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Week In Politics: The Public Impeachment Inquiry Hearings


Over each day of public testimony covering the last two weeks, we have talked about new revelations in the House impeachment inquiry. Now that phase of the hearings appears to be over, so we're going to take a step back.


And before we draw some big-picture conclusions, let's listen to some of the key voices from the almost 40 hours of hearings. First, some American diplomats who were based in Ukraine.


WILLIAM TAYLOR: Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.

DAVID HOLMES: I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the president and explain he was calling from Kyiv. I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine and went on to state that President Zelenskiy, quote, "loves your ass." I then heard President Trump ask, so he's going to do the investigation? Ambassador Sondland replied that he's going to do it.

ADAM SCHIFF: The president implicitly threatened you in that call record. 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.

SCHIFF: It's designed to intimidate. Is it not?

YOVANOVITCH: I mean, I can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.

SHAPIRO: Now here are some of the witnesses who worked on Ukraine policy from the White House.


FIONA HILL: And I had also already brought to Ambassador Bolton's attention the shameful way in which Ambassador Yovanovitch was being smeared and attacked. And I'd asked if there was anything that we could do about it. And Ambassador Bolton had looked pained, basically indicated with body language that there was nothing much that we could do about it. And he then, in the course of that discussion, said that Rudy Giuliani was a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL ALEXANDER VINDMAN: It was inappropriate. It was improper for the president to request - to demand an investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power where there's, at best, dubious belief that this would be a completely impartial investigation.

CHANG: And finally, witnesses who worked on the so-called irregular channel of Ukraine policy.


GORDON SONDLAND: Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone one was informed via email on July 19.

KURT VOLKER: I did not know of any linkage between the hold on security assistance and Ukraine pursuing investigations. No one had ever said that to me, and I never conveyed such a linkage to the Ukrainians.

SHAPIRO: Through it all, Republicans defended the president, trying to poke holes in the witnesses' testimony...


ELISE STEFANIK: For the millions of Americans viewing today, the two most important facts are the following. No. 1, Ukraine received the aid. No. 2, there was, in fact, no investigation into Biden.

WILL HURD: So where does this leave us? An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear and unambiguous. And it's not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I have not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.

CHANG: ...While the Democrats worked to distill all of the witnesses' voices into a single narrative about how President Trump abused the power of his office.


SCHIFF: The question is not what the president meant. The question is not whether he was responsible for holding up the aid. He was. The question is not whether everybody knew it. Apparently they did. The question is, what are we prepared to do about it? Is there any accountability, or are we forced to conclude that this is just now the world that we live in?

SHAPIRO: Those are some of the voices from the last two weeks in politics. And we're going to talk about this historic stretch in Washington and what it means going forward with Betsy Woodruff Swan of The Daily Beast and David Brooks of The New York Times.

Good to have you both with us again.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with your top-line impressions of the hearings. David, you want to briefly tell us what your big takeaway is?

BROOKS: Yeah. When we first learned of this whole deal, we had a transcript of a phone call. And it could have been Donald Trump being reckless on a phone call. But after the hearings, I think we understand that this was the sustained policy of United States that stretched over vast stretches of the foreign policy apparatus. Sondland said everyone was in the loop, and that loop probably included Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo. And so this was a big, acknowledged thing that some people within the administration thought was just kind of shady and some people were completely appalled by.

SHAPIRO: Betsy, what was your top-line takeaway?

WOODRUFF SWAN: One vital piece of information to come out that I think is more significant than people may realize now was Fiona Hill's condemnation of the narrative that the Ukrainian government were - was the real culprit for meddling in the 2016 election. That notion is right at the heart of everything Trump believes to be true about Ukraine. He's sort of bought into this idea that Kyiv was responsible for meddling in his race rather than the Kremlin. And now this past week, we had one of his, you know, former senior White House advisers saying that that notion, which the president takes almost as an article of religious faith, is, on its face, not true.

SHAPIRO: So Fiona Hill was a top Russia adviser. She worked on the NSC. And it was interesting to me when I asked each of you ahead of time to choose one clip that really jumped out to you from these long days of hearings, each of you said, well, Gordon Sondland and Fiona Hill. The two of you pointed to the same two witnesses. And so let's first, Betsy, talk about the moment that you chose. This is from Fiona Hill's testimony. Let's listen.


HILL: It struck me when, yesterday, when you put up on the screen Ambassador Sondland's emails and who was on these emails, and he said, these are the people who need to know that he was absolutely right because he was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things have just diverged.

SHAPIRO: What makes this moment so important, Betsy?

WOODRUFF SWAN: It's important because it's Dr. Hill articulating in a crystal-clear manner the extent to which the project that Gordon Sondland was involved in was about benefiting the president's political interests here in the United States rather than about advancing the national security of this country. A little later in the testimony, in fact, Hill refers to Vindman and a concern she had about his connection. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is another important witness in this. Hill notes that she thought Vindman didn't have great political acumen, and he didn't need to because he was a national security official. The fact that she highlighted that points to the really unusual tension and conflict in this moment.

SHAPIRO: David, I know that this moment jumped out for you, too, for the reasons you explained, that it showed just how much this, quote, unquote, "alternative channel, irregular channel," had taken over U.S. foreign policy. But I want to play the cut that you highlighted, which comes from U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.


SONDLAND: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes. Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and others that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelenskiy committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election.

SHAPIRO: In all the hours of testimony, David, why did you choose this moment?

BROOKS: It's always amazed me that Trump and Giuliani didn't even try to hide this, that their moral norms were so degraded, if you want to put it that way, the idea of holding up aid to a country that was under threat from a terrible enemy for their own political gain, that was not something they thought they could hide. That was just normal. That's just the way we do things here. And so they did it out in the open, and it didn't occur to them that this could be wrong.

SHAPIRO: What do you think this means for the other people who Sondland testified were in the loop, whether that's acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney or the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, the vice president, Giuliani? I mean, there's a long list of people he said we're all in the loop.

BROOKS: Yeah, I think Pompeo has a lot of questions to answer. Mike Pence has a lot of questions to answer. But I guess I have to say what's going to happen to them - my view right now is not much. I mean, this all - this whole couple weeks depended on would the public be moved. And there's a raft of polling being done on how people view this, and it's - the public is unmoved. It's about 45-45 in the swing states. People oppose impeachment maybe a little more than they did before. Trump's approvals have gone up maybe a little. If - there's really little movement in public opinion after all this.

SHAPIRO: I mean, one recent poll says that 30% of Americans describe themselves as persuadable. Betsy, do you think either side was persuaded by this?

WOODRUFF SWAN: That's a really tough question. One thing I can tell you when it comes to public opinion regarding the impeachment hearings is that within the Trump campaign, there is a sentiment, although not a universally held one, that the effect on public opinion of these hearings is to very much galvanize the Republican Party base. They've seen a big bump in small-dollar donors because even if these hearings, perhaps on the aggregate, move the needle in the Democrats' direction, they also excite the voters that Republicans really depend on. And that's key to Trump's reelection strategy in 2020.

SHAPIRO: So in our last minute or so, what are you each looking for going forward if, as we expect, this goes to the House Judiciary Committee and then presumably to the Senate for a trial? David?

BROOKS: Yeah, I guess the big open question to me is the Senate - is how much Mitch McConnell has said he's going to do this. Is he going to do it all the way through January? Is he going to try to step on the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary? Is he going to try to keep all the Democratic senators who are running for president stuck in Washington?


BROOKS: So that'll be the big unknown right now.

SHAPIRO: And Betsy?

WOODRUFF SWAN: I'm on the same page as David. I'm very much on pins and needles about the timeline of these proceedings depending on how long they stretch for and the type of hearings that the House Judiciary Committee has that, you know, sort of the nerdy question of how much time do we take up on this is actually incredibly consequential.

SHAPIRO: Because the six Democrats in the Senate who are running for president have to be there. It's required by the Constitution.

WOODRUFF SWAN: Exactly. So it gives McConnell a chance to potentially mess around with them a little bit. We'll see if he takes that opportunity.

SHAPIRO: Betsy Woodruff Swan of The Daily Beast and David Brooks of The New York Times, thank you both. And have a great weekend.

BROOKS: Thank you. You, too.