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Sunday Politics


The question is whether the president shook down a desperate foreign ally, and the evidence is piling up. Friday, we learned that a State Department official overheard a loud telephone call between President Trump and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland in which Sondland said Ukraine was, quote, "ready to move forward" with the public investigation into the Bidens that Trump sought. This week, we'll hear from Sondland himself as the House impeachment inquiry continues.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson will be watching, and she joins us now. Hi, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: What kind of position is Gordon Sondland in right now? He is a major Trump donor who became an ambassador. He testified privately, and then he had to amend that testimony right after he gave it. And now he's scheduled to testify again publicly on Wednesday.

LIASSON: That's right. There's a question about whether Gordon Sondland has gotten himself into some trouble. How is he going to square his testimony from what we've heard from others? And also, we don't know if he's going to be a good witness for the president, a good witness for the Democrats or just unreliable.

Remember, Donald Trump said in October that Gordon Sondland was highly respected. He said he was a really good man and great American. And then in November, the president said, let me just tell you; I hardly know the gentleman. So the question for Wednesday is, who throws who under the bus?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Who else is on the schedule, and what should we be listening for when we watch these hearings this week?

LIASSON: Well, in addition to Sondland on Wednesday, on Tuesday, we're going to hear from Alexander Vindman and Timothy Morrison. Both of them listened to the call in July between the president and President Zelenskiy. In other words, they have firsthand knowledge. This is what Republicans have been complaining has been absent from the hearings. It's going to be...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right - hearsay, hearsay, hearsay...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...As they like to say.

LIASSON: Then on Thursday, we're going to hear from Fiona Hill. She was the National Security Council aide who was involved with meetings with Sondland and former national security adviser John Bolton, who Fiona Hill has said in her deposition called this entire scheme a, quote, "drug deal" he wanted no part of.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mara, what do you make of the arguments you've seen the Republican members of the committee put forward and what you've seen from the White House?

LIASSON: Well, the first takeaway is that Republicans on the committee and the White House are not always on the same page, and you saw that very dramatically on Friday. Committee Republicans were being very careful not to attack Marie Yovanovitch. She was a sympathetic female witness. All of a sudden, the president does just that in a tweet while she's sitting there testifony (ph) - testifying, kind of smears her on Twitter. But you didn't hear any Republicans picking up on the president's cue and going on to say that she was a bad person or somehow responsible for the problems of Somalia, as the president suggested.

Then you had Republicans complaining about hearsay, as you said, and we're not getting firsthand information. But now we are getting firsthand information, including from David Holmes, who was that Ukraine Embassy aide who went out to lunch with Gordon Sondland and listened to that phone call between Sondland and the president. And we're going to get more this week from Vindman and Morrison.

Also, we have Republicans saying that the president is only concerned about corruption in Ukraine. But that word - corrupt or corruption - does not appear in the rough transcript of the July 25 call. And just this past week, the White House released another rough transcript of a short congratulatory call from President Trump to President Zelenskiy in April...


LIASSON: ...That also doesn't include the word corruption, although it does include some talk about the Miss Universe pageant. And I would just say that the overarching argument of the Republicans has evolved from, it didn't happen because the president never said the quid pro quo part out loud, to, so what if it did? It's not impeachable.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. And just briefly - we have 20 seconds - John Bel Edwards, Louisiana.

LIASSON: John Bel Edwards in Louisiana was a surprise. He's in the Deep South, the only Democratic governor left in the Deep South. And he won, even though the president went to Louisiana to campaign for his Republican opponent several times. So Democrats are pretty - feeling pretty happy about that today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.