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2 More Transcripts Released From House Impeachment Inquiry

Nov 8, 2019
Originally published on November 8, 2019 4:30 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This week has seen hundreds of pages of transcripts released in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump. And today, you can add 806 new pages to that total. They spell out the testimonies of former White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. And these pages show how the ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, acted to press the Ukrainian government to open investigations into the Bidens. And they show that Sondland said that there would be no meeting between the White House and Ukraine until that happened.

NPR reporter Tim Mak has been following all of this, and he joins us now. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: All right. So let's start with Fiona Hill. She's the former Russia policy expert on the National Security Council. What did she tell House investigators?

MAK: So Hill tells a story about a meeting between the Ukrainian - between Ukrainian officials and White House officials in D.C. prior to that now-famous July 25 phone call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president. At the time, Ukrainian officials are trying to arrange a meeting between President Zelenskiy and President Trump.

Now, National Security Adviser John Bolton is pushing that off, won't agree, wants to discuss further the possibility of a meeting. But Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland blurts out that there's already a deal between the White House chief of staff and him and says that they will have a meeting with the president if the Ukrainian government launches investigations into their energy sector. So this shows how Gordon Sondland was running an unofficial, rogue diplomatic channel with the White House chief of staff's seeming consent.

CHANG: OK. Let's turn now to the testimony from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. He's the current director for European affairs at the National Security Council. What did we learn from his transcript?

MAK: Well, Vindman is an active-duty military officer. He's a professional. He knows how this process, these conversations between world leaders normally go. And something struck him about this July 25 phone call between the president and the president of Ukraine. He was on the call. And afterwards, he couldn't make the edits to the rough transcript that are kind of part of his job. And it really suggested to him how sensitive this issue was to people in the White House. Vindman also felt that something wrong had occurred on the call, and it speaks to the heart of whether there was an effort to press Ukrainians for an investigation.

So here I am reading from the transcript. 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. Later, Vindman is pressed by Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe, who asked, how we know that there was a demand by the president, since the rough transcript of the call doesn't include that word? Vindman explains that there are power disparities between these two presidents and that those power disparities are so vast that it was quite obvious it was a demand, that in order to get a White House meeting, the Ukrainians had to start up investigations.

CHANG: OK, so further buttressing the Democrats' case that there was a quid pro quo. Also within these pages and pages, I understand that we saw references about acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. How did Hill and Vindman describe Mulvaney's role in all of this?

MAK: Well, Fiona Hill testified about how John Bolton was disturbed about the pressing of the Ukrainian officials for investigations and Mulvaney's apparent role in it. Vindman also says that Mulvaney's office was behind the hold in military aid. He says that he was told in July that the hold on military aid was coming from the White House chief of staff's office.

CHANG: OK. So speaking of Mick Mulvaney, he was subpoenaed but did not show up, correct?

MAK: Right. He was supposed to show up today, and he didn't. But we have heard from him. You'll recall the press conference he gave where he essentially said, look, there was a quid pro quo. This is the way the game is played. Get over it. But later, he reversed himself and tried to walk it back. These transcripts show he had a central role in this whole saga, that he was involved in both the withholding of the aid and the conditions conveyed to the Ukrainians in order for them to achieve their goal of a meeting with President Trump.

CHANG: That's NPR's Tim Mak.

Thanks, Tim.

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