John Eisenberg, the top lawyer for the National Security Council and a former Kirkland & Ellis partner, has refused to sit for questioning in the House impeachment inquiry. But he figured prominently at Tuesday’s hearing as House lawmakers delved into the internal White House alarm over Trump’s apparent effort to leverage congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine for assistance against a domestic political opponent.
Eisenberg was named repeatedly as [Lt. Col. Alexander] Vindman recounted twice raising concerns about the pressure campaign. The first time following a July 10 meeting in which Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, pushed a pair of Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens. Vindman returned to Eisenberg after the July 25 phone call now at the center of the House’s impeachment probe.
In some of the crucial exchanges of Vindman’s testimony, Eisenberg was referred to simply as “the lawyer.”
“The very same issue that prompted you to go talk to the lawyer ends up coming in that call with the president, is that correct?” asked U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
“That is correct,” Vindman answered.
“And it is that conversion that once again led you back to the lawyer’s office,” Schiff asked.
“That is correct,” Vindman replied.
Eisenberg has come under scrutiny for his role in moving a transcript of the July 25 call to a highly classified server, a step other officials have described as at odds with standard White House protocol. His defenders have asserted Eisenberg did nothing improper in securing the rough transcript, a move that would help eliminate any leaks of its contents.
From TALKING POINTS MEMO:
A key House impeachment inquiry witness followed a White House lawyer’s instructions and went to him with concerns about Donald Trump’s actions. For Republican impeachment inquisitors, that was a sign of insubordination.
The witness, the National Security Council Ukraine director Alexander Vindman, had been told by the NSC’s top lawyer to go directly to him with any concerns about President Donald Trump’s actions.
Republicans on Tuesday attempted to attack Vindman for following that order, accusing him of leaving his immediate superior on the council — the NSC’s then-newly appointed Russia and Europe director Tim Morrison — out of the loop.
“When you had concerns about the 7/25 call, between the two presidents, you didn’t go to Mr. Morrison about that, did you?” Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) confronted Vindman Tuesday, referring to the now-infamous call between Trump and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I immediately went to John Eisenberg, the lead legal counsel,” Vindman responded.
Wenstrup interjected: “So that doesn’t seem like chain of command.”
Vindman tried to respond, but Wenstrup kept talking, until House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) stopped him to allow Vindman time to finish his answer.
“I attempted to report it to Mr. Morrison,” he said. “He didn’t avail himself and at that point, I was told not to speak to anyone else.”
Schiff noted Tuesday that Morrison had himself gone to Eisenberg with his concerns about the call — without consulting with his immediate supervisor, then-National Security Adviser John Bolton. And Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) noted that Eisenberg was actually above Vindman in the chain of command.
[Fiona] Hill, Vindman’s former superior, testified last month that Bolton told her to alert the NSC’s lawyers after a July 10 meeting between American and Ukrainian officials in which the U.S. EU ambassador Gordon Sondland said there was a shady deal in place for the Ukrainians to secure a meeting with President Donald Trump. Bolton said Sondland’s comments described a “drug deal.”
Vindman also testified to alerting NSC’s lawyers at the time. He said Eisenberg subsequently told him to come directly to him with future concerns.
Maybe Mr. Eisenberg should invest in a revolving door.