SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Next week marks a new phase in the impeachment inquiries, public hearings. Today we learned that House Republicans have submitted a list of eight witnesses they'd like to question. They include Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son. We don't know yet if the Democrats on that committee will approve those names. This past week, transcripts of testimonies given by officials behind closed doors were released, and there is some insights into what those officials thought of the call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president.
NPR reporter Tim Mak has been studying those transcripts and joins us now. Tim, thanks for being with us.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey, there.
SIMON: Tim, let's begin with Fiona Hill, former White House policy adviser, of course. What did she say?
MAK: Well, Hill suggested in her testimony that U.S. ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland was running an unofficial, kind of, rogue diplomatic channel, with the White House chief of staff's seeming consent. So essentially, Ukrainian officials, they're trying to obtain a meeting with President Trump. And there's a lot of resistance from the official channel, national security adviser John Bolton. He's saying, we shouldn't do that yet, or we shouldn't commit to that. But Sondland kind of blurts out in a meeting with Ukrainian officials, hey, there's already a deal with the White House chief of staff that they will have a meeting between these two presidents if the Ukrainian government launches investigations into the Ukrainian energy sector. And as we know now, that was kind of a reference to these investigations that the White House wanted into the Bidens.
SIMON: And what did they hear from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert at the White House?
MAK: Well, he had been on that July 25 phone call. And he kind of felt like something wrong had actually occurred on that call. And it kind of speaks to the heart of whether there was an effort to leverage U.S. foreign policy for an investigation by the Ukrainians. So the transcript - I'm reading from that now - Congressman Peter Welch says, and was there any doubt in your mind as to what the president, our president, was asking for as a deliverable? And Vindman replies, there was no doubt.
SIMON: As we mentioned, the acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney didn't show up, but he was sure the topic of a lot of conversation, wasn't he?
MAK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, these transcripts really showed that Mick Mulvaney was really at the center of a lot of these discussions. It shows - I mean, Vindman said in his testimony that Mulvaney's office was behind the hold in military aid to Ukraine. And, of course, as I mentioned before, there seemed to be some deal that, you know, organized by Mulvaney or at least approved by Mulvaney that the Ukrainian government would launch investigations. And in exchange for that, they could have a meeting with the president.
SIMON: Curtain goes up next week - public hearings. Democrats have chosen their first witnesses very carefully, haven't they?
MAK: Yeah. Well, they're building their case block by block. And what they're trying to do is they're trying to present some of these U.S. diplomats, these career professionals who they think will project credibility and who support their general narrative - right? - which is that the president did do something wrong, that he did try to leverage U.S. foreign policy for political advantage.
SIMON: Those witnesses give us some insight into how the Democrats are going to try and present their strategy. How will Republicans fight back?
MAK: Well, they're saying - they're essentially questioning the motive of various witnesses. They're objecting to the process and how the inquiry has been handled. They're also saying there's no quid pro quo, that the president did not do anything wrong because he did not make a specific ask for a specific deliverable.
SIMON: NPR's Tim Mak, thanks so much.
MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.