Ex-NSC official says Trump July 25 call transcript mistakenly moved to classified system
Posted November 16, 2019 7:03 p.m. EST
CNN — Tim Morrison, the National Security Council's former senior director for Europe and Russia official, testified earlier this month that he was told the transcript of President Donald Trump's July 25 call with his Ukrainian counterpart was moved to a highly classified server by "mistake," according to a transcript of his closed-door meeting with lawmakers released Saturday.
During his deposition as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry, Morrison relayed senior NSC lawyer John Eisenberg's explanation that his executive secretary mistakenly put it in the highly classified system.
Morrison acknowledged that he and Eisenberg had previously discussed that access to the transcript should be restricted but also testified that there was nothing said on the call that met the requirements to put it on a highly secure server. Morrison was among several officials who were listening to the call and reviewed the transcript.
Morrison and his team found out that the transcript was in the classified server while they were "trying to gain access to it to prepare the President for the planned Warsaw meeting," in September, according to the transcript.
Upon finding the transcript in the special server, they asked themselves, "how did it get on there?" Morrison said.
"John (Eisenberg) related that he did not ask for it to be put on there, but that the Executive Secretariat staff misunderstood his recommendation for how to restrict access," he added.
However, a former White House official told CNN that Eisenberg's deputy, Michael Ellis, delivered the directive to the NSC's Executive Secretariat and told officials there to move the call transcript to the codeword classified system, known as NICE.
The directive was quite clear at the time because officials involved in the process were "bewildered" since there was no codeword classified material in the transcript, according to the former official.
CNN reported last month that Eisenberg ordered the call transcript placed into the codeword system after his initial call with the CIA's top lawyer to "preserve" the record since he realized it could become a matter of a legal issue.
But others familiar with the matter previously told CNN that the move came after officials became aware of the internal concerns and wanted to prevent additional people from reading the document.
Morrison also said that despite Eisenberg telling him that the transcript was moved by mistake, that it was not removed from the classified system after their conversation and he did not know why.
"As of the third week of September, it was not -- it had not been taken off," the former NSC official said.
Morrison worries about leak
Morrison also testified that he was concerned the July 25 call would wind up becoming a partisan political issue if it leaked and asked White House legal staff to restrict access to the transcript for that reason, according to his testimony.
Morrison told lawmakers that he never asked for something like this to be done before for any other presidential phone call.
The whistleblower complaint said, and the White House later confirmed, that National Security Council officials moved the transcript into a highly classified server that is typically meant for top national security secrets or military intelligence.
Morrison testified that he did not ask for the transcript to be moved.
CNN has previously reported that in the hours and days after the Ukrainian President signed-off -- "Thank you Mr. President, bye-bye" -- nervous word spread among national security aides about the contents of the July 25 call, an early show of worry that Trump's request for an investigation into Joe Biden was far from the "perfect" conversation he now insists transpired.
The scramble and fallout from the call, described by six people familiar with it, parallels and expands upon details described in the whistleblower complaint. The anxiety and internal concern reflect a phone conversation that deeply troubled national security professionals, even as Trump now insists there was nothing wrong with how he conducted himself. And it shows an ultimately unsuccessful effort to contain the tumult by the administration's lawyers.