Former Ambassador Kurt Volker Testifies In Public Impeachment Hearings

Nov 19, 2019
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Testimony in the public phase of the impeachment inquiry continues this evening in Washington. Republicans took issue with last week's witnesses, in part because they didn't have firsthand knowledge of the call between President Trump and Ukraine's leader. But today, three of the four witnesses listened in on that very phone call which is at the heart of the investigation.

Here to tell us what we are learning from the many, many hours of hearings is NPR's Tim Mak. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey, there.

CHANG: So the two witnesses currently testifying were both requested by Republicans. We have former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security Council aide Tim Morrison. What are we learning from the two of them?

MAK: So Morrison was, as you mentioned, one of those who was on that now-famous July 25 phone call between the Ukrainian president and President Donald Trump. He worries that the bipartisan support for Ukraine has been jeopardized by the focus on impeachment proceedings and by partisanship.

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TIMOTHY MORRISON: As I stated during my deposition, I feared at the time of the call on July 25 how its disclosure would play in Washington's political climate. My fears have been realized.

MAK: Meanwhile, Volker is trying to paint himself as an individual who was unwittingly involved in the push for investigations into the Bidens.

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KURT VOLKER: At no time was I aware of or knowingly took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden. As you know from the extensive real-time documentation I have provided, Vice President Biden was not a topic of our discussions.

MAK: He said that if the president had personally asked him to request an investigation into the Bidens, he would have objected to it. He also said he did not find the allegation of corruption by Joe Biden as credible, having known the former vice president personally.

CHANG: OK. But has Volker's assessment of what happened and his role in it evolved over time?

MAK: Well, yeah. I mean, Volker says that with the benefit of hindsight, he should have understood that demands to investigate Burisma was the same as investigating former Vice President Joe Biden.

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VOLKER: I saw them as very different, the former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable. In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently. And had I done so, I would've raised my own objections.

MAK: So Volker said there's a history of corruption in Ukraine and a history of inappropriate behavior by Burisma. But this is separate from allegations that had been leveled at the Bidens. So this former special envoy was saying that he was trying to thread a needle. Investigating corruption was fine, in his view, but not investigating an American citizen.

CHANG: OK. Let's turn now to this morning. Earlier today, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who's still currently serving both as an Army officer and as a National Security Council staffer, testified about what he knew. Tell us some of the most important details from his testimony today.

MAK: So the bottom line from Vindman is that he said that he was alarmed by that July 25 call because he felt it was improper for the president to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen. He said he immediately reported it to the National Security Council's lawyer because he felt it was the ethical thing to do.

Vindman also defended himself against efforts in Republican and conservative circles to question his loyalty to the United States, in part due to his immigrant status. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes condemned that line of thinking.

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JIM HIMES: That may have come cloaked in a Brooks Brothers suit and in parliamentary language, but that was designed exclusively to give the right-wing media an opening to question your loyalties.

MAK: Vindman, in conversation with Himes, said he was appearing before the committee purely out of a sense of duty.

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HIMES: The day after you appeared for your deposition, lieutenant colonel, President Trump called you a never Trumper. Colonel Vindman, would you call yourself a never Trumper?

ALEXANDER VINDMAN: Representative, I'd call myself never partisan.

MAK: So Vindman's testimony ended earlier, but testimony by Volker and Morrison is continuing even now.

CHANG: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.