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Trump Administration And House Panels Battle Over Impeachment Inquiry


Intimidation and bullying, obstruction and stonewalling - those are the accusations flying between the Trump administration and lawmakers over the House impeachment inquiry. Three congressional committees want five State Department officials to sit for depositions in the next two weeks to testify on the Ukraine controversy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling the demand an attempt to intimidate, bully, while House Democrats accuse Pompeo himself of intimidating Department witnesses, and they say he may be engaging in obstruction. Depositions are expected to take place, but lawmakers have already postponed one of them with the former ambassador to Ukraine, originally scheduled for today. Let's bring in NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro to talk about all of this. Hi, Domenico.


GREENE: All right. So where do these negotiations stand between the State Department and these congressional committees about these closed-door depositions?

MONTANARO: Well, there's going to be a closed-door briefing today with the State Department inspector general on Capitol Hill. And the inspector general operates independently from the secretary. So that letter didn't really have anything to do with the inspector general. And Democrats got on the schedule at least two of the people that they want to talk to. The former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, he'll be deposed tomorrow. And then next week, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, will be deposed. And all of this will be behind closed doors. Of course, we're going to see if we can learn anything new that comes out of the room.

GREENE: What do you think we might learn? I mean, put another way, what do you think lawmakers want to learn from these officials they're trying to get in?

MONTANARO: I mean, they're going to have lots of questions about this Ukraine affair, the phone call with Trump and the Ukrainian president, the whistleblower complaint. There are a lot of things to pull at. I mean, specifically for Volker, the whistleblower complaint says that he was communicating with Ukrainian officials trying to reconcile messages they were getting from Rudy Giuliani, who's the president's personal lawyer, and those that they were getting through official U.S. channels. So that should be interesting.

And Yovanovitch was removed as the ambassador. Trump mentioned her on the Ukraine call. He called her bad news and said that the people she was dealing with in Ukraine were also bad news. So that's all pretty murky. The whistleblower also raised questions in the complaint saying that her - about her removal - talking about how, you know, she was critical of Ukraine's prosecutor for not doing enough on corruption and that Giuliani later said she was removed because she was one of the people working against President Trump. Whatever that means, we don't exactly know, but we're hoping to learn more through whatever gets released, eventually, from these depositions.

GREENE: Can we turn to the politics here? I mean...


GREENE: ...For so long, Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership, you know, did not think - did not want to go forward with impeachment. Now they are all in, in the wake of this whistleblower complaint. How has that changed the presidential campaign on the Democratic side and what candidates are saying?

MONTANARO: Well, the presidential candidates had been sort of leading indicators on impeachment. I mean, a lot of them were calling for President Trump's impeachment far before Nancy Pelosi was certainly ready, and a lot of the people in her caucus were ready, to go that way. But impeachment, right now, is really overshadowing everything on the campaign trail. I mean, the big question is if this Ukraine affair helps or hurts Joe Biden. I mean, Trump and Republicans have repeatedly brought up this debunked charge of Biden held up funding to quash an investigation into a company that his son, Hunter, was sitting on the board of. I mean, that's not true. But it does raise the question of whether it's appropriate for the son of a vice president to serve on the board of a foreign company, especially when their father's handling foreign policy related to that country.

You know, so far, Democrats have resisted criticizing Biden on it. So in the short term, it's helped him because they haven't been able to criticize him. But, you know, Democratic strategists I've been talking to expect that that criticism will be coming soon. And they think it will at least take some toll on Biden and his campaign.

GREENE: A lot of questions about whether impeachment proceedings could hurt or help President Trump in his reelection bid. How is his campaign doing especially in terms of money right now?

MONTANARO: So far, it's not hurting his fundraising. I mean, they are - they were just - they just said that they were able to raise $125 million in the third quarter. They have $156 million cash on hand. Those are huge totals, especially compared to Barack Obama running in 2011 - far more money than him - and compared to the Democrats on the campaign trail, what they're bringing in. Bernie Sanders, for example, had the best quarter of any Democrat so far, $25.3 million. And that certainly pales in comparison. Democrats are really going to need to be able to try to compete once the primary is over and be able to compete - to be able to compete with Trump in the general.

GREENE: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.