Former DOJ Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann On Impeachment Hearings
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
We have reached the end of the first week of public impeachment hearings. Three career public servants - Ambassador Bill Taylor, career diplomat George Kent and Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch - told their stories to the American public for the first time.
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BILL TAYLOR: There appear to be two channels of U.S. policymaking and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular.
GEORGE KENT: The United States has very clear national interests at stake in Ukraine. Ukraine's success is very much in our national interest.
MARIE YOVANOVITCH: Which country's interests are served when the very corrupt behavior we have been criticizing is allowed to prevail?
ANDREW WEISSMANN: It was incredibly moving to hear from each and every one of them. It was really hard not to be so proud of the State Department career officials and what those people do for this country day in and day out.
SIMON: Andrew Weissmann also worked for the government in the Department of Justice. He was watching with the eye of a prosecutor. He's built a case against members of the Genovese crime family. He helped lead the Enron Task Force and most recently won the conviction against Paul Manafort as a prosecutor in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.
WEISSMANN: I think they helped answer the question of, why should the American public care? And the witnesses talked about how if it is true what the Democrats are claiming, what the president is doing is completely antithetical to the bipartisan view that the rule of law should apply in this country and across the world. They saw an unofficial policy being pushed by the president and Giuliani to bring a bogus investigation against a political opponent. That's the kind of thing that we fight against in other countries.
SIMON: You've also been a defense attorney, of course. Do you believe that Republicans defending the president on the committee made effective arguments? Did they seem to be making the argument that this is all hearsay?
WEISSMANN: So I don't think hearsay is a particularly strong argument when the president has blocked the people who have direct access to the president - the Pompeos and Mulvaneys - you know, from testifying. So I don't think that comes with good grace to say, why don't you have people with more firsthand information?
Second, the president, of course, is on the reconstructed transcript of the call on the 25th, so you actually do have direct evidence. And then just logically, having prosecuted a number of mob cases, what do you think the odds are that these people did all of this but they did it behind the president's back without having the approval of the boss? I mean, it's just not possible in that kind of environment.
I do think there was one point that I thought they scored some point on, which is talking about how the president of Ukraine didn't just not complain when he was in public. But they said even in private he said the call went fine. And I thought that was a good point for the Republicans to make, a logical point that Democrats will have to deal with.
SIMON: Do you think Democrats on the committee have been able to present their story in a compelling way?
WEISSMANN: I do. But the case, if I were sort of framing it for the public, is not about Ukraine policy. What the president was doing is he wanted a public statement that there was an independent criminal investigation into the Bidens - plural - so that he could use that in the election here without ever telling the American public that he got that by spending public dollars to get that private goal.
SIMON: More public testimony next week, notably Ambassador Gordon Sondland. What are you going to be listening for?
WEISSMANN: So I think between now and then, we are likely to hear more about what happened on the call on the 26 of July. That's one day after the infamous telephone call with the White House. And, of course, that could be a game-changer. It certainly undercuts any claim that the Democrats are relying on hearsay because this will be the president's own voice. And because it happens just one day after the 25th, it's really going to give us an insight into what the president was thinking about and what he was trying to accomplish on the 25th.
SIMON: Andrew Weissmann, former federal prosecutor, most recently on the special counsel's probe and now a distinguished senior fellow at NYU Law School, thanks so much for being with us.
WEISSMANN: Thank you so much for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.