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Democratic Strategist Karen Finney Reacts To Public Hearings In Impeachment Inquiry

NPR's Audie Cornish talks with Democratic strategist Karen Finney about the first day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump.

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Transcript:

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Testimony in the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump went public today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: If you would both rise and raise your right hand, I will begin by swearing you in.

CORNISH: Those words directed at two career diplomats, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state, and William Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine. They took hours of questions from members of the House Intelligence Committee. Elsewhere in the program, we hear from a Republican analyst. But right now, we're going to speak with Democratic strategist Karen Finney.

Welcome back to the studio.

KAREN FINNEY: Great to be with you.

CORNISH: So when I heard - let's see - Elise Stefanik of New York, the Republican, talking about what she called the most important points of the day, she said, No. 1, Ukraine got its aid and, No. 2, that the Bidens were not investigated. Is that argument enough? Did that, to you, kind of punch through to the average American listening at home?

FINNEY: No, because I think Bill Taylor and Mr. Kent were very compelling and very credible today in the story, in the narrative that they laid out. But this is part of the Republican strategy, which we saw in the memo that they released yesterday. They're trying to get people to focus on specific points. It's all about the July 25 phone call. You know, Ukraine got their aid. They didn't even know they weren't getting their aid - which, actually, I think today we learned that's not quite true.

Instead of taking a step back and looking at the full picture, we now know that this whole scheme was going on for months and that for quite some time, the Ukrainians were very nervous. Initially, what seemed to be on the table was a potential meeting with President Trump, which, you know, if you know anything about the relationship between the United States and Ukraine, it's a very important thing for them to have that show of support, particularly when they're fighting, when they've got Russia breathing down their neck.

CORNISH: Right. But you're hearing this argument from Republicans - basically, like, no crime was committed - right? - because something was not produced out of it. When I spoke to a Democrat in another part of the program, he said, look; just because there's an attempted burglary doesn't mean there wasn't an attempted burglary. Is that enough of an argument, though, when you're trying to impeach a president?

FINNEY: I think it is because, again, what we have been learning - and again, was reconfirmed today - this whole kind of scheme was in place for a very long time. It started around if - you'll get a meeting if you do the investigation. You got to go to the microphones and say, leading up to - and that was May, June. And then we have the July phone call, and then the aid was being withheld. So my point is, you know, there are - they're trying to say, well, they ended up getting the aid. Well, they ended up getting the aid in September. We know as...

CORNISH: Essentially, after the whistleblower complaint had ushered along a process that revealed it was being withheld.

FINNEY: And as Mr. Taylor revealed today, after Ukrainians were dying because they didn't have our assistance.

CORNISH: I want to talk about the witnesses today and how they were dealt with. Ohio's Jim Jordan was pointing out that neither Kent nor Taylor have firsthand knowledge of what President Trump said personally about Ukraine. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM JORDAN: This is what I can't believe. And you're their star witness.

WILLIAM TAYLOR: Mr. Jordan...

JORDAN: You're the guy. You're the guy. Based on this, based on - I mean, I've seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this. Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison, and I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on September 1...

CORNISH: Oh, lots of names said quickly.

FINNEY: (Laughter).

CORNISH: Do you agree that this is a weakness in this case against the president?

FINNEY: No. And again, I'll tell you why. We have to remember that Adam Schiff is a former federal prosecutor. He's really put this case together brick by brick. And if you look at who they have coming next week and sort of the way they're laying out the story, they're building their case leading up to, at the end of next week, Mr. Vindman, who actually was on the call.

So I - you know, if you think about how this is laid out, we were able to read some of the testimony that was released. Then we saw transcripts. Now we have - we're hearing directly from people, saying the same things over and over again. And then next week, we'll have somebody who actually was on the call, and he will validate a lot of the same things that the witnesses this week who weren't necessarily on the call but who, again - they were part of or asked to be part of this whole scheme of, you know, essentially, this extortion from the Ukrainians.

CORNISH: So far, this process is not looking bipartisan. How much of a concern is that, especially if you want undecided voters - I'm going to ask you that because you're a Democratic strategist - to care to listen, to come away with something?

FINNEY: Well, it concerns me on two levels. You know, if I speak politically, I do think that as the case has been laid out, we have seen movement, particularly among independent voters, towards people understanding what happened here. Secondly, though, I think this is a larger issue. As an - as a country, I think we need to really understand what happened here. And is this really acceptable behavior from a president of the United States of America?

CORNISH: Are the hearings doing that, though?

FINNEY: I think they are. I mean, I certainly think the Republicans are trying to, you know - I think the Democrats were trying to be very sober in their questioning, and I certainly think the Republicans were trying to poke holes in it again by sort of picking little spots here and there to try to undermine the overall case.

CORNISH: That's Democratic strategist Karen Finney.

Thank you for your insight.

FINNEY: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.