4 Witnesses To Testify Tuesday In House Impeachment Hearings

Nov 19, 2019
Originally published on November 19, 2019 8:21 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What are we going to learn today in the House impeachment inquiry? Public testimony is coming from a diplomat and three national security officials who were on that July 25 presidential phone call, which is at the heart of the whistleblower complaint. Last week's hearings included some dramatic moments, but are Americans really paying attention to the impeachment inquiry? And is it changing any minds? The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll is out today. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe and NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre join us now to talk about all of it. Hi, you guys.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Greg, you've actually been digging deeper into Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who we're going to hear from today. He's the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. He was on the call between Trump and Zelenskiy. Tell us who he is and what he made of that telephone call.

MYRE: Right. So he was born in Ukraine in the 1970s when that was still part of the Soviet Union. He's got an identical twin brother - we'll hear more about him in a second - Yevgeny. Their mother died when they were young, and their father brought them to New York when they were just 3 years old. Their entire adult lives, they've been in the Army. The twins are both lieutenant colonels in the Army, and they both work on the National Security Council. So this is why Vindman - Alexander Vindman, who's a Ukraine expert - that's why he was listening to this July 25 phone call. And he was immediately upset, and we know from his previous closed-door testimony said I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen. And he reported this to the National Security Council's lawyer.

MARTIN: So, I mean, he testified behind closed doors. Now he comes to the microphones. Clearly, Democrats think he's an important witness. What's he likely to say?

MYRE: Well, I think a couple of things that are going to be very key. Again, he was inside the White House, and we know from his previous testimony that he was picking up on something about Ukraine policy back in the spring. He said that there was this false narrative developing, and he talked about outside influencers. He didn't name names, but it seems like he's talking about somebody like Rudy Giuliani. And even before this July 25 phone call, he had gone to lawyers at the National Security Council about a July 10 meeting. So two weeks before the phone call, there'd been another meeting inside the White House with Ukrainian officials where they talked about wanting the Ukrainians to announce an investigation. So he didn't think that was right. So twice in July, he raised concerns at - with the legal level in the National Security Council.

MARTIN: And I mentioned David Holmes is scheduled to testify later this week. Who else is on tap?

MYRE: Well, we have nine witnesses this week. And I think the really interesting thing this week is we're talking about people who are in on this phone call on July 25. They were inside the White House. They were part of the ongoing discussions about Ukraine policy. Republicans have raised this idea of secondhand testimony. We haven't heard from firsthand sources.

MARTIN: Right. It's been a complaint of theirs, yeah.

MYRE: This week, we're going to hear from firsthand sources.

MARTIN: All right. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Ayesha, the new poll just came out today. It shows that Americans are indeed paying attention to the hearings, right? But are they changing any minds?

RASCOE: Not really. So some 70% of registered voters say that they're following news about the impeachment very or fairly closely, but two-thirds of all people say that they don't think anything will come out that will sway their position. The country remains fairly evenly split about impeachment. On the question of whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office, 45% are in favor and 44% are against. So right now, people are pretty locked into their positions. That said, this poll was done last week Monday through Friday, so during - before, during and after some of the hearings last week. And there's still time for that public testimony to sink in.

MARTIN: Right. So let's talk about some of that testimony. House investigators last night released two more transcripts from closed-door testimony, including a U.S. diplomat named David Holmes. Can you tell us a little bit about him? Why is he such an important witness?

RASCOE: So Holmes works at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. And in July, he overheard part of this phone conversation between President Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. And Holmes testified saying that he'd never seen anything like this, someone calling the president from a mobile phone at a restaurant and then having this conversation, which was full of some colorful language that I won't repeat on the radio. But, essentially, Trump asked on that call if Ukrainian President Zelenskiy would do the investigation. And Sondland said that he would. And this is important because Sondland is scheduled to testify on Wednesday. So having this kind of closed-door testimony out from Holmes will let lawmakers ask Sondland about this conversation.

MARTIN: Right. And he's scheduled to testify in public later this week. But what about today, Ayesha? Who are we going to see take the stand?

RASCOE: So two other witnesses today were requested by Republicans - Kurt Volker, who was the former special envoy for Ukraine, and Timothy Morrison, who was director of European affairs for the NSC. And Volker was someone who said that he didn't think that the hold up of aid for Ukraine was significant. And he didn't think Ukraine knew that the funding was delayed. And Tim Morrison was on that call between Trump and Ukraine's president. But he said he didn't think anything happened that was illegal. You also have testifying Jennifer Williams, who was an aide to Vice President Pence, and Alexander Vindman, a top White House expert on Ukraine.

MARTIN: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe and NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre, thanks to you both. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.