A Recap Of What Happened This Week In The Impeachment Inquiry
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
When everything is said and done and the history of the impeachment inquiry is written, this past week will likely go down as a key chapter because it marked the first time that people who actually heard the July call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine testified before Congress. This was also the week the House of Representatives voted on the ground rules for the inquiry. Here to take stock of what we have just lived through and what we have learned that we didn't know at this hour last Friday, congressional correspondent Susan Davis and justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.
Hello, you two.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey there.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: Let us begin with the witnesses and this very first testimony from someone who was on that July 25 phone call. His name is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. He serves on the president's National Security Council. Ryan, what did he say?
LUCAS: Well, Vindman testified that he had concerns about that July 25 phone call that the president had with Zelenskiy. He didn't think that it was proper for Trump to ask Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens. Vindman was so concerned about this that, he says, he sounded the alarm. He told lawmakers that on two occasions, he registered his concerns about these efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. And importantly, he also said that he believed that demanding that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen would, quote, "undermine U.S. national security." That's what he said in his opening statement, and of course, that's a key question for Democrats in pursuing this impeachment.
KELLY: Yeah. He also presented a really powerful visual image in case it was lost on anybody that this is an active-duty Army colonel testifying about the actions of his commander in chief. He showed up on the Hill in full military dress. How did the White House respond?
LUCAS: Well, the president didn't take too kindly to this. He attacked Vindman on Twitter. He called him a never-Trumper.
KELLY: He works for Trump. We'll just point this out again, but go on.
LUCAS: Exactly. He works for National Security Council, works for Trump. But this criticism from the president led to something that we haven't seen a lot of, and that is Republican lawmakers - some, at least - breaking with the president on this. They said they didn't agree with Vindman necessarily, but they didn't think that it was proper to attack a decorated military officer. Remember, Vindman is an Iraq war veteran. This is what Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, who's a member of House GOP leadership, had to say.
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LIZ CHENEY: I think that we need to show that we are better than that as a nation. Their patriotism, their love of country - we're talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation, who have put their lives on the line. And it is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation, and we should not be involved in that process.
KELLY: OK, let's go to the next critical witness, and I'm going to throw this one your way, Sue Davis. Tim Morrison - this is another top National Security Council official, another person who was on that July phone call. How did he advance our understanding of events?
DAVIS: So Morrison is someone who could connect a lot of the dots, and his testimony essentially corroborated the key facts in the case, which I don't think are in any dispute now and is important to understand. On July 25, the president had a phone call with Ukrainian president and asked him to conduct a number of investigations, including into the Biden family. The administration also took proactive steps to withhold military aid from Ukraine as a point - as a leverage point to ask for those investigations.
That testimony aligns with past testimony, another important fact. It corroborates what Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, also testified under oath before Congress. However, what Morrison did say, in a detail that Republicans are going to go back to time and time again, is he testified that when he heard that phone call in real time, he did not believe anything illegal had taken place.
KELLY: No crime.
DAVIS: No crime. And one of the Republicans in the room hearing this testimony, Mark Meadows, said that he thought that was a very good thing for the president.
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MARK MEADOWS: I think it was a great day for America and a great day for the president, and if any witness would suggest that the impeachment resolution that was passed earlier today should come to a screeching halt, it was this witness.
KELLY: Ryan, you want to jump in here?
LUCAS: Yeah. One thing that I'll say is that the counterpoint that Democrats have made to this Morrison statement of he didn't think that it was illegal is that that's really neither here nor there. The question in an impeachment inquiry is whether lawmakers believe that it rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
KELLY: Of a high crime and misdemeanor. OK, one other thing to note from this week - there were a lot of people Congress would have loved to have heard from and didn't. I'm thinking of people like Charles Kupperman, a former deputy to John Bolton, somebody else they would like to hear from - John Bolton being the former national security adviser to the president. Kupperman says he's not going to come testify until a court orders him to do so - an interesting reminder, Ryan, that not everybody is complying here.
LUCAS: No, not everyone is complying, but Democrats are not interested when it comes to the impeachment inquiry of litigating this. They aren't interested in court battles. House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff, who's leading this impeachment inquiry, made that clear again this week.
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ADAM SCHIFF: In terms of how we will use litigation or not use litigation, we are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope in the courts, so we press forward.
LUCAS: And there could be more folks who don't show up. The inquiry has called several people to testify next week. That includes John Bolton, and according to our reporting here at NPR, Bolton is likely not to show up either.
KELLY: So Sue, let's go to what is coming next. Are we looking toward the end of all the behind closed doors stuff and moving more into public testimony?
DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, that's what it's seen. The resolution that the Democrats passed on the floor this week that also calls for public hearings and the depositions to be released - Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they are marking the next phase in this investigation. She told Bloomberg News today that she believes the public hearings will take place this month, and we are sort of shifting out of the private, closed-door phase into the public phase.
KELLY: You mentioned this resolution, and I want to stay with that for a second because it passed almost completely along straight party lines. Not a single Republican voted for it. Only two Democrats voted against it. Quick take from both of you - maybe you first, Ryan - any chance of bipartisanship breaking out here?
LUCAS: I would be surprised. I mean, this is a pretty good reflection of just how divided the country is right now. Democrats have had some momentum in recent weeks as they've had people come up to the Hill and testify. But the most recent poll out this week is from ABC News, The Washington Post, and it showed that 49% of respondents to that poll say Trump should be impeached and removed from office. About the same - 47% - say he should not, and that's where things stand right now. These closed-door testimony - the investigation behind closed doors appears to be wrapping up. The question for all of us now, though, is whether the public hearings, public testimony will shift public opinion at all.
KELLY: Yeah. Sue, is the GOP going to break from Trump?
DAVIS: No, and I think the thing you have to remember is that the president is still popular by about 90% with Republicans. And the fastest way to lose a Republican primary in 2020 would probably be to take a stance against the president right now. The other thing that's important remember on the other side is 29 of the 31 House Democrats who represent districts Donald Trump won voted for that impeachment investigation. So it also shows you that Democrats are not necessarily afraid of the politics here, and they think it's on their side.
KELLY: In the minute we have left, does the impeachment of Donald Trump feel more inevitable now than it did at this point last week, Sue Davis?
DAVIS: Yeah, absolutely. I don't think Democrats would have brought that resolution to the floor if they did not know that impeachment proceedings in the Judiciary Committee were the next step.
LUCAS: I agree. It does feel as though we are certainly on an inevitable slide to that at this point, or an inevitable drive to that. It depends on how you view it. And there are clear signs. Senators are already preparing for trial. They are promising to give serious consideration to whatever the House decides. They say they're going to conduct a fair trial. Senators at this point don't want to talk about which way they're going to fall on this. They love to talk about being jurors. And that is what lies ahead. It may be that this will probably actually move into the Senate early next year.
KELLY: That is NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas and NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.
Thanks to you both.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.