AILSA CHANG, HOST:
NPR has learned that a key witness in the impeachment inquiry is set to leave his post on the National Security Council. Tim Morrison is the top Russia official on the NSC, and he's set to testify before the House tomorrow. Now, Morrison was privy to the contents of that July phone call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president.
And joining us now with more is White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Hey, Franco.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello.
CHANG: So briefly remind us. Who is Morrison? Why is he such an important witness here?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, as the senior director responsible for that region, Tim Morrison would be the person at the NSC with the closest relationship with Ukraine's issues. As a former NSC official told me, if there was a quid pro quo, he's the one who would know about it.
It was Morrison who alerted NSC lawyers about alleged demands being placed on the Ukraine government to investigate a company where the former Vice President Joe Biden's son sat on the board, and that was according to earlier testimony. It was also Morrison who said he had heard from Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union, that Trump wanted the Ukraine president to actually go to a microphone and announce this investigation.
CHANG: OK, so have you gotten any indication of why Morrison plans to leave his job? I mean, does it have anything to do with his upcoming testimony tomorrow?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, I was unable to reach Morrison, and his lawyer won't speak to me about his job status. I did speak with three sources who did confirm this. You know, he'd only been in this particular job since the summer. It's very unusual to take such an important position at NSC and to leave so soon.
ORDOÑEZ: Details are usually about a year. They can be extended. But the White House has stopped - sought to stop current and former aides from testifying, citing that they are protected or entitled to immunity from the investigation. So while it's not clear yet whether he's leaving the post or the administration entirely, his attorney has said publicly all along that he planned to testify if subpoenaed.
CHANG: What's been really interesting so far is that staff members from the National Security Council have been sort of at the center of this whole Ukraine scandal. And the people who are proving to be the most important witnesses are these really staunch conservatives - the most important witnesses for Democrats.
ORDOÑEZ: It really is interesting. There's always been at the NSC kind of a mix of somewhat ideological and career officials there. Morrison was certainly on the ideological side of the spectrum at NSC. He's considered a hawk on foreign policy. His views are in line with National Security, John Bolton.
I spoke with John Gans, a former speech - Pentagon speechwriter about this, who told me that one of the ironies of all this is that officials who raised eyebrows with their hardline views when they joined at the NSC are now kind of a source of - a slice of hope for investigators, as you pointed out.
JOHN GANS: And Tim Morrison is one of those people. But, in fact, now we see, as those who are trying to get to the bottom of the impeachment inquiry are placing a lot of hope on his testimony, that he will be willing to say, despite his sort of hardline views and despite, perhaps, agreeing with President Trump on some matters, that, in fact, there was a problem here on Ukraine.
ORDOÑEZ: And that's what Democrats hope to hear when he comes to speak.
CHANG: Now, the person who hired Morrison in the first place was former national security adviser John Bolton. And we understand that House investigators now want to speak directly with Bolton. Is that right?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. And NPR has confirmed that House investigators have invited Bolton to testify next week on November 7 as part of their impeachment inquiry. Right now, it's called a voluntary appearance, which may not be quite enough for Bolton.
ORDOÑEZ: Let's remember; Bolton is represented by the same lawyer as former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman, who has filed a lawsuit arguing that he can't testify until a judge tells him whether he needs to adhere to the congressional subpoena or White House directive.
CHANG: That's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks, Franco.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
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