John Bolton to testify
next week. But they also are seeking testimony of two
other political appointees John Eisenberg, the lead
lawyer for the National Security Council, and Michael
Ellis, a senior associate counsel to the president.
The impeachment inquiry is
investigating Trump's call in which he asked Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for "a favor"
one that alarmed at least two White House staffers who
listened in on the July 25 call.
Trump asked Zelenskiy to
investigate Democrats in the 2016 election and former Vice
President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 rival, as the Trump
administration held up millions of dollars in military aid
for the Eastern European ally confronting Russian
The lawyers' role is
critical because two witnesses have suggested the NSC
legal counsel when told that Trump asked a foreign
leader for domestic political help took the
extraordinary step of shielding access to the transcript
not because of its covert nature but rather its potential
damage to the Republican president.
Trump has repeatedly
stressed that he knew people were listening in on the
call, holding that out as proof that he never would have
said anything inappropriate. But the subsequent effort to
lock down the rough transcript suggests some people in the
White House viewed the president's conversation as
Tim Morrison, outgoing
deputy assistant to the president who handled European and
Russian affairs at the NSC, told impeachment investigators
on Thursday that military aid to Ukraine was held up by
Trump's demand for the ally to investigate Democrats and
Morrison testified that he
was "not concerned that anything illegal was
discussed" on the July 25 call, but he said that
after listening to what Trump said he "promptly asked
the NSC legal adviser to review it."
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman,
a Ukraine expert at the NSC, had the same reaction. He and
Morrison were both in the Situation Room in the basement
of the West Wing listening in on Trump's conversation with
Zelenskiy. Vindman told impeachment investigators that he
was alarmed by what he heard, grabbed his notes from the
call and went to see Eisenberg.
"I did not think it
was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate
a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications
for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine,"
Vindman said Eisenberg,
who's known inside and outside the White House as a
meticulous, deliberate lawyer, suggested moving the
document that recounted the call to a restricted computer
server for highly classified materials, according to a
person who familiar with Vindman's testimony. The person
was not authorized to publicly discuss it and spoke only
on the condition of anonymity.
Ellis, the other White
House lawyer being asked to testify, was with Eisenberg
when he made the suggestion to move the document into the
more secure server. Ellis is no stranger to White House
controversies. The New York Times reported in March 2017
that he allowed his former boss Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.,
then the chairman of the House intelligence committee, to
review classified material at the White House.
The material was to bolster
Trump's claim that he was wiretapped during the 2016
campaign on the orders of President Barack Obama's
administration. The intelligence reports consisted
primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials
talking about trying to develop contacts in the inner
circle of then President-elect Trump. The report was not
confirmed by The Associated Press.
Eisenberg and Ellis, both
part of the White House legal staff, declined to comment
through an NSC spokesman.
"Consistent with the
practices of past administrations from both parties, we
will not discuss the internal deliberations of the White
House Counsel's Office," deputy press secretary Hogan
Mick Mulvaney, the acting
White House chief of staff, has declined to discuss how
the White House handles classified materials, but he
denies that moving the memo about the call into the highly
restricted NICE server which stands for NSC
Intelligence Collaboration Environment amounted to a
"There's only one
reason people care about that, right? And it's because
they think there's a cover-up," he told reporters at
a recent White House briefing, adding, "There must
have been something really, really duplicitous, something
really under-handed about how they handled this document,
because there must be a cover-up."
Mulvaney said if the
administration had wanted to cover anything up, it
wouldn't have called the Justice Department after the call
to have them look at the transcript and wouldn't have
publicly released the memorandum of the conversation.
The so-called "memcon"
is close to a verbatim transcript, although no audio
recordings are made.
Individuals familiar with
Trump White House procedure say one Situation Room staffer,
using voice-to-text software, repeats each word the
president says and another listens and repeats what a
foreign leader says. The spoken words are rendered as text
and a rough draft is produced.
The draft, which in this
case included a few ellipses, is circulated to several
people, including NSC subject matter specialists who
listened in on the call. They edit the draft for accuracy.
Each version is separately preserved on the T-Net system,
forming an archive that documents various edits.
Vindman told investigators
that the call included a discussion of Biden and Burisma
a reference to the gas company where Joe Biden's son,
Hunter, served on the board. Vindman said Trump also
mentioned that there were audio recordings of Joe Biden
discussing corruption in Ukraine, according to individuals
familiar with Tuesday's closed-door testimony.
Vindman said he tried to
suggest changes to the five-page "memcon," but
was unsuccessful, according to the individuals, who were
not authorized to discuss the testimony and spoke only on
condition of anonymity.
White House press secretary
Stephanie Grisham pushed back on Thursday, saying Vindman
"never suggested filling in any words at any points
where ellipses appear in the transcript." She added
that because Vindman testified behind closed doors, the
White House "cannot confirm whether or not Lt. Col.
Vindman himself made any such false claim."
Like most presidential
calls with foreign leaders, the Trump-Zelenskiy call was
put into the T-Net system where certain individuals are
granted permission to read it based on their need to know,
according to two individuals with direct knowledge of the
system. NSC officials working on African issues, for
example, would not routinely have been given access to the
Taking it off T-Net would
involve systems specialists, according to the individuals,
who were not authorized to discuss the systems publicly
and spoke only on condition of anonymity. They would have
to identify every person who accessed the document and
then wipe any trace of the memcon off the T-Net server.
After that, other NSC workers would have had to place the
material onto the N.I.C.E. system, which is physically
housed in the NSC intelligence directorate.
According to one of the
individuals familiar with the White House classified
computer systems, Eisenberg couldn't have actually moved
it to N.I.C.E. by himself. That raises a question, the
individual said, as to what reasons were given for needing
it to be moved.
magic of Senate run, O'Rourke drops presidential bid
O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman, announced
Friday that he was ending his Democratic presidential
campaign, which failed to recapture the enthusiasm,
interest and fundraising prowess of his 2018 Senate
in Iowa, O'Rourke said he made the decision
"reluctantly" and vowed to stay active in
the fight to defeat President Donald Trump. "I
will be part of this and so will you," he said.
O'Rourke was urged to
run for president by many Democrats, including
supporters of former President Barack Obama, who were
energized by his narrow Senate loss last year in
Texas, a reliably Republican state. He raised a record
$80 million from donors across the country, visited
every county in Texas and used social media and
livestreaming video to engage directly with voters. He
ultimately lost to incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz
by 3 percentage points.
But O'Rourke, 47,
struggled to replicate that model in the presidential
primary, and both his polling and his fundraising
dwindled significantly in recent months.
"We have to
clearly see, at this point, that we did not have the
means to pursue this campaign successfully and that my
service will not be as a candidate, nor as a nominee
of this party for the presidency," O'Rourke said.
comes as the Democratic primary enters a critical
stretch. With three months until the kickoff Iowa
caucuses, polls consistently show a trio of candidates
leading the way: former Vice President Joe Biden,
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen.
Bernie Sanders, with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of
South Bend, Indiana, showing strength in Iowa, as
well. Lower polling candidates face difficult
questions about whether they have the money to sustain
a campaign through the first primary contests.
Earlier this week,
Kamala Harris, another candidate who entered the race
to much fanfare, announced she was downscaling her
campaign, laying off some staffers and reorienting
almost exclusively to focus on Iowa.
the race as the feel-good, dynamic candidate who
had the ability to appeal to both Republicans and
Democrats and work across the aisle in Washington.
But he immediately
faced criticism that he had a sense of entitlement,
particularly after the release of a Vanity Fair
interview on the eve of his campaign launch in which
he appeared to say he was "born" to be in
After quickly pulling
in $9.4 million during his first two weeks in the
race, O'Rourke's financial situation deteriorated. By
the end of June, he was spending more than his
campaign was taking in. By the end of September, he
had just $3.2 million cash on hand while spending
double that over the previous three months, campaign
finance records show.
significantly, the small-dollar contributions that
fueled his Senate bid and the early days of his
presidential campaign slowed to a $1.9 million
The former congressman
also struggled to articulate a consistent vision and
messaging as a presidential candidate.
He spent several weeks
trying to build his campaign around climate change,
calling global warming the greatest existential threat
the country had ever faced. But as the excitement over
his candidacy began to fade, O'Rourke was forced to
stage a "reintroduction" of his campaign to
reinvigorate it. After a gunman opened fire at a
Walmart in his hometown of El Paso, killing 22 people,
O'Rourke more heavily embraced gun control, saying
he would take assault weapons away from existing
As O'Rourke's standing
in the presidential primary plummeted, some Democrats
urged him to return to Texas for another Senate run.
He has repeatedly denied having any interest in that
came hours before he was supposed to join other
Democratic contenders at a party dinner in Iowa.
Campaign volunteers were still collecting voter
information and handing out "Beto"
stickers" outside the event amid a steady rain as
the candidate announced he was dropping out.
O'Rourke did not
endorse another Democrat for the nomination, saying
the country will be well served by any of the other
candidates, "and I'm going to be proud to support
whoever that nominee is."
Trump quickly weighed
in on O'Rourke's exit, saying in a tweet: "Oh no,
Beto just dropped out of race for President despite
him saying he was 'born for this.' I don't think