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Week In Politics: The Ukraine Controversy, Turkey And Syria, And The 2020 Primary


A thaw in the trade tensions with China is the latest political story of the week, but the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump is, by far, the biggest. Today former U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified on Capitol Hill. And up until the last moment, it wasn't clear that she would testify.


SHAPIRO: That was her arriving on Capitol Hill this morning. And although her testimony was private, details of her testimony have been coming out. And we are going to discuss that and other events from the week in politics with Karen Tumulty, columnist for The Washington Post, and Eliana Johnson, editor-in-chief of The Washington Free Beacon. Good to have you both here.

KAREN TUMULTY: Great to be here.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with that testimony. Several news outlets published Marie Yovanovitch's opening statement, where she said there was a concerted campaign to have her removed. The president was part of that campaign. And when she returned to Washington, she was told by the deputy secretary of state that she had done nothing wrong. Can I get a top line reaction from each of you? Karen.

TUMULTY: Well, I think what we have here is a foreign policy professional with 30 years experience and, you know, a lot of respect who is telling a story of essentially getting crosswise with the president's private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and being withdrawn as a result of that. And the fact that she testified voluntarily after being told by the State Department not to suggests that we also may be seeing the beginning of an insurrection among foreign policy professionals.

SHAPIRO: You describe it as getting crosswise with Giuliani, the president's attorney. But from the transcript or the rough log of the phone call with Ukraine's president, it sounds like the president himself was dissatisfied with her. Eliana.

ELIANA JOHNSON: I think that's right. But I think that's because he was hearing things from his personal attorney that suggested she wasn't on the team. You know, as for the testimony itself, I don't think it did any favors for the president or the administration. At the same time, I don't think it's likely to fuel the impeachment fires in the same way that the release of this whistleblower complaint or the transcript of the president's phone call with the Ukrainian president did because at the end of the day, the president - the president's ambassadors are - they represent the president. And he is entitled to remove them for whatever reason he wants. So with this testimony in particular, I just don't think it's likely to have the same explosive impact that we've seen with previous revelations relating to the Democrats' impeachment effort.

SHAPIRO: Well, another big surprise in the impeachment inquiry - or related to the impeachment inquiry - came just two days ago, when two associates of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, were arrested at Dulles Airport with one-way tickets out of the country. And these men are also involved in the impeachment inquiry. Here's what Bill Sweeney of the FBI said at yesterday's press conference in New York announcing the indictment.


BILL SWEENEY: These allegations are not about some technicality, a civil violation or an error on a form. This investigation is about corrupt behavior, deliberate lawbreaking.

SHAPIRO: And one of the allegations is that they funneled foreign money to a congressman and then lobbied that lawmaker to push Ambassador Yovanovitch out. So we now have this legal proceeding in the criminal justice system running parallel to the political inquiry in Congress. What do you think these arrests mean for the impeachment process? Eliana.

JOHNSON: You know, I think what they show - President Trump ran against the government as it existed. And a lot of presidents run that sort of anti-establishment campaign. But this president never made peace with the government, has continued to call it the deep state. And he's instead really relied on outside advisers, including Rudy Giuliani, and these sorts of cronies who have made war on the government as it exists. And that's causing problems for the president.

I mean, I think the closest parallel would be to Oliver North and his friends who ended up shredding documents in the basement of the West Wing, running a sort of parallel government that causes major problems for the government itself, which the president is at the head of at the end of the day - not great.

SHAPIRO: Karen, it also seems like the president cannot stonewall the criminal justice system in the same way he can stonewall Congress, right?

TUMULTY: Exactly. Exactly. And this makes you wonder. Rudy Giuliani seems to be functioning here not so much as the president's private attorney but as an almost a shadow secretary of state. And all of a sudden, you have the president having to sort of distance himself from these two associates of Giuliani even though there are multiple pictures of the president, you know, having dinner with them and at this point, you know, President Trump saying, well, I don't really know those guys.


TUMULTY: You've got to wonder how tenable Rudy Giuliani's own position here is if this sort of thing continues and depending on how far it goes because this is a very serious campaign finance violation, funneling foreign money into a U.S. election.

SHAPIRO: So let's talk about the political implications of all this. I want to play you two cuts of tape. The first is from President Trump at a rally last night in Minneapolis.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Democrats' brazen attempt to overthrow our government will produce a backlash at the ballot box the likes of which they have never ever seen before in the history of this country.

SHAPIRO: He says it's a political winner. And in another part of the program, we speak with Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, a member of the House intelligence committee who heard from the former ambassador to the Ukraine - to former ambassador to Ukraine today. Here's his view.

ERIC SWALWELL: The more witnesses we hear from, the more documents we review puts more arrows in only one direction, which is that the president United States used our taxpayer dollars to extort the Ukrainians to only help himself.

SHAPIRO: So political winner or political loser? Karen.

TUMULTY: There were two polls out this week, one by The Washington Post and one by Fox News. Both of them show a dramatic increase in support for at least an impeachment inquiry. And both of them show something else that's even more surprising, which is growth in Republican support for an impeachment inquiry. So, you know, I think the president may be sort of whistling into the wind here.

SHAPIRO: What do you think, Eliana, do you agree?

JOHNSON: I don't know. And I think we will get the answer to that at the ballot box in 2020. I think these are the arguments you're going to hear from Republicans and Democrats, from the president and his eventual - from the eventual Democratic nominee between now and Election Day.

SHAPIRO: Before we get to the ballot box in 2020, we have to get through the Democratic primary. And I wonder how you think the Democrats are responding to this, whether they're taking full advantage of it - particularly Biden, whose family is the subject of Trump's focus in Ukraine. This week, for the first time, he came out in favor of impeachment. Here's what he said at a town hall in New Hampshire.


JOE BIDEN: Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed this nation and committed impeachable acts. To preserve our Constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, he should be impeached.

SHAPIRO: Eliana, what do you make of his response?

JOHNSON: You know, it took Biden three or four days to get that statement out. It seems to me he's being cautious because I think he knows he's vulnerable to charges that his son grifted off the vice presidency. That seems to me pretty clear. And so he was slow, as he's been many times. And he seems to me a rickety frontrunner.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, Karen.

TUMULTY: Yeah. He's a lagging indicator in the Democratic field on this one.

SHAPIRO: Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and Eliana Johnson of The Washington Free Beacon, good to have you both here.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

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

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