House impeachment investigators really want to hear from top White House lawyer John Eisenberg.
So much so, in fact, that they’ve called him to testify next week. Lawmakers also want to hear from John Bolton, who came up time and again last month in a series of depositions featuring a veritable procession of current and former officials.
It was Eisenberg, you’re reminded, who ordered the account of Donald Trump’s now infamous phone call with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky sequestered away on a code-word server, where it remained until the transcript was released by Trump himself.
Who knows if Eisenberg will actually show up, but what we do know is that in addition to spearheading the effort to keep the account of Trump’s call with Zelensky under lock and key (and that would be the same call the president continues to insist was “perfect”), Eisenberg also instructed Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman to keep his concerns about the call to himself.
Vindman – a decorated US Army officer who works for the National Security Council – listened to the infamous July call and this week told lawmakers he was profoundly disturbed by what he heard. Vindman’s opening statement and testimony were damaging to Trump, who maligned the Purple Heart recipient on Twitter.
As Natasha Bertrand reports on Friday, Vindman was told to keep quiet. To wit, from Bertrand, writing for Politico:
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”. 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.
So, the decision to tie a cement block to the account of the call and sink it in the harbor wasn’t necessarily “evidence of a coverup”, Vindman thought, but when he was politely advised to keep his mouth shut about the whole thing, it started to seem more coverup-ish. Makes sense.
“The directive from Eisenberg adds to an expanding list of moves by senior White House officials to contain, if not conceal, possible evidence of Trump’s attempt to pressure Zelensky to provide information that could be damaging to former vice president Joe Biden”, WaPo writes, summarizing Bertrand’s scoop.
Details of Vindman’s testimony continue to trickle in. On Thursday, House committees also heard from Tim Morrison, who was the top Russia and Europe adviser on the NSC. He resigned on Wednesday evening, just hours ahead of his deposition. Although he told lawmakers he didn’t hear anything overtly “illegal” on the July 25 call, he was nonetheless concerned about a trio of issues. He also backed up Ambassador Bill Taylor’s account of the quid pro quo.
The latest details of Vindman’s interaction with Eisenberg cast considerably more doubt on the White House’s contention that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, there was nothing wrong with the phone call. At this point, it’s almost irrelevant in light of everything Congress has heard from witnesses over the past several weeks.
Oh, well. Maybe Trump can clear it up in his planned “fireside chat”.
“This is over a phone call that is a good call”, Trump told the Washington Examiner this week. “At some point, I’m going to sit down, perhaps as a fireside chat on live television, and I will read the transcript of the call, because people have to hear it. When you read it, it’s a straight call”.
Whatever you say sir. Whatever you say.