News Brief: Impeachment Inquiry, Kurt Volker, Dallas Shooting
NOEL KING, HOST:
House Democrats have told the Trump administration subpoenas are coming.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
That's right. And the president, for his part, has continued to lash out as Congress moves forward with its impeachment inquiry. First, President Trump targeted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff by accusing him of treason. And then Trump took to Twitter, where he broadened his focus to the Democratic Party. He tweeted that they want to, quote, "steal the election."
All the while, these subpoenas of administration officials are mounting. And the first deposition of one of those officials will take place later today.
KING: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is on the line now. Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: So this story is moving really quickly, at points in fits and starts. But where do things stand right now with the White House and Congress?
LIASSON: The White House and Congress are in this epic battle over impeachment. Yesterday, both sides were trying to convince the public that they are doing the right thing. In the House, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the intelligence committee chairman, Adam Schiff, held a press conference. They wanted to prove that they could walk and chew gum at the same time. Nancy Pelosi talked about - that the House was getting to yes on the USMCA. That's the updated NAFTA trade agreement. She talked about the bill the House passed in May to reduce drug prices that she wants the Senate and the president to take a look at.
But they were both very tough about warning the White House what would happen if the White House refused to cooperate with their requests for witnesses and documents in the impeachment inquiry. Here's what Adam Schiff had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ADAM SCHIFF: We are concerned that the White House will attempt to stonewall our investigation, much as they have stonewalled other committees in the past. It's why I say the White House needs to understand that any action like that, that forces us to litigate or have to consider litigation, will be considered further evidence of obstruction of justice.
KING: OK. So that is Adam Schiff talking tough.
President Trump is aggrieved. He made that really clear yesterday. He talked about a coup on Twitter. He cussed on Twitter. Is his behavior helping shift opinion on whether or not he did something wrong?
LIASSON: That is not clear yet. So far, the polls have shown a little uptick in the support for the impeachment inquiry. I wouldn't call it a groundswell yet. Yesterday, Donald Trump turned to his standard operating procedure whenever he's imperiled, only this one was a little higher octane. He said the press was corrupt. As you said, he accused the Democrats investigating him of treason. That's a capital crime punishable by death. He said Joe Biden was stone-cold crooked. He even suggested that he might bring a major lawsuit to respond to the Mueller investigation. That's a little unclear how that would work.
And the irony is that this is all a self-inflicted wound. He's the one who decided to release the transcript of the call with the president of Ukraine which has fueled the fire of the impeachment inquiry. And instead of just pocketing the victory that Bob Mueller gave him and moving on, he has obsessively pursued this investigation of the investigators, trying to prove that the Mueller probe was a partisan witch hunt and that even his own intelligence and law enforcement community was wrong about Russian involvement in 2016. So he is fueling this fire.
KING: I mean, and at this point, Congress looks likely to keep requesting documents and witnesses. President Trump did say yesterday that he's going to cooperate.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a fraudulent crime on the American people, but we'll work together with Shifty Schiff and Pelosi and all of them. And we'll see what happens.
KING: I mean, if we look at how the president has acted in the past, does that seem likely - cooperation?
LIASSON: Well, the president has always tried to appear to be cooperative and fearless like he has nothing to hide. And then in the end, he doesn't produce information. And his White House pretty much has stonewalled Congress in other investigations. But on this one, they have been turning over documents. They didn't fight to keep the whistleblower complaint secret. They did something unprecedented when they released the transcript. Usually, presidents and foreign leaders' conversations are not released to the public. And that might make it harder for them to withhold other pieces of information and documents that Congress is requesting.
KING: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
KING: All right. the...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KING: All right. The next move in the inquiry is a closed-door deposition later today.
GREENE: Deposed is a diplomat. The man being deposed is a diplomat named Kurt Volker. Volker was the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine until he resigned last week. That was after the whistleblower complaint named him, alleging that he connected Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to Ukrainian officials.
Volker is going to be the first official to testify on the whistleblower charges fueling the impeachment probe. He'll appear in front of three congressional committees.
KING: NPR's Michele Kelemen has been following all of this. And, Michele, before we get to who Kurt Volker is, I want to follow up on something we talked about yesterday. The State Department's inspector general planned to hand over some documents to Congress. He did, but it was not really what anyone expected. Can you explain what happened there?
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Yeah. What they were shown was a package of documents containing what some described as debunked conspiracy theories about the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the son of Vice President Joe Biden and others. Last night on CNN, Trump's private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said, well, he sent over some of those documents to the State Department and was told that they were going to investigate this.
And I should say, Noel, that this kind of smear campaign was certainly getting a lot of play in right-wing media at the time, so none of this was really a surprise. But since Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador, was abruptly fired in May, this provides some context to that. And she's one of the people who's expected to speak to the Hill committees on this impeachment inquiry.
KING: And the man speaking today, Kurt Volker, who is he?
KELEMEN: Well, he spent the last couple of years as a part-time U.S. envoy. His job was really to push back against Russian aggression in Ukraine and end the war in the - help end the war in the east of the country. He has a strong background on the region. He was a foreign service officer who worked in President Bush's National Security Council and was Bush's ambassador to NATO at the end of the administration. He was also close to the late Senator John McCain and runs the McCain Institute in Washington.
KING: And the whistleblower complaint says that Volker did what exactly?
KELEMEN: Well, they say that he was helping the Ukrainian government navigate President Trump's demands. You know, this was - if you think about this year in Ukraine, you had a comedian, a political novice, who won elections in Ukraine. That surprised a lot of people. At the same time, you have Rudy Giuliani, who has the president's ear, with all of this effort to dig up dirt about Joe Biden's son and looking into the origins of the Mueller report. You have a president who's fixated on that.
And Volker was setting up contacts between the incoming Zelenskiy government and Giuliani. So I think that's what the whistleblower means when they say that he was trying to help the Ukrainian government navigate President Trump's demands.
KING: And just quickly, what do these congressional committees want to learn from him today? What are they going to ask?
KELEMEN: Well, they're going to want to know if that's, you know, the accurate picture, if that's what he was trying to do, and also whether he knew about the president's decision to hold up military aid to Ukraine during this time and whether the president was using that aid as leverage to get dirt on his opponents.
KING: OK, so the big questions. NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks so much, Michele.
KELEMEN: Sure thing.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KING: A former Dallas police officer has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
GREENE: Yeah. That was the sentence handed down to Amber Guyger yesterday after she was found guilty of murder. Guyger made headlines last year when she entered an apartment she thought was hers and shot and killed Botham Jean. It turns out she was in his apartment one floor above her own.
KING: Syeda Hasan is a reporter with KERA in Dallas. She's been covering this story. Good morning, Syeda.
SYEDA HASAN, BYLINE: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
KING: We're happy to have you. So there was a moment yesterday after the judge handed down Guyger's sentence when Jean's brother Brandt spoke. Let's listen to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BRANDT JEAN: I love you as a person, and I don't wish anything bad on you. I don't know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please.
TAMMY KEMP: Yes.
KING: Can you talk about what it was like to be there for that extraordinary moment?
HASAN: It was a truly stunning moment in the courtroom. Brandt Jean is Botham Jean's younger brother. He's 18 years old. And Brandt took the witness stand and, as you heard, addressed Amber Guyger directly. He told Guyger he forgave her and that he wanted the best for her because that's what his brother Botham would've wanted. And he asked Guyger to give her life to Christ. Brandt then stepped off the witness stand and embraced Guyger, gave her a hug. Guyger broke into tears. And just a moment later, the judge herself actually spoke to Guyger, hugged her and handed her a Bible, so really stunning moments in court.
KING: What was the reaction from people in the courthouse?
HASAN: Well, while we have that moment of forgiveness inside, outside, many folks were upset with this 10-year sentence. Many people expected a much harsher sentence for Guyger for the murder conviction. There was a group of activists gathered outside the courtroom chanting no justice, no peace after the sentence was handed down. Folks are saying that this was disrespectful to the Jean family and that 10 years doesn't go far enough toward honoring Botham Jean's life.
Botham Jean's mother, Allison Jean, also spoke with the press. She seemed to accept the length of the sentence, but she says that the work isn't over.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ALLISON JEAN: That 10 years in prison is 10 years for her reflection and for her to change her life. But there is much more to be done by the city of Dallas. The corruption that we saw during this process must stop.
KING: Just briefly in the seconds we have left - she mentions corruption. What is she talking about?
HASAN: There was testimony that police may have deleted text messages, tampered with an in-car recording system. And so Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall spoke about those allegations, says she wants to launch an internal investigation and really rebuild trust with the community.
KING: OK, so this story will have a ripple effect, it sounds like, in the city of Dallas.
Syeda Hasan of member station KERA in Dallas, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
HASAN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF KUPLA & J'SAN'S "OUT OF TOWN")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.