Impeachment Inquiry Shifts To National Security Council Former National Security Council staffer Michael Allen tells NPR's Scott Simon how the NSC works and what he's listening for from next week's testimony in the impeachment inquiry.
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Impeachment Inquiry Shifts To National Security Council

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Impeachment Inquiry Shifts To National Security Council

Impeachment Inquiry Shifts To National Security Council

Impeachment Inquiry Shifts To National Security Council

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Former National Security Council staffer Michael Allen tells NPR's Scott Simon how the NSC works and what he's listening for from next week's testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The impeachment inquiry is moving along as House Democrats, and even Republicans, question more and more people. Today, it's Philip Reeker, an acting assistant secretary of state. He follows several current and former state officials. This coming week, the focus shifts to the National Security Council, which was designed to advise presidents on security and foreign policy and often works hand-in-hand with the State Department. Michael Allen worked in the NSC during the George W. Bush administration. He's in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

MICHAEL ALLEN: Thank you.

SIMON: You've been following the reporting on the testimony that's been given so far. Former acting national security adviser Charles Kupperman, for example, is on Monday. There are reports that former national security adviser John Bolton might be in talks to appear. Are you watching the reports of their testimony for anything in particular?

ALLEN: I am, indeed. I want to hear what President Trump believed he was doing and whether he gave explicit instructions to his negotiators or his foreign policy - let's call them emissaries, in the form of Rudy Giuliani to actually advance the quid pro quo narrative that we've heard so much about.

SIMON: Now, I gather Mr. Kupperman has filed suit asking for the courts to tell him if he's subject to something called constitutional immunity, which the administration says that he is. How do you feel about that?

ALLEN: Well, he has a point. He's caught between the two branches of government. And so he's asking the third, the judicial branch, for a ruling. He has a point in that the president does have a right based in the Constitution to receive candid advice. And the theory goes if Congress can call you up at any time to testify under oath, the president, over time, may not seek that candid advice, and it would have a chilling effect on the president's duties to conduct foreign affairs.

SIMON: Yeah.

ALLEN: At the same time, Congress has a legitimate right to information in an impeachment inquiry, so he's asking the courts, hey, tell me what to do.

SIMON: And I guess that's why they make judges - right? - to be able to make - to have the wisdom of those rulings. Something that I'm embarrassed for not knowing in advance, are NSC employees political appointees or staffers who typically serve presidents of both parties, or is there a mix?

ALLEN: There is a mix. There are. And I was a political appointee, a direct hire of the National Security Council. But the vast majority of the National Security Council staff are what we call detailed from other agencies. So CIA, State, DOD, in some cases Treasury Department officials are there on a one-year or a two-year rotation.

SIMON: The inquiry, at least for the moment, seems to be trying to keep its focus on President Trump's call with the Ukrainian president and allegations about the quid pro quo there. In your experience, how would that - how would a call like that come into being?

ALLEN: Well, a National Security Council staffer would be in touch with other people across the government to decide when it would be in the best interests of the United States to have a foreign leader call for them to conduct the legitimate business of the United States. In this case, as you see, the National Security Council staff was in touch with others, and they had a real agenda to put forward with the Ukrainians. So they scheduled the call, worked the logistics and ensured that the paperwork going up to the president made sense and was in our current interest in foreign policy.

SIMON: And let me ask you, Mr. Allen, how free does a president feel to say, look; thanks for the briefs, I've read everything, I'm up to speed, but the fact is I'm going to steer my own course on this because, after all, that's what elections are about?

ALLEN: Very much so. Listen; the staff put forward all sorts of things that they're working on that they want to be solved through the magic bullet of having the president raise it with a foreign leader. But, you know, President Bush, other presidents would look at the documents we put forward to them, and they want to talk about whatever they think is in their particular interest. So I think it's totally normal for a president to decide what he or she should be raising with a foreign leader.

SIMON: Michael Allen, who was a member of George W. Bush's - President George W. Bush's national security team, thanks so much for being with us.

ALLEN: Thank you.

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