Week In Politics
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The first of the public testimonies in the impeachment inquiry this week, Roger Stone, President Trump's political adviser, found guilty of all charges - seven federal felonies - and last night, some explosive reports about a statement made behind closed doors. NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: And what do we hear about this latest name to join, if I may, this cast of characters, David Holmes?
ELVING: David Holmes is a foreign service officer on staff at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. He testified for six hours Friday in a closed-door session after those televised open hearings with Ambassador Yovanovitch. Holmes testified that he had direct knowledge of President Trump's attitude and intentions toward Ukraine because he had overheard a phone call back in July between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union. Now, these gentlemen were at a table together in a restaurant. And the president was on the phone and apparently so loud that Sondland held the phone out away from his head and it was possible for Holmes and others at the table to hear the conversation.
And he indicated that - and by the way, the opening statement that he gave behind closed doors, Scott, that was obtained first by CNN but later confirmed as accurate for NPR by Holmes' lawyer. And it indicates Trump was not so concerned about defending Ukraine from Russian incursions. That's what the military aid was about. But he was very concerned about getting Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden, giving a boost to Trump's reelection campaign.
SIMON: You thoughtfully left out some very purple language, too, Ron.
ELVING: He was not excessively concerned. Actually, the ambassador put that much more colorfully.
SIMON: Yeah, exactly (laughter). Earlier in the week, three marquee witnesses testified - the acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, George Kent, a State Department official, and Marie Yovanovitch. What did the public hear and learn?
ELVING: The public saw and heard three exceptionally professional diplomats, people who have spent their adult lives in service to their country in difficult posts. And the public learned that one of them, Ambassador Yovanovitch, lost her job when she ran afoul of Rudy Giuliani and some of his cohorts. The former New York City mayor, who is now Trump's personal attorney, was in Ukraine and spreading stories about her. And the public learned the extent of President Trump's campaign to discredit the Bidens and to suggest that Ukraine, and not Russia, was responsible for interfering in the 2016 election.
SIMON: And the president tweeted during Ambassador Yovanovitch's testimony. Let's hear how she reacted when asked about it in a - what I'll call a marquee moment by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.
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ADAM SCHIFF: And now the president in real time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?
MARIE YOVANOVITCH: Well, it's very intimidating.
SIMON: Ron, does it set a tone for the eight witnesses we're expected to hear from next week?
ELVING: It may. It may be the Trump strategy at this point to trash the witnesses in real time. But it may also set a standard for response, as modeled by the ambassador we saw yesterday. And if it does, it will be another case of the president defining the terms of debate via Twitter and, thereby, setting the rules for all the discourse and the debate that follows. But it also shows people how to resist.
SIMON: Half a minute we have left - Roger Stone convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering, obstruction of justice. Would anyone be surprised if he was pardoned this weekend?
ELVING: Well, it - this weekend might be a bit abrupt. After all, the president has not pardoned any of his other former associates who have been convicted of lying and lying for him by the Mueller team. But judging by the lack of a vigorous defense in this case, it would seem that someone was counting on a pardon.
SIMON: NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.