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

Source: Politico | November 1, 2019 | Natasha Bertrand

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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. It also undermines Trump’s insistence that the call was “perfect.”

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.

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