WASHINGTON – Transcripts released Saturday in the impeachment inquiry show Ambassador Gordon Sondland playing a central role in President Donald Trump’s effort to push Ukraine to conduct political investigations as a condition for receiving needed military aid.
The fresh details come from hundreds of pages of testimony from Tim Morrison, a former top official at the National Security Council.
They contradict much of the ambassador’s own testimony behind closed doors. Both Morrison and Sondland are expected to testify publicly before the House this week.
While some, including Trump himself, have begun to question Sondland’s knowledge of events, Morrison told House investigators the ambassador “related to me he was acting – he was discussing these matters with the President.”
Morrison, a longtime Republican defense hawk in Washington, largely confirmed testimony from current and former officials testifying in the impeachment inquiry. But his account also provided new insight on what others have called a shadow diplomacy being run by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, often at odds with U.S. national security interests.
As Sondland, Giuliani and others tried to persuade new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch the investigations Trump wanted of his Democratic rivals, Morrison said he “tried to stay away.”
Morrison called this the Burisma “bucket” – investigations into the family of Joe Biden and the role of Democrats in the 2016 election. It’s a reference to the gas company in Ukraine where Biden’s son Hunter served on the board
In particular Morrison described a Sept. 1 meeting Sondland held with a top Zelenskiy aide, Andriy Yermak, on the sidelines of a summit in Warsaw.
Morrison said he witnessed the exchange and that afterward Sondland bounded across the room to tell him what was said.
Sondland told him that “what could help them move the aid was if the prosecutor general would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation,” Morrison testified. The prosecutor general is Ukraine’s top legal official.
“My concern was what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics,” Morrison said. He added: “It was the first time something like this had been injected as a condition on the release of the assistance.”
Morrison, who announced Oct. 30 he would be stepping down from the NSC, was brought to the White House by then-national security adviser John Bolton.
Within hours of the conversation in Warsaw, Morrison called Bolton and the top U.S. official in Ukraine, William Taylor. He told them both about the conversation and his concerns about it.
Bolton told him: “Stay out of it, brief the lawyers.”
For weeks, top administration aides had been struggling to understand why the $391 million in security aid for Ukraine was being delayed. There’s longstanding bipartisan support for backing up the young democracy bordering an aggressive Russia.
Others have testified they were being told by officials at the Office and Management and Budget it was being stalled at the direction of the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.
A few days later, on Sept. 7, Sondland was on the phone telling Morrison he had just gotten off a call with the president.
“I remember this because he actually made the comment that it was easier for him to get a hold of the President than to get a hold of me,” Morrison said.
Morrison said Sondland related that Trump assured him there were no strings being attached to the military aid for Ukraine.
“The president told him there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelenskiy must announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it,” Morrison recalled Sondland saying.
Morrison had what he called a “sinking feeling” – that the aid would may not be released.
“I also did not think it was a good idea for the Ukrainian President to – at this point I had a better understanding – involve himself in our politics,” he said.
Only days later, after three congressional committees said they were launching inquiries into efforts by Trump and Giuliani to investigate the Bidens, was the money released.
Morrison said that at a Sept. 11 meeting at the White House that Trump was persuaded to release the money. Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio “convinced the president that the aid should be disbursed immediately,” said Morrison, who was briefed about the meeting but did not attend. “The case was made to the president that it was the appropriate and prudent thing to do.”
Transcripts were also released from the testimony of Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Pence, that raised new questions about how much Pence knew about the alleged trade-off that’s central to the impeachment inquiry.
Impeachment investigators met for a rare Saturday session with a White House official directly connected to Trump’s block on military aid to Ukraine, the first budget office witness to testify in the historic inquiry.
Mark Sandy, a little-known career official at the Office of Management and Budget, was involved in key meetings about the nearly $400 million aid package.
Sandy’s name had barely come up in previous testimony. But it did on one particular date: July 25, the day of Trump’s call with Zelenskiy. That day, a legal document with Sandy’s signature directed a freeze of the security funds, according to testimony from Defense Department official Laura Cooper. Investigators had shown her a document as evidence.
Trump on the call had asked Zelenskiy for a “favor,” to conduct an investigation into Biden and his son. The link between Trump’s call and the White House’s holding back of security aid is the central question in the impeachment inquiry. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called it “bribery.”
Trump, who says he only wanted to root out corruption in Ukraine, says he did nothing wrong.
Sharpening the arguments, both sides are preparing for an intense lineup of public hearings in the coming week. Americans are deeply split over impeachment, much as they are over the president himself.
For Ukraine, a former Soviet republic situated between NATO-allies and Russia, the $391 million in aid is its lifeline to the West.
The money is symbolic, the ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified this week, but also substantial.
It includes $250 million in Pentagon funding and an additional $141 million for the State Department, including for maritime security in the Black Sea, aimed at identifying and tracking Russian ships and aircraft.
“Supporting Ukraine is the right thing to do,” Yovanovitch testified. “If Russia prevails and Ukraine falls to Russian dominion, we can expect to see other attempts by Russia to expand its territory and influence.”
For the third time this decade, Bowling Green veterinarian Mary Ives has been denied in her attempt to open a veterinary clinic on property she owns at 600 Rigelwood Lane near the Baker Arboretum and Downing Museum on Morgantown Road.
The Warren County Board of Adjustments on Thursday, after hearing arguments from Ives and residents near her property, voted unanimously to deny her application for a Conditional Use Permit that would have allowed the veterinary clinic and kennel to go forward.
With some two dozen residents of the Rigelwood Lane area attending in opposition along with some supporters of Ives, the veterinarian made an often-emotional plea to allow the business plan on an 8.34-acre tract that is zoned agricultural.
Ives argued that her practice would have only about 10 clients per day and that the heavily insulated building would mitigate the impact of noise from the animals.
She had her supporters, including Sherry Goodman of Sunnyside-Gott Road in Warren County.
“Warren County and Bowling Green could definitely benefit from another veterinary clinic,” Goodman said. “I’ve known Mary a long time. She’s an excellent veterinarian. I believe she’ll conduct her business in a professional manner and won’t be a detriment to the neighbors.”
But the residents, many of them represented by Bowling Green attorney David Broderick, didn’t agree.
Arguing that the veterinary clinic would have a negative impact on the Baker Arboretum, Jerry Baker Foundation Trustee Keith Carwell said: “The arboretum is a quiet place where people come to walk and reflect. If you have 20 dogs barking, you no longer have a serene location for people to enjoy.”
Others pointed out that the narrow Rigelwood Lane could hardly accommodate large livestock trailers.
Broderick summed up: “The issue is not her competence as a veterinarian but whether or not this project is compatible with the neighborhood. It does create a nuisance.”
Ives, in her closing statement, argued that noise from Interstate 165 (formerly the Natcher Parkway) is greater than what the veterinary clinic would produce.
It didn’t sway the members of the board of adjustments. After a motion by Courtlann Atkinson to deny the CUP application, all seven board members present voted to deny.
“I think it’s pure discrimination against me,” Ives said during her closing argument.
It was the second time the board had voted unanimously to deny a CUP application by Ives. She submitted a similar application in 2014 that was voted down 5-0. She won approval of a CUP from the board in 2012 for a veterinary clinic on a separate tract of approximately five acres, but she began building beyond what the permit allowed and was forced to stop construction.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board approved one CUP application for an event venue but denied another.
The application of Derrick and Deserea Huff for a CUP for agritourism use on five acres at 3220 Fuqua Road was approved unanimously. The Huffs already operate a winery on the property and plan to develop an event venue for weddings, parties and other events.
A CUP application submitted by Gregg Reece would have allowed his plan to develop a 6.6-acre site at 721 Brian Lane as an event venue, but the board members voted to deny the application.
Attorney Chris Davenport, representing local real estate developer James Cook and others involved in developing a gated residential subdivision on Cemetery Road near the Reece property, argued that the event venue would not be compatible with the surrounding area.
“My clients would argue that this would create a nuisance,” Davenport said. “It would adversely affect the development of the neighborhood.”
The board members agreed, voting 6-0 to deny Reece’s CUP application.
There have been an untold number of investigations into the killings of Larry Key and Kentucky State Police Trooper William Barrett in the almost half-century since they occurred.
The investigators have ranged from KSP detectives who specialize in cold cases to members of Larry Key’s family, who remain committed to finding justice.
But the hope for criminal prosecutions is tied to thin threads of largely circumstantial evidence. What can weave those threads together is the testimony of those who know something about the cases. It is likely that any chance for prosecutions today depends on those individuals coming forward.
Hopes that that will happen are still alive in those who remember Key and Barrett.
• • •
The case of Larry Key, killed on the Glendale Interstate 65 exit ramp July 28, 1972, is being handled by KSP Post 4 in Elizabethtown.
That post’s public affairs officer, Trooper Scotty Sharp, confirmed the Key case remains active, but could offer few details on the current investigation. The detective currently in charge of the case was not available for an interview.
But Sharp said the post is continuously looking for information regarding Larry Key’s death.
“When they go unsolved this long, it really comes down to needing the public’s help. Somebody knows something, no matter how small ... it might just be the small piece of the puzzle we need,” Sharp said.
He said no investigator wants to move on from a case without a resolution.
“We take our cold cases very seriously,” Sharp said.
The investigation into the shooting death of Barrett, killed outside his Rockfield home early on the morning of Dec. 19, 1971, is being handled by KSP Post 3 in Bowling Green.
The current lead investigator in the Barrett case is veteran KSP detective Gary Travis, who took on the investigation in 2018 and began by reviewing the volumes of information about the case. He then began reinterviewing witnesses who are still alive.
“A murder investigation is never really closed,” Travis said, but a stalled one can benefit from a new perspective. “It always helps to have a fresh set of eyes.”
The initial investigation covered a lot of ground, according to Travis.
“There was a ton of information flowing initially ... leads were followed diligently,” Travis said, but they resulted in “many dead ends.”
Travis said the killing could be related to Barrett’s job, personal life and even a random case of someone deciding to kill a police officer.
We are “investigating all theories and leads,” he said.
Travis does not discount the Key family contention that the Barrett and Larry Key killings are linked. “It’s a possibility,” he said. “That’s one of the working theories.
“This certainly was a very complex case,” Travis said, and the methods used to investigate killings in 1971 were not as advanced as today.
“The technology we use to process evidence is light years ahead of what it was then,” he said.
There were no such things as DNA testing or 3D crime scene imagery in 1971. And the weapon used, a shotgun, lacks a unique ballistic signature. That means it would be extremely difficult to link a particular weapon to the crime.
The elapsed time is also a barrier to the investigation.
Two of the original KSP investigators were both killed in the line of duty and there is “not a soul” in the agency still active from 1971, Travis said.
“People move on and go on with their lives,” Travis said.
The bottom line is that what is likely needed to solve the case is a “good credible witness that has information that we can corroborate,” he said.
• • •
The two killings remain on the minds of many in southcentral Kentucky.
Retired KSP state trooper and former Warren County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tommy Smith started working for KSP in 1989. He was on administrative duty at Post 3 in 1990 when the Barrett report first came across his desk.
“I read it cover to cover,” Smith said.
He believes the crime was clearly a planned execution.
“Whoever did it had some idea of his schedule ... they also called him by his name when they shot him,” Smith said.
Smith went to Texas, Florida and Minnesota to talk to people who might have information regarding the case. But no break came, and time is the enemy of justice.
“A lot of time has passed (and) witnesses are getting older and memories are not what they were. ... I would like to see it solved. I would like to know how and why,” he said.
As for the theory that the killings of Key and Barrett are linked: “From the outside looking in, it could be possible ... a lot of it makes sense,” Smith said.
Former Bowling Green Police Department officer and chief Gary Raymer was on patrol the night Barrett was shot. He was among the first on the scene at the Rockfield trailer park where Barrett was gunned down.
He also believes it was a well-orchestrated murder.
“From my perspective, whoever did it was a professional,” Raymer said. “It was an intentional hit.”
A shotgun is not only a deadly weapon, it is largely untraceable, said Raymer, who also believes at least two people were involved: the shooter and the driver of a getaway car.
They knew the area well enough to drive away without arousing suspicion, he said.
Local author Gary West said the Barrett case especially is still discussed in certain circles. While working on a book about another crime, he visited a convicted murderer in jail, who told him he knew who killed Barrett.
The inmate’s identification of the killer, however, is suspect because he got some of the primary details wrong, West said.
In both the Key and Barrett cases, there are no publicly named suspects or persons of interest. One person, however, has been identified by several sources as possibly being involved in their deaths. The person is a former member of law enforcement who still lives in southcentral Kentucky. The individual has links to both Barrett and Key, and was allegedly working with the drug dealers who may be responsible for their deaths.
As of today, the person has not been charged or publicly named by law enforcement as a suspect or person of interest in either case.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss persons of interest that I’ve developed,” Travis said. “I will say that they were contemporaries of Barrett.”
• • •
Despite the passage of time, hope for justice remains.
Larry Key’s son, Todd Key, said there are Key “family members who know all the details, but won’t come forward.”
Former KSP trooper and BGPD officer Joe Denning, a friend of Barrett’s who had dinner with him just hours before he was killed in 1971, thought at the time it would be solved.
“I feel it should have been solved by now,” he said. With numerous transitions in KSP leadership, “I feel this case was put on the back burner. ... It bothers me” that it has not been solved, Denning said. He said he was interviewed earlier about the case for the first time.
“There are a lot of doors open as to what happened,” he said. “I think every effort possible should be made to solving the case. There are people out there (who know what happened). Where are they? It’s something that needs to be solved.”
Travis said that while the KSP investigates all crimes with the same rigor, he and his fellow KSP officers are “still grief stricken at (the) loss of a fellow trooper ... the KSP is a brotherhood,” he said. “This case is as important to us today ... as it was on Dec. 19, 1971.”
There is some hope that the elapsed time could also work to the advantage of investigators.
“It’s very hard to keep secrets over a long period of time,” Travis said.
“We never give up hope that at some point we’ll get the information” that could solve the killings, said KSP Post 3 Public Affairs Officer Trooper Daniel Priddy. “Trooper Barrett’s murder will continue to be worked until we solve it. ... Trooper Barrett was one of ours.”
Sharp said that anyone who has information about the cases should “remember there’s a family that lost a husband and father. There’s a family that wants justice and there is nothing more the KSP wants to do than bring justice to this case.”
Larry Key’s widow, Renetta Wilson, has been working tirelessly to get such justice, even as she said she faces scorn from some of her late husband’s family members, setbacks and closed doors.
She said that six months after Larry Key’s death, someone broke into her home and left a 6-foot length of two-by-four that had been whittled into a club on her bed.
Todd Key said they believe this was a not-so-subtle warning that his mother should stop her quest to bring Larry Key’s killers to justice.
“But she didn’t,” Renetta Wilson said, adding, “she hasn’t – and she won’t.”
Less than six months after her death in a car accident, friends and loved ones of Megan Michelle Davidson succeeded Saturday in holding a 5K Run/Walk event in her honor that helped raise $20,000 for a mobile grocery service she supported.
The first Miles for Megan’s Mobile Grocery 5K drew an estimated 300 participants to First Christian Church, organizers said. Participants paid a $40 registration fee to walk or jog along a course that circled around downtown Bowling Green. The overall male and female winners were Andrew Thomas and Isabella Day, respectively.
Among the runners was Cally Stuart, who described Davidson as “one of the best people I knew.”
“I just want to honor her in the best way I can,” Stuart said.
Event proceeds went to support Megan’s Mobile Grocery, a service offered through the Housing Authority of Bowling Green to help expand access to low-cost, nutritious food. The mobile grocery bus was one of several local causes Davidson supported as a member of Broadway United Methodist Church before her death in July.
“One of the best things about Megan was the way that she loved people,” said Bethany Kinney, an organizer of the 5K and a close friend of Davidson’s. Kinney recalls Davidson’s signature affability and warmth.
“Even if you just met her, you walked away and you felt like you were important,” Kinney said of Davidson. The two worked together at TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital and shared a lot in common as mothers of two boys both around the same age.
“We just did life together,” Kinney said.
Davidson, 34 at the time of her death, earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Western Kentucky University in 2007 and later a master’s in public administration from there as well. Davidson worked in TriStar Greenview’s Telemetry and Critical Care Units, but found her “true calling in ministry,” according to her obituary.
In organizing the first Miles for Megan’s Mobile Grocery 5K, Kinney said: “It’s really important to us to kind of keep that momentum going and to help the community like she did and like she would want us to do.”
Kinney still remembers the day Davidson told her about various food deserts in Bowling Green and the desire she felt to do something about it. That grew into a partnership with the Housing Authority of Bowling Green to “get food to people that need it.”
Food deserts exist where people lack access to affordable, nutrient-dense foods. Saturday’s fundraising event was aimed at helping the program contain costs, Kinney said.
“It’s more of a hand-up instead of a hand-out so people get to maintain their dignity and purchase the food from the mobile grocery,” Kinney said.
Danny Carothers, who drives the mobile grocery bus for the Housing Authority of Bowling Green, said he’s seen its impact firsthand.
“It’s just been a blessing to a lot of lives. You hear a lot of stories. A lot of these people don’t have transportation to get back and forth to the store,” Carothers said, citing a lack of grocery stores within walking distance in Bowling Green.
The mobile grocery runs Monday through Friday and often makes stops at nursing homes and other areas throughout Bowling Green. It offers low-cost produce, canned goods and other essentials, Carothers said.
“Bananas are our biggest seller,” he added.
Carothers described Davidson as a difference-maker.
“If just one person out of 10 was like her, we’d have such a great place to live,” he said. “Her impact on the city has been felt.”