George Beebe, Russia Adviser To Cheney, Weighs In On Impeachment Inquiry Hearings
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
All right. Joining us now for another perspective on what we've been hearing today is someone who served as a special adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. George Beebe was a Russia adviser to Cheney. He also spent more than two decades as an intelligence analyst, diplomat and policy adviser. Welcome to the studio today.
GEORGE BEEBE: Thank you.
CHANG: So I want to start with that piece of tape we just heard from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman saying that, quote, "It is improper for the president of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent." Do you agree with that statement?
BEEBE: Well, I think in principle, yes. It's an abuse of power, I think, for the president of the United States to pursue his personal political interests at the expense of the national American interest. The real question here is not whether that's wrong in principle. It's whether that occurred in practice or not. And I think that's part of what the focus of the hearings is about.
CHANG: Does it matter if it's legal versus illegal?
BEEBE: Well, no, not according to the Constitution. What constitutes an impeachable offense, I think, is, to some degree, in the eye of the beholders on Capitol Hill. So I don't think there has to be technical illegality for people to constitute an impeachable offense here.
CHANG: So even though I understand that you believe that that was a particularly key piece of testimony today, do you think, among all the hours of testimony that have gone by so far, that that piece of testimony has jumped out in the same way to the public as it may have to you?
BEEBE: Well, I don't know. It's an excellent question. I think we'll learn more about that in the coming days and weeks. One of the problems on all of this is that this is a highly complex, very technical question that's wrapped up in perceptions of what U.S. policy toward Ukraine and Russia ought to be. And what you're hearing in the testimony is a consistent belief on a lot of the testifiers that Ukraine is what they call a frontline state, this bulwark against Russian aggression, and that the only way the United States should deal with this - in fact, the only way any sane person would deal with this - is to provide military assistance to Ukraine and to fight back against this Russian aggression.
And this is actually a debate that we ought to be having about policy, but that broader debate, I think, is making more complicated this question of whether the president of the United States abused his power in asking Ukraine to do things...
CHANG: For a favor, a political favor.
BEEBE: ...That would benefit him politically. Correct.
CHANG: Well, let's turn now to Jennifer Williams, the other witness in today's morning session. Williams is the vice president's foreign service aide who also listened in on that July 25 phone call. What struck you the most about her testimony today?
BEEBE: Well, it struck me as very careful, very cautious. I got the impression that she was not very happy about having to testify today, and I think she tried to be as professional as she could be in describing the facts as she knew them and not trying to take a political position in all of this.
CHANG: Can I just ask you a little bit about the mechanics? Because it sounds like you might have some experience with this. How do these phone calls work? Like, how many people prepped the president? How many people are usually in the room listening to phone calls like this July 25 phone call? Just paint a picture for us.
BEEBE: Well, I think that does vary from presidency to presidency, but typically what happens is there'll be briefing papers that are prepared by staffers on the National Security Council staff. They go forward up the chain of command through the National Security Adviser ultimately to the president. Oftentimes, there's a pre-brief, and it depends on the importance of the phone call and the complexity of the issues that are going to be discussed. But then oftentimes, staffers and other government officials will be in the Oval Office as the president is speaking, and then there are others that are in the White House Situation Room who will be listening and taking notes as the conversation occurs. And usually, there's an interpreter that comes in - is patched in from the State Department.
BEEBE: So it's a group effort.
CHANG: In the very brief time we have left, I - you know, it seems from this morning that neither Republicans or Democrats were questioning the facts of what happened but just the level of concern those facts raise. Do you agree with that?
BEEBE: Yeah. I think that really is the question here. We've seen the transcript. We've now heard from people who were participating in the phone call. The real question is, was a line crossed here that everyone can agree is an abuse of power?
CHANG: George Beebe - his most recent book is called "The Russia Trap." Thank you very much for coming into the studio today.
BEEBE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.