Public Hearings In Impeachment Inquiry Into President Trump Continue For 3rd Day

Nov 19, 2019
Originally published on November 19, 2019 4:51 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This morning, the third day of public impeachment hearings opened with two witnesses who said they were concerned when they heard President Trump ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for a favor. This was during a phone call on July 25. And then this afternoon, a second hearing with two witnesses sought by Republicans - Kurt Volker, President Trump's former envoy to Ukraine, and Timothy Morrison, the former National Security Council official for the region.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been listening very closely to the hearings and joins us now. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So first explain to us why Republicans want to hear from these two witnesses, Volker and Morrison, in particular.

LIASSON: They wanted to hear from them - Morrison, for instance, was actually on the call, and he had previously testified that even though he thought the call wasn't helpful for the U.S.-Ukraine policy, he didn't think he heard anything on the call that was illegal. Today he testified that he was disappointed that the president didn't talk about corruption in Ukraine. Kurt Volker had previously testified about how he tried to fix this negative narrative that Rudy Giuliani was fueling in the president.

But both of these men are staunch supporters of the official U.S. policy that is, to support Ukraine against Russian aggression. And it remains to be seen exactly how helpful they're going to be to Republicans.

CHANG: OK. Let's turn to the morning session. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified, you know, that he worked with Morrison at the NSC. How did Republicans respond to Vindman's testimony today?

LIASSON: Well, this was interesting. Vindman, of course, is another person who has firsthand knowledge. He actually listened to the July 25 call between President Trump and President Zelenskiy.

CHANG: Right.

LIASSON: He appeared in his dress uniform. As you said, he's a lieutenant colonel. He talked about his overseas tour, including combat in Iraq, where he was wounded. He got the Purple Heart. He also talked about how his dad brought him to America from the former Soviet Union - actually, from what is now Ukraine - 40 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXANDER VINDMAN: In Russia, my act of expressing concern to the chain of command in an official and private channel would have severe personal and professional repercussions, and offering public testimony involving the president would surely cost me my life. I'm grateful to my father's - for my father's brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family's safety.

LIASSON: And he went on to...

CHANG: He even addressed his father directly.

LIASSON: He addressed his father directly. He said, Dad, my sitting here today, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union in search of a better life for our family. He said, do not worry; I will be fine for telling the truth.

And he was right to say that because, of course, Republicans have been questioning his loyalty. Today, Representative Jim Jordan asked Vindman about an incident where he was asked by a Ukrainian official whether he would consider becoming the defense secretary for Ukraine.

CHANG: Right.

LIASSON: He said it was kind of comical. He took the offer as flattery. But he did report it to U.S. officials, as he was required to do. And of course, this could become fodder for more right-wing attacks on his, quote, "dual loyalty."

We also had another response from Republicans. This was from Senator Johnson of Wisconsin, who has been involved in these efforts to get aid to Ukraine. He sent a letter to the committee where in, really, a textbook bit of innuendo, he said, quote, "Vindman might be one" of those people - in other words, who wants to sabotage the president. And he went on to talk about these people. And then he said, quote, "it's entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile." So...

CHANG: Even though Vindman was a direct witness to what happened during that July 25 phone call, Republicans attacked him based on perceived biases.

LIASSON: Perceived biases.

CHANG: OK. Meanwhile, President Trump was at the White House today. Last week, we saw him engage in the hearings by tweeting about one of the witnesses. Have we heard anything from the president today?

LIASSON: We certainly did. And just as we saw the president's tweet in real time attacking Marie Yovanovitch last week, this time, in real time, a tweet from the official White House Twitter account - not the president's Twitter account - attacking Vindman, quoting Tim Morrison, another witness from today - quoting him saying, I had concerns about Vindman's judgment. The president himself said he would let people make their own determination about Vindman, but he had never met him. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, I don't know Vindman at all. What I do know is that even he said that the transcript was correct.

LIASSON: Correctly transcribed - he - but he also went up the chain of command to report that he felt that what was said on that call was very inappropriate. The president went on to say that the inquiry was a kangaroo court. He talked about little shifty Schiff; Nancy Pelosi is incompetent. He mocked George Kent's bow tie. That's kind of a signature Trump move, to mock someone's appearance. But - so he's clearly focused on the impeachment inquiry.

CHANG: OK. There's also a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll out today. It shows most Americans are paying attention to these hearings. But here's the real question. Are they actually changing their minds about where they stand on impeaching the president?

LIASSON: No, not so far. On the question of whether Trump should be impeached and removed, 45% in favor, 44% against. But what's interesting is 70% of people say it's unacceptable for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent. People think it's wrong. Overwhelming majorities think it's wrong. The big disagreement is on whether he should be removed from office because of it.

CHANG: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

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