Impeachment inquiry focuses on White House lawyers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House impeachment inquiry is zeroing in on two White House lawyers privy to a discussion about moving a memo recounting 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 "favor" — 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 president.

Trump himself has repeatedly stressed that he knew multiple 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.

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The House Ways and Means Committee hearing room, the largest hearing room in the House, is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, will use this room to hold the first public session in its probe of whether President Donald Trump violated his oath of office by coercing Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his family. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
US career diplomat Christopher Anderson arrives to review his testimony as part of the House Impeachment inquiries on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on November 7, 2019. - The first open impeachment hearings into US President Donald Trump will begin next week, US House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said November 6, 2019, as the investigation heads into a highly anticipated public phase. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Vote Tallies are displayed as House members vote on a resolution on impeachment procedure to move forward into the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. The resolution passed 232-196. The resolution will authorize the next stage of impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, including establishing the format for open hearings, giving the House Committee on the Judiciary the final recommendation on impeachment, and allowing President Trump and his lawyers to attend events and question witnesses. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. Later today The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (C), speaks during a news conference after the close of a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sha Hanting/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. - On October 30, the House Rules Committee agreed by a party line vote to put the impeachment resolution up for approval before the full House of Representatives on October 31. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: (L-R) House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Oversight and Government Reform Committee Acting Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) hold a news conference following the passage of a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) presides over a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Vote Tallies are displayed as House members vote on a resolution on impeachment procedure to move forward into the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. The resolution passed 232-196. The resolution will authorize the next stage of impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, including establishing the format for open hearings, giving the House Committee on the Judiciary the final recommendation on impeachment, and allowing President Trump and his lawyers to attend events and question witnesses. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
White House Russia expert Timothy Morrison arrives for a deposition for the House Impeachment inquiries at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks during a news conference with other Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Diplomat added significant ballast to the allegation Trump was trying to extort Ukraine into ginning up bad news about Biden. The impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump has heard some extraordinary testimony over the last month. From the first mention of Trump’s desired “deliverable” from Ukraine, successive layers of witnesses and documents have added to an indictment of the president’s conduct that only gets heavier, as Trump howls his defenses to the wind. On Tuesday, things got even worse for Trump – much worse, as many saw it. For almost 10 hours, William Taylor, a former military officer and career diplomat with the rank of ambassador under the last four presidents, spoke with congressional investigators about how the Trump administration has been conducting a two-track foreign policy in Ukraine, where Taylor is in charge of the US embassy. We don’t yet know most of what was said. The current public record of the closed-door testimony comprises only a copy of Taylor’s 15-page opening statement – and the spectacle of the ashen faces of members of Congress as they filed out from the hearing. “This testimony is a sea change,” congressman Stephen Lynch told reporters. In his testimony, Taylor explained his discovery of an “irregular, informal policy channel” by which the Trump administration was pursuing objectives in Ukraine “running contrary to the goals of longstanding US policy”. What the “informal channel” wanted – and briefly obtained, Taylor said – was for the Ukrainian president to agree to go on CNN to announce an investigation of Joe Biden, whom Trump sees, perhaps mistakenly, as a top 2020 threat. The Trump administration held up “much-needed military assistance” to Ukraine in an effort to extract the Ukrainian statement, Taylor said. “More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the US assistance,” he noted. In a process scrambled so far by misleading Trump tweets and relying in part on anonymous witnesses, the testimony of Taylor, a Vietnam veteran respected in both parties with 50 years of public service behind him, landed as a potential game-changer. It was just the kind of testimony that seemed to answer even the most stubborn demands of Trump loyalists such as Senator Lindsey Graham for additional, definitive proof that Trump was turning the broad power of his office to his own narrow devices. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” Graham said at the weekend. The senator denied in a Fox News appearance Tuesday that Taylor had delivered such evidence. But Taylor added significant ballast to the allegation that Trump was attempting to extort Ukraine into ginning up bad news about Biden. What Taylor added was a careful stitchwork of detail, describing who was working to extort the Ukrainians, how they were going about it, how their aims clashed with stated US policy, how the Ukrainians responded, and what people said to him about it at the time. Taylor made clear he has the memos and other records to back up his story. And he exposed the slapstick clumsiness of the Trump flunkies working the “informal channel” – notably Gordon Sondland, the hotelier and Trump mega-donor turned ambassador. “Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman,” Taylor testified. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” But “the explanation made no sense”, Taylor argued. “The Ukrainians did not ‘owe’ President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was ‘crazy’.” Reaction to Taylor’s testimony generally fell between shock and dumbfoundedness. “I cannot overstate how damaging this Ambassador Taylor testimony is to Trump,” tweeted Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general. “Taylor’s statement is a completely devastating document,” wrote Susan Hennessey, the executive director of the Lawfare site. “I know they will find a way but it’s just impossible to imagine how Republicans in Congress will be able to defend this. It is well beyond what most assumed was the worst-case scenario.” The White House issued a statement Tuesday night impugning Taylor, a Trump appointee, as part of a cadre of “radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the constitution”. But the taller the evidence against him, the smaller Trump’s protests seemed. Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar, a presidential candidate, challenged Republicans to take a stand. “After Diplomat Taylor’s testimony you can no longer question whether this happened,” she tweeted. “The question is if you choose to follow the law or be part of the cover-up.” Trump huddled Tuesday night with members of his legal team, the Wall Street Journal reported, and he urged congressional Republicans to do more to rebut the impeachment inquiry. But there were reportedly no talking points, and no one knew quite what they were supposed to say, or whom to take that direction from. Notably absent from the meeting of Trump’s advisors was Rudy Giuliani, whom Taylor describes as running the shadow operation in Ukraine. “The official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr Giuliani,” Taylor said. He described a seemingly free hand for Giuliani, whose foreign clients include or have included Ukraine-based antagonists of current and former US officials, to open and close diplomatic channels and to direct US policy as he pleased. One of the weightiest impacts of Taylor’s testimony might have to do with the senior US officials it names. Taylor took his concerns about Trump’s alleged attempt to extort Ukraine, he said, to both national security adviser John Bolton and to secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Bolton, who has since resigned, reacted with outrage and frustration. Pompeo, who is eyeing a US Senate bid in his home state of Kansas, apparently greeted Taylor’s warning with silence. “This is not the story of corruption in Ukraine,” tweeted the political strategist David Axelrod. “It’s the story of corruption at the highest levels of the US government. It’s the story of extortion, with US military aid to a besieged ally held hostage to the president’s personal political project.” Trump’s critics say the story is plain: that the president twisted the immense powers of his office to personal ends, in betrayal of constitution and country. When it comes time to prove it, Taylor’s testimony is likely to be front and center.
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference with other Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
ARCHIVO - En esta foto de archivo del 30 de noviembre de 2018, la entonces embajadora de EEUU en Ucrania, Marie L. Yovanovitch, habla en Kiev. Yovanovich declara el viernes 11 de octubre de 2019 ante las comisiones del Congreso que investigan al presidente Donald Trump antes de posiblemente iniciarle juicio político. (AP Foto/Efrem Lukatsky)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 17: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, arrives to the Capitol for his deposition as part of the House's impeachment inquiry on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - October 22: The acting Ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor, Jr., departs after meeting with the House Intelligence committee for their impeachment inquiry, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Ambassador William Taylor is escorted by U.S. Capitol Police as he arrives to testify before House committees as part of the Democrats' impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Former White House advisor on Russia, Fiona Hill, center, leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, after testifying before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, arrives on Capitol Hill, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Washington, as she is scheduled to testify before congressional lawmakers on Friday as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - In this March 6, 2019 file photo, then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, sits during her meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, Ukraine. (Mikhail Palinchak, Presidential Press Service Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the House impeachment investigation during a formal signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at the White House in Washington, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Committee speaks to the media before a closed-door meeting regarding the ongoing impeachment inquiry against US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol October 8, 2019 in Washington,DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, of Utah, addresses the media at Midvale Senior Citizens Center Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Midvale, Utah. McAdams is changing his position to support the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. He said Friday he has not made a decision on whether the president should be impeached, but he supports investigating what he calls serious allegations. McAdams was previously one of a small handful of undecided House Democrats. He says he changed his mind because the Trump administration is unlikely to cooperate with an investigation unless it's conducted as an impeachment inquiry. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Staunch Trump ally Sen. Chuck Grassley pushes back against calls to out whistleblower
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., listens as Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and other House Democrats discuss H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which passed in the House but is being held up in the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters after the Trump administration blocked U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from giving testimony in the House of Representatives' impeachment investigation of Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: Tourists make photographs inside the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on October 01, 2019 in Washington, DC. Under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the House of Representatives has opened an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump following revelation that a whistleblower filed a complaint that Trump was seeking damaging information about a political opponent from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30 : President Donald J. Trump talks to reporters about the whistleblower after participating in a ceremonial Swearing-In of the Secretary of Labor Gene Scalia in the Oval Office at the White House on Monday, Sept 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - OCTOBER 01: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media on October 1, 2019 in Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine has been at the core of a political storm in U.S. politics since the release of a whistleblower's complaint suggesting U.S. President Donald Trump, at the expense of U.S. foreign policy, pressured Ukraine to investigate Trump's rival, Joe Biden, and Biden's son, Hunter. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., walks by protesters outside the Capitol after the House vote on an impeachment inquiry resolution on Thursday, October 31, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on September 24, 2019 shows US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, on September 24, 2019 and US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, September 20, 2019. - Amid mounting allegations of abuse of power by the US President, Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, the first step in a process that could ultimately lead to Trump's removal from office. (Photos by Mandel NGAN and SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN,SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., steps away from a podium after reading a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to audience applause after his address to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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Members of the White House press corps - holding in the Trump Bar at Trump Tower - watch U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) live on television as she announces an impeachment investigation of U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, New York, U.S. September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump ATTENDS a bilateral meeting with Iraq's President Barham Salih on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks to news reporters following an impeachment proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) walks through a House corridor following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL.) speaks to news reporters following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
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Protesters with "Kremlin Annex" call to impeach President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) walks with her press secretary, Connor Joseph, to a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Spanberger is one of seven freshman members of the House with national intelligence or military backgrounds who recently spoke out in an opinion piece calling for an investigation of Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Reporters and congressional staff members wait outside a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Reporters crowd around Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., as he leaves the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on impeachment of President Trump on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, arrives for the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on impeachment of President Trump on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Protesters with Kremlin Annex with a light sign that reads "NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW" call to impeach President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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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.

Morrison testified that he was "not concerned that anything illegal was discussed" on the July 25 call, but said that after listening to what Trump said, he "promptly asked the NSC legal adviser to review it."

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert at the NSC, had the same reaction. He and Morrison were both in the Situation Room in the basement of the West Wing listening in on Trump's conversation with Zelenskiy. Vindman told impeachment investigators that he was alarmed by what he heard, grabbed his notes from the call and went to see Eisenberg.

"I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine," Vindman said.

Vindman said Eisenberg, who is known in and outside the White House as a meticulous, deliberate lawyer, suggested moving the document that recounted the call to a restricted computer server for highly classified materials, according to a person who familiar with Vindman's testimony. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss it and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Ellis, the other White House lawyer being asked to testify, was with Eisenberg when he made the suggestion to move the document into the more secure server. Ellis is no stranger to White House controversies. The New York Times reported in March 2017 that he allowed his former boss, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., then the chairman of the House intelligence committee, to review classified material at the White House.

The material was to bolster Trump's claim that he was wiretapped during the 2016 campaign on the orders of the Obama administration. The intelligence reports consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about trying to develop contacts in the inner circle of then President-elect Trump. The report was not confirmed by The Associated Press.

Eisenberg and Ellis, both part of the White House legal staff, declined to comment through an NSC spokesman.

"Consistent with the practices of past administrations from both parties, we will not discuss the internal deliberations of the White House Counsel's Office," said deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, has declined to discuss how the White House handles classified materials, but denies that moving the memo about the call into the highly restricted N.I.C.E. server — which stands for NSC Intelligence Collaboration Environment — amounted to a cover-up.

"There's only one reason people care about that, right? And it's because they think there's a cover-up," he told reporters at a recent White House briefing, adding, "There must have been something really, really duplicitous, something really under-handed about how they handled this document, because there must be a cover-up."

Mulvaney said if the administration had wanted to cover anything up, it wouldn't have called the Justice Department after the call to have them look at the transcript and wouldn't have publicly released the memorandum of the conversation.

The so-called "memcon" is close to a verbatim transcript, although no audio recordings are made.

Individuals familiar with Trump White House procedure say one Situation Room staffer, using voice-to-text software, repeats each word the president says and another listens and repeats what a foreign leader says. The spoken words are rendered as text and a rough draft is produced.

The draft, which in this case included a few ellipses, is circulated to several people, including NSC subject matter specialists who listened in on the call. They edit the draft for accuracy. Each version is separately preserved on the T-Net system, forming an archive that documents various edits.

Vindman said he tried to suggest changes to the five-page 'memcon'

Vindman told investigators that the call included a discussion of Biden and Burisma — a reference to the gas company where Joe Biden's son, Hunter, served on the board. Vindman said Trump also mentioned that there were audio recordings of Joe Biden discussing corruption in Ukraine, according to individuals familiar with Tuesday's closed-door testimony.

Vindman said he tried to suggest changes to the five-page "memcon," but was unsuccessful, according to the individuals, who were not authorized to discuss the testimony and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham pushed back on Thursday, saying Vindman "never suggested filling in any words at any points where ellipses appear in the transcript." She added that because Vindman testified behind closed doors, the White House "cannot confirm whether or not Lt. Col. Vindman himself made any such false claim."

Like most presidential calls with foreign leaders, the Trump-Zelenskiy call was put into the T-Net system where certain individuals are granted permission to read it based on their need to know, according to two individuals with direct knowledge of the system. NSC officials working on African issues, for example, would not routinely have been given access to the Ukraine call.

Taking it off T-Net would involve systems specialists, according to the individuals, who were not authorized to discuss the systems publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity. They would have to identify every person who accessed the document and then wipe any trace of the memcon off the T-Net server. After that, other NSC workers would have had to place the material onto the N.I.C.E. system, which is physically housed in the NSC intelligence directorate.

According to one of the individuals familiar with the White House classified computer systems, Eisenberg couldn't have actually moved it to N.I.C.E. by himself. That raises a question, the individual said, as to what reasons were given for needing it to be moved.

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