Trump impeachment inquiry shifts focus to White House lawyers

The House impeachment inquiry is zeroing in on two White House lawyers privy to a discussion about moving a memo recounting U.S. 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 favour” — 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 aggression.

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 problematic.

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 Joe Biden.

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