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Politics & Government

Impeachment Inquiry Enters Its 2nd Week Of Public Hearings


Three days, nine witnesses - that is the plan for this second week of public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry. One late addition to the witness list - David Holmes will testify on Thursday. He is the diplomat who overheard an important conversation between President Trump and the U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.

For a preview, Joel Willett joins us now. He is a former CIA officer who also served on the White House's National Security Council during the Obama administration. Welcome.

JOEL WILLETT: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with tomorrow's hearing. There will be four witnesses, and three of them were on this crucial July phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy where Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens. You, on the NSC, have listened in on phone calls between world leaders. What are you hoping to learn at the hearing tomorrow?

WILLETT: Yeah. And that's right. I've been on a number of calls between President Obama and other world leaders in the conduct of their foreign policy. And, you know, I think we all know that there was something highly abnormal about this conversation between President Trump and President Zelenskiy of Ukraine.

So a few things that I'm really interested in hearing tomorrow - one from Tim Morrison, who was the NSC officer for Russia who was on the call - on the July 25 call. His deposition - his closed-door deposition, he confirmed that President Trump linked aid to Ukraine to an announcement of an investigation, and so that corroborated what we heard publicly from Bill Taylor and from George Kent.

SHAPIRO: Last week's witnesses, yeah.

WILLETT: Yeah, last week's witnesses. And so, you know, those three points of corroboration there that there was linkage between, you know, the aid authorized by Congress and investigations. Morrison said that he wasn't sure that Trump was directing all this, but I find that really hard to square with the fact that he was on the call and heard the president directly deputize Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, and Attorney General Bill Barr to work with Zelenskiy on these investigations. And Morrison himself took moves to cover up the transcript and have it moved to a classified - highly classified system right afterwards. So I would be very curious to dive into why he did that.

SHAPIRO: It's also interesting that Morrison was a witness who has been called by Republicans. All last week's witnesses were called by Democrats. What do you think the presence of witnesses called by Republicans is going to change in this week's hearings?

WILLETT: I don't really think it's going to help much. I mean, Morrison comes from a partisan background, having served on the Hill, you know, for Republicans before. And so I think that he is a sympathetic witness to Trump. He did testify that he didn't think that what the president did was illegal, but Morrison is not a lawyer, and I don't think anyone watching tomorrow should be relying on his legal judgments. He's not a prosecutor. It's not his judgment to make.

I do think we need to know why he wanted to take the move to hide this transcript, though. I mean, I listened to these calls. They are not stored on a special access program system. It's highly abnormal, and we should really understand why.

SHAPIRO: Did last week's hearings leave you with big questions that you think this week's witnesses will be able to answer? Or is this week's testimony just about corroborating and adding nuance and texture to the broad outlines that we heard last week?

WILLETT: Yeah, I think it's the latter. There are contours of this story that I imagine are still unknown, and we might never have a full and clear answer. But I think the testimony this week is to probably bat down a lot of, you know, a lot of potential defenses of the president's behavior.

You know, Morrison didn't think that it was illegal. He didn't think that Trump directed it. Yet we've got other witnesses, you know, testifying that the president did, you know, direct this and kind of quarterback the whole thing. Gordon Sondland, for instance, you know, was quarterbacking this with the president on the phone, as we've learned. So, yeah, I think it's about locking down the story.

SHAPIRO: In our last 30 seconds, one of tomorrow's witnesses, Jennifer Williams, is an aide to the vice president, who hasn't come up a lot in these hearings. What light do you think that can shed on this?

WILLETT: Yeah, I'm most interested in hearing from her this week because she testified in her closed-door hearing that she saw links, you know, to the president's personal political agenda in his calls for this investigation and she found it highly inappropriate.

But so far, we've been led to believe that Vice President Pence knew nothing of any of this. He didn't know why his trip to Ukraine was canceled, and he didn't know that the president was directing investigations into the Bidens. So I think we'll learn more about what the vice president knew as well.

SHAPIRO: Joel Willett, former CIA officer and National Security Council staffer, thank you very much.

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