The Week Diplomats Broke Their Silence

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The Daily|The Week Diplomats Broke Their Silence

transcript

transcript

The Week Diplomats Broke Their Silence

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Clare Toeniskoetter and Rachel Quester, and edited by Lisa Tobin

How several career diplomats illuminated the state of foreign policy in the Trump administration, even as the White House tried to block them from testifying.

rachel quester
There he is.
michael barbaro
I was not warned about the wind.
rachel quester
Good morning.
michael barbaro
Hi.
clare toeniskoetter
Hi!
rachel quester
Sondland is testifying as we speak.
michael barbaro
This is a big day. Hey, we’re here to get press credentials? We’re from The New York Times. All right. We’re in the House. So we’re in a — oh, watch out, people are coming. The House speaker is walking by with a very significant entourage. That was Nancy Pelosi. That was cool. O.K. So what are we doing? Oh, we’re waiting for Nick to get off the phone.
clare toeniskoetter
We also could say hi.
michael barbaro
I have a croissant I’d like to finish.
michael barbaro
From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”
speaker
Are you going to bring him in for a deposition?
michael barbaro
Today —
speaker 1
Nothing further at this moment.
speaker 2
Does this move the ball for impeachment, in your mind?
michael barbaro
A week inside the U.S. Capitol as the impeachment inquiry enters a pivotal phase. It’s Friday, October 18.
nicholas fandos
There’s a bunch of rooms, so —
michael barbaro
O.K.
clare toeniskoetter
What’s going on?
michael barbaro
We’re just trying to find a room that is quiet enough to make an episode of “The Daily.”
nicholas fandos
I think this will work.
michael barbaro
O.K. Here we go. Nick Fandos, you’ve been on the Hill all week. Walk me through this. What does the impeachment inquiry actually look like on the ground?
nicholas fandos
Yeah. So, I mean, the crazy thing is that the house opened this impeachment inquiry a little more than three weeks ago now on their way out of town for a two-week recess. So members were scattered all over the country, meeting with constituents, holding town halls, while back here in the Capitol, a core group of staff members, basically, for the House Intelligence Committee and a couple of others, stuck around and began issuing subpoenas and requests, setting up the very first witness depositions for their investigation. And so this week was the week that five of those depositions, one a day, were lined up, and lawmakers were going to be coming back. So that’s kind of what I was expecting when I arrived at the Capitol on Monday.
rachel quester
Hello.
nicholas fandos
Hey, it’s Nick.
rachel quester
Hi, how’s it going?
nicholas fandos
And I met up with our colleagues from “The Daily,” Rachel Quester and Clare Toeniskoetter, who were going to spend the week with me.
nicholas fandos
It’s so nice outside.
rachel quester
It’s so nice outside.
nicholas fandos
We had to meet up outside of the Capitol because it was Columbus Day, actually. The press galleries and all the functional staff were not working here. So I had to escort them in specially. We walked inside and down three sets of stairs.
clare toeniskoetter
Where are we?
nicholas fandos
We’re standing now beside the doors to the House Intelligence Committee SCIF.
nicholas fandos
And at the bottom of those stairs, we end up at the secured rooms, we call it the SCIF, of the House Intelligence Committee —
clare toeniskoetter
Wait, SCIF? Secure —
nicholas fandos
Compartmentalized Information Facility.
nicholas fandos
— which is one of the most secretive in Congress. It’s where this investigation is taking place, all behind closed doors.
nicholas fandos
And they have these red stickers on them, which get photographed all the time and are always in the newspaper, which just say “restricted area.” You can’t go there.
nicholas fandos
So the three of us and a bunch of reporters were gathered around outside, basically waiting for any emissaries to come out of the room and give some sense of what was going on back there with the very first witness deposition.
nicholas fandos
We spend all day trying to mentally pierce that barrier.
michael barbaro
So it says something about this week that this room is where Congress is holding these hearings.
nicholas fandos
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, it’s entirely outside of the public view. This is an investigation that could result in an attempt to remove President Trump. And the earliest stages of the investigation, at least, are all being conducted, as you say, out of public view. And this has been a source of some contention early on.
archived recording (jim jordan)
The first two interviews, totalling approximately 20 hours, not one single thing was said in those respective interviews that the American people should not be able to see, should not be able to hear.
nicholas fandos
Republicans have really seized on it to accuse Democrats of, basically, trying to impeach Trump in private —
archived recording (jim jordan)
The tragedy here, and the crime here, is that the American people don’t get to see what’s going on in these sessions.
nicholas fandos
— of hiding important work from the American people and from the press, who might be able to evaluate it. And the Democrats argue, though, that basically, this is investigative best practice. That, unlike past impeachments, they don’t already know what the story is. They need to find out the details. And the best way to investigate it is in private, where witnesses can’t line up their stories by hearing what somebody else testified, where lawyers can ask most of the questions, rather than lawmakers who are, maybe, trying to fundraise off of some quip, or speak to their constituents at a public hearing. And this allows them, ideally, to move quickly and collect a lot of information efficiently. So the idea is that they do all this investigative work first. And then, they figure out, what have we found? And what is the best of what we’ve got? And they move that, then, into the public sphere. And they present that evidence, they invite their best witnesses to come and testify, and they can kind of control the story that they’re building against the president.
michael barbaro
Much like a prosecutor, or a district attorney, quietly builds a case, makes an announcement of whether or not there’s an indictment, and then goes to trial.
nicholas fandos
That’s right. The rub, of course, is that this is Congress. And politicians love to blab. They get information that looks damaging to the president. If you’re a Democrat, you’d love for that to get out.
michael barbaro
So what’s the situation on Monday when it comes to these hearings? What’s actually happening in that SCIF, behind those closed doors?
nicholas fandos
So for most of the day Monday, all I know is that this former White House official, Fiona Hill, is in there testifying.
clare toeniskoetter
How many hours do you think you’ve spent standing, waiting, doing nothing so far?
nicholas fandos
I don’t know. Probably north of 30 hours, 35 hours. But it’ll get worse.
nicholas fandos
And it’s hour after hour after hour. There’s very little information coming out. My feet are getting sore.
nicholas fandos
Hey. Are you still free?
nicholas fandos
Chit-chatting with other reporters. Basically waiting for any kind of emissary to come out of the room and give us a sense of what’s going on.
nicholas fandos
It seems pretty quiet. I think Schiff just left to go — he’s speaking at the 92nd Street Y.
michael barbaro
You’re just spending the day standing outside this room.
nicholas fandos
Right.
nicholas fandos
[SIGHS]
nicholas fandos
And it was a long day. And, eventually, the sun goes down. Fiona Hill is still not done. And she finally leaves at about 8 o’clock.
clare toeniskoetter
Bye, thank you!
nicholas fandos
And, eventually, I just kind of had to go home. Because there was not a whole lot more reporting to do here.
michael barbaro
Hmm.
nicholas fandos
And it was only as I was walking back up to my apartment building that I started hearing from some sources and being able to piece together, over the next couple of hours, what had actually happened that day. And the testimony, it turns out, was pretty remarkable.
michael barbaro
What was the testimony?
nicholas fandos
So you’ve got to keep in mind, Fiona Hill is a respected career Russia expert who was brought in to the Trump administration to work for John Bolton on the National Security Council as one of the president’s top advisers on Europe and Russia policy. So she’s right at the center of traditional decision making around policy towards Ukraine. And the account that she gives is that there was a meeting earlier this summer in July where several other diplomats, including Gordon Sondland, a former Trump donor who had become ambassador to the European Union, met with some Ukrainian officials. And she tells lawmakers that this meeting veered dangerously off course, from her perspective, and that she and her boss, John Bolton, were so alarmed by what was said that Bolton told her, you need to go to White House lawyers right now and tell them that we’re not part of, and this was a quote, “whatever drug deal” these guys are cooking up.
michael barbaro
Wow.
nicholas fandos
Not a literal drug deal. But what Bolton and Hill thought was going on is that Sondland and the president’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and some other kind of diplomats who were more loyal to the president were basically holding out from the Ukrainians a White House meeting with President Trump, which is what they wanted, as leverage for the Ukrainians agreeing to investigate Democrats and Democratic issues that could benefit the president politically. Hill also testified that, at one point, Bolton referred to Giuliani as a “hand grenade” that’s “going to blow everybody up.” And so we were able to basically pull together this and some other elements of the story and publish it, I think, about 10:30 at night, and had some of those details exclusively, and really be able to tell the story of day one behind those closed doors.
michael barbaro
So beyond this being a very juicy scoop, what’s the significance of the testimony that Fiona Hill gave? What does it do for the inquiry?
nicholas fandos
So there are a couple things that I would say. One is that she implicates her boss, John Bolton, who is a boldface name in Washington. He’s the president’s top national security adviser. And saying that high up in the chain, the president’s national security adviser is calling this a “drug deal,” was so concerned about this he had me go to the lawyers — and it kind of opened the door to the fact that this set of events that we’re learning about in retrospect were setting off alarms in real time, and at very high levels of the government. The other aspect of it, though, is that it tells me, it’s like, I’m looking ahead to the rest of the week, and it seems pretty clear she’s not going to be the last person. Unlike in past investigations, where the White House has successfully shut down Congress, important witnesses are coming, and they’re going to talk, and they’re going to tell their story. We’re actually going to understand what happened here.
michael barbaro
Nick, I guess I just have, like, a collegial inquiry here. What’s the point of standing around all day if you end up getting the best stuff when you get home at, like, 10 o’clock at night?
nicholas fandos
[LAUGHS]
michael barbaro
Doesn’t that suggest that maybe you’re not going about this in the most efficient way?
nicholas fandos
Uhh, it’s a fair point. But a lot of this job is about putting yourself in situations where you might be able to glean information.
michael barbaro
So a readout at the end of day one. A big day of testimony, a big day for Nick Fandos.
nicholas fandos
Well, I don’t know about that. But we do learn some pretty significant details that set the stage for the rest of the week.
michael barbaro
O.K. So what happens the next day, on Tuesday?
rachel quester
Ready for day two.
clare toeniskoetter
Yeah.
nicholas fandos
So on Tuesday, we know that there is going to be another one of these closed-door depositions that’s probably going to go on again for hours, this time with a senior State Department official who was more or less in charge of Ukraine policy for the State Department.
speaker 1
So Julie’s group, we’re going to gather up. Make sure we have everybody. I don’t see Brian.
speaker 2
I don’t either.
nicholas fandos
But the first thing that I notice as I arrive at the Capitol is that the place has been transformed overnight.
rachel quester
O.K., so Nick just walked away, because he got a call from a member of Congress.
nicholas fandos
After two weeks of recess, lawmakers are back, aides are back.
speaker
Madam Speaker, will there be an formal vote on an impeachment inquiry? Madam Speaker?
nicholas fandos
There are even tourists wandering around through the SCIF area, running into reporters.
speaker 1
In part to keep an eye on the British.
speaker 2
Yeah, it’s somewhere up there. Oh, wait. There we go.
nicholas fandos
Stopping, looking at the TV reporters, who they recognize from CNN.
speaker 1
Have you guys heard of the whole impeachment inquiry?
speaker 2
Mm-hmm.
speaker 3
Yeah. That’s craziness.
nicholas fandos
The press corps seems to have somehow doubled. I don’t know how, because it’s already been huge following this stuff. And there’s just kind of an energy gripping the place that comes with 535 or so lawmakers and their staff, their kind of entourages, being back, moving around the Capitol.
michael barbaro
Can any member of Congress walk into the SCIF, right by you, and actually listen to these depositions as testimony?
nicholas fandos
The answer is no. And we actually saw it a couple times this week, when Republicans tried to go in and sit in on these depositions. But they were not on the committees that are leading the investigation. And therefore, under the committee rules, they ended up getting kicked out. But with lawmakers back in town, you’re talking about three committees that are leading the impeachment investigation. That’s dozens and dozens of lawmakers that sit on those. And they can all go and sit in. And they can come out, and they’re not supposed to talk in detail about what transpired, but they can give general impressions and hints about what they heard. In one case, one Democrat came out and basically broke the rules and just talked about what was happening completely.
archived recording
How did the questioning go today, Gerry?
archived recording (gerry connolly)
I thought it was very powerful testimony.
michael barbaro
And what did this Democrat divulge?
nicholas fandos
So he comes out and says —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
Here is a senior State Department official responsible for six countries, one of which is Ukraine —
nicholas fandos
— that he’d just heard the witness in the room, a State Department official named George Kent —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
— who found himself outside of a parallel process that he felt was undermining 28 years of U.S. policy in promoting the rule of law in Ukraine.
nicholas fandos
— that he and other career diplomats who were in charge of the State Department’s policy toward Ukraine had been shoved aside —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
All of the people charged with policy in Ukraine were replaced, apparently, after a May 23rd meeting at the White House organized by Mick Mulvaney, not John Bolton or Pompeo.
nicholas fandos
— and were told, starting late in the spring, that basically, their services weren’t needed anymore —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
And that was wrong. He used that word, “wrong.”
nicholas fandos
— that policy towards Ukraine was going to be run by Gordon Sondland, and Rudy Giuliani, and others out of the White House —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
The import of this testimony is deeply disturbing, especially the role of Rudy Giuliani.
nicholas fandos
— and they may as well lay low.
michael barbaro
And what’s the significance of that?
nicholas fandos
So the significance of that is that you have here another high-level American diplomat saying that the normal channels for foreign policy that have guided American policy for quite a long time are being scrambled, are being stepped on, basically, by the White House, which is putting their own guys in charge. And one of them that he singles out, yet again, is Gordon Sondland. Now you have a second witness, two in two days, coming forward and giving a pretty consistent account. And while it looked like, at first, the White House might be successful in stopping people from coming to testify, this is all picking up a little bit of momentum.
michael barbaro
So I’m taking it you didn’t watch the Democratic debate.
nicholas fandos
I did not watch the Democratic debate, and I did not watch playoff baseball.
michael barbaro
[LAUGHS]
nicholas fandos
What if we take a 20-minute break, and I can go and satisfy my editors a little bit by updating some stories?
michael barbaro
Yeah. All right. We’ll be back, as we say.
nicholas fandos
O.K. More soon.
clare toeniskoetter
Thanks, Nick.
nicholas fandos
You guys going to hang here?
michael barbaro
Yeah.
rachel quester
O.K. Should we go to break there?
michael barbaro
That was the idea.
clare toeniskoetter
See ya!
michael barbaro
O.K. So Wednesday.
nicholas fandos
Wednesday. Another day, another diplomat. This time, it’s a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who quit the State Department last week, reportedly because he was so frustrated by the very things that we’re talking about. He tried to raise alarms by that and didn’t get a response. And he was so fed up, he said he quit. So it’s clear after three days of testimony that we’re starting to see the diplomatic and foreign policy core, the expertise, the professional class that handles American foreign policy through Democratic and Republican administrations, basically coming one by one to tell a remarkably consistent story about how, in ways that they were uncomfortable with and they had not seen before, they were getting pushed aside. And the policy that was being executed in their place — they would say it’s not even a policy — but the actions in their place, basically, rather than, to put it in their words, the policy serving the well-being of the Ukrainians and the United States, it was serving the well-being of the president of the United States. And that was about it.
michael barbaro
But how exactly is that the basis of an impeachment inquiry?
nicholas fandos
So it’s not the fact that they were pushed aside that they see as so problematic. They’re telling a story about what happened once they were pushed aside. They think that’s created a set of conditions that led to these events that are at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. And that’s really what investigators are trying to get to the bottom of. And now, they’ve been able to establish how the circumstances, or the scene, was set for those things to happen by these current and former diplomats. But they still have more investigative work to flesh that out. ^CLARE TOENISKOETTER^ O.K., we’re walking up.
speaker
All right. So I’m going to just watch for —
nicholas fandos
If that’s O.K.
speaker
Yeah, yeah.
nicholas fandos
So in the middle of all this on Wednesday, I meet up with my colleague, Sheryl Stolberg.
nicholas fandos
Yeah, we’ll probably go to one of those tables.
sheryl gay stolberg
You think it’ll be a standing interview?
nicholas fandos
I hope not. But, you know, a guy’s got to get his steps in.
nicholas fandos
And we’re going to go upstairs into the Capitol to interview Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman who chairs the Intelligence Committee and is the man at the center of all these hearings leading the impeachment investigation. We had been hoping to sit down with Schiff in his office and have a kind of quieter, more reflective meeting. But indicative of the way things are in the middle of this inquiry, his staff asked, instead, if we could meet in a reception room.
sheryl gay stolberg
Let’s take this corner.
nicholas fandos
Right off the floor of the Capitol, where there were different meet-and-greets going on, and constituents were meeting with their members of Congress. And the room was buzzing and lively. And we staked out a corner where we could talk to Congressman Schiff.
adam schiff
How are you doing?
nicholas fandos
How are you?
adam schiff
Good.
nicholas fandos
Here, and Sheryl’s over here too.
sheryl gay stolberg
Hi!
adam schiff
Hi, how are you?
nicholas fandos
And we were able to put to him some, kind of, key questions about what we thought was going on to see how he sees it.
sheryl gay stolberg
You know, the president talks a lot about the deep state. Does it strike you that this is exactly what he fears, or what he thinks of as the deep state?
adam schiff
You know, the deep state theory used to be a fringe theory in third-world countries or kooky conspiracy theorists at home. When the president talks about the deep state, what he’s really talking about is, in particular, people that expose his wrongdoing and misconduct.
nicholas fandos
At one point, we put the question to him of what he made of all these diplomats coming forward and telling this story.
adam schiff
This president feels he has a God-given right to abuse his office in any way he sees fit, to coerce foreign powers to do his political dirty work, that he should not suffer the indignity of having it exposed. And he has learned otherwise. It is going to be exposed, it has been exposed and it will continue to be exposed.
sheryl gay stolberg
So this is the revolt of the so-called deep state.
adam schiff
You know, there’s no revolt, and there’s no deep state.
sheryl gay stolberg
I’m being —
nicholas fandos
He quibbled a little bit with the wording that Sheryl used. But he basically said, I agree with the premise of the question.
adam schiff
I think it’s a very serious attack on career public servants who are unwilling to compromise themselves in the president’s service. This has to be the last question because I’ve got to go vote on the last vote.
sheryl gay stolberg
I have two more real quickies. Do you have enough evidence to impeach?
adam schiff
I’ve got to go vote.
sheryl gay stolberg
Can he come back or is that it?
nicholas fandos
I can ask.
michael barbaro
So another busy day. Where is your head as Wednesday comes to an end?
nicholas fandos
So by the end of Wednesday, it just feels inescapable that this is all building, at least this week, towards Gordon Sondland coming in himself on Thursday and giving his account of what happened, of facing questions about these various accusations and accounts that investigators have been getting all week. And figuring out, how does he explain this stuff? How does he view what was going on? And we left the Capitol Wednesday evening waiting to see exactly what he was going to say.
michael barbaro
Right. Like, if this is a play, the character that everyone’s been talking about for the last 90 minutes eventually has to come onstage and say something.
nicholas fandos
That’s right. Except for, in this case, the stage is behind closed doors. And saying something, it turns out, amounts to releasing an 18-page opening statement Thursday morning right before he begins to answer questions.
nicholas fandos
Hello.
michael barbaro
Hi.
nicholas fandos
Welcome.
michael barbaro
Very nice to see you.
nicholas fandos
Very nice to see you.
michael barbaro
So that’s how Thursday morning begins. I walk into the Capitol with Rachel and Clare just as, it seems, you are digesting Gordon Sondland’s opening statements.
nicholas fandos
And my morning was basically spent trying to go through 18 pages of what he was going to go in there and say.
nicholas fandos
We received a copy of his opening statement. And Mike Schmidt, our colleague, and I pored through it to try and figure out, what’s new here? What’s he addressing? What does he have to say? And a couple of things jumped out at us. He basically says, in a meeting that he had with President Trump in May, not long after the new Ukrainian president is elected, President Trump basically rejected Sondland’s advice and the advice of other diplomats that were with him who said, you know, Mr. President, we think you ought to meet with this new guy. We think he’s going to do good work. Trump didn’t seem interested, and then directed them, Sondland said, to go through Rudy Giuliani, to go through his private lawyer.
michael barbaro
On Ukraine foreign policy.
nicholas fandos
He gave Sondland, his ambassador to the European Union, and other high-ranking officials in the room the direct impression that he had empowered Rudy Giuliani to basically run American policy toward Ukraine.
michael barbaro
Wow.
nicholas fandos
I mean, all week we’d been hearing these career nonpartisan diplomats coming in and pointing at Gordon Sondland. And here you have Gordon Sondland turning around just as quickly and pointing at the president and Rudy Giuliani and saying, everything I did, I did because they told me to. And I didn’t always feel good about it. I don’t think Rudy Giuliani should have been involved. I think the men and women of the State Department ought to be running our foreign policy, he testified. But I have to follow the directions of the president. And I thought, more or less, that I could work within those parameters to still achieve an end that I believed in, to still help Ukraine. And he said something interesting. He says, I didn’t realize at first. It was only later that I realized that Rudy Giuliani may have had some other motivations in mind. As if all of this is not enough, one of the president’s loyal diplomats seeming to turn on him and point the finger back at him.
michael barbaro
Hello.
michael shear
How are you?
michael barbaro
Mr. Shear.
michael shear
Good to see you.
nicholas fandos
My colleague Mike Shear walks up.
michael barbaro
I’m just going to say, any email that starts with, “This will be interesting,” I want to read the rest of.
michael shear
Mick Mulvaney is about to give a press briefing.
nicholas fandos
Oh, jeez.
nicholas fandos
And says, hey, the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who never addresses the press, has just scheduled a 12:30 press conference at the White House. He’s going to talk to reporters. And we think he’s going to talk about Ukraine.
michael shear
But, I mean, he should get a lot of questions about this stuff, about impeachment. I mean, he’s going to the White House press briefing room.
nicholas fandos
So Mike and I go back to a press room just outside the SCIF and set up shop around his computer, where we tune into this press conference.
michael barbaro
Mm-hmm.
rachel quester
(WHISPERING) What’s happening?
michael barbaro
We’re with Nick Fandos and Mike Shear watching Mulvaney.
nicholas fandos
And after addressing some unrelated topics at the beginning, he starts to field questions. And it gets crazy really fast.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the D.N.C. server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it. And that’s why we held up the money.
nicholas fandos
After this week of slow drip disclosures, and after weeks of the White House denying that there had been any kind of leverage, or quid pro quo, or exchange with the Ukrainians around the suspension of security aid for the country, he comes out and basically says — he does say, on the record, that —
archived recording
So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered to withhold funding to the Ukraine?
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. Then that is absolutely appropriate.
nicholas fandos
The White House withheld the aid for several reasons. And one of those reasons was President Trump wanted Ukraine to first commit to investigating potential collusion between Ukrainians and Democrats in the 2016 election that was meant to undermine his campaign. And on top of it, Mulvaney says, yep, this was the deal.
archived recording
Let’s be clear. What you’ve just described is a quid pro quo.
nicholas fandos
Reporters quickly call it a quid pro quo.
archived recording
It is — funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
We do that all the time with foreign policy.
nicholas fandos
And he said, that’s fine. It happens all the time. There’s nothing wrong with it.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
If you read the news reports, and you believe them — what did McKinney say yesterday? Well, McKinney said yesterday that he was really upset with the political influence in foreign policy, that was one of the reasons he was so upset about this. And I have news for everybody, get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.
michael barbaro
I mean, that’s an extraordinary thing for the White House chief of staff to say.
nicholas fandos
It is. And he goes a little bit further. He’s asked about Rudy Giuliani and his role. And his defense, again, is essentially that the president of the United States gets to dictate foreign policy. And if he wants his personal lawyer — a guy who he’s not paying, a guy who’s doing business, by the way, in Ukraine at the same time he’s evidently doing diplomacy — to run American foreign policy, well, that’s his prerogative. Elections have consequences. And that’s O.K. There’s nothing wrong with it.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
Elections do have consequences. And they should. And your foreign policy is going to change. Obama did it in one way, we’re doing it in a different way. And there’s no problem with that.
nicholas fandos
It’s a pretty stunning assertion. A pretty stunning view of executive power. It suggests the White House has not been telling the whole truth up till today.
michael barbaro
And then decided to tell it in a kind of extreme, unexpected way.
nicholas fandos
Right. It’s a little baffling to understand what exactly Mick Mulvaney was doing here.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
I’m not going to take anymore. It’s nice to see everybody. Thanks again.
nicholas fandos
All right, so we should — we should get on the phone.
mike shear
What the hell just happened?
michael barbaro
Why don’t you take some time to figure out what this all means?
nicholas fandos
There’s also probably about to be a House vote, where we may need to go and see if we can’t get some quick reaction.
nicholas fandos
You know, it was pretty evident in the hour or so after that press conference that lawmakers on Capitol Hill didn’t quite know what to make of it either.
recording^
Today, the chief of staff said what we’ve always just talked about. It was also about exonerating Russia and looking at the 2016 election.
nicholas fandos
Some said, well, they just admitted to the whole thing, I suppose. So what do we do now? Others, Adam Schiff said —
archived recording (adam schiff)
It certainly indicates that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse.
nicholas fandos
A story that’s very, very bad just got much, much worse.
michael barbaro
Well, to the extent, Nick, that it’s knowable, what do you make of why the White House decided to do this? It’s kind of hard to understand.
nicholas fandos
It is. We don’t know if Mulvaney was acting on his own authority, who had put him out there. The president’s legal team, one of his other lawyers who’s not Rudy Giuliani, said he hadn’t been consulted before Mulvaney went out there. You know, there has been a move that President Trump returns to time and again in his presidency. And part of me wonders if this isn’t the same thing, where, when he’s being accused of something bad, of having done something under the table or that would be deemed inappropriate for others, instead of pretending he didn’t, he just kind of throws it all out into the open and says, you know, yeah, I did this. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. So what? Tell me it’s wrong. And I think at the end of this week, one of the biggest questions that I think emerges from all this stuff is that it’s now up to Congress, not just Democrats, but Republicans, too, to answer that question and say, is this right, or is this wrong? If he’s going to own up to most of it, and assuming that more officials come forward and fill in different pieces of this story as we’re coming to understand it, you know, can they stomach that? And is that a transgression that they’re willing to say is worthy of impeachment and worthy of his removal from office? I mean, it’s kind of on the president’s part, potentially, the ultimate high-stakes bluff, and I don’t think we know yet where things are going to fall out.
[music]
nicholas fandos
I think what we’re left with at the end of this week is, like, a question. Is this a story of a bunch of career diplomats, who have never really much liked President Trump or his policies, rebelling against him? And I don’t think that they really see it that way. From their perspective, you know, they’re used to having policy differences with presidents of both parties. They’re trained to implement the policies of Republicans and of Democrats. What I think is different, what is leading otherwise anonymous officials to blow the whistle, to march up to Capitol Hill and walk down all those flights of steps to the House SCIF and tell the story as they see it, is that they see this as something fundamentally different, and, importantly, as a part of their responsibility as permanent agents of the government, of people who are working on behalf of the American people, not a particular president, and that only when things seem to get so bad did they decide they needed to speak up.
michael barbaro
Nick, thank you for essentially giving us your entire week. We appreciate it.
nicholas fandos
It was a pleasure to have the company.
michael barbaro
It can get lonely in front of a SCIF, I imagine. Anyway, thank you, truly.
nicholas fandos
Yeah, I’m glad you guys were here. It’s been quite a story.
michael barbaro
The rest — so on Thursday night, there was a huge bipartisan outcry, and the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, tries to walk back his comments about a quid pro quo with Ukraine. He issues a statement essentially denying what he has said just a few hours earlier. And I’m going to read you the quote. He said, “Let me be clear. There was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election.” We’ll be right back.
sheryl gay stolberg
How does it sound?
michael barbaro
It sounds pretty good.
sheryl gay stolberg
Sound O.K.?
michael barbaro
I’ve never actually produced a bit of — any audio on my own. So this is a bit of an experiment.
sheryl gay stolberg
O.K., great.
michael barbaro
And I think this is definitely the first time we have done the headlines of “The Daily” inside the Senate press gallery. So Sheryl Stolberg — oh, I think, I’m supposed to hold this to my own mouth.
michael barbaro
So Sheryl, what do we need to know today?
sheryl gay stolberg
So it was a really busy news day.
archived recording (mike pence)
Today, I’m proud to report, thanks to the strong leadership of President Donald Trump and the strong relationship between President Erdogan in Turkey and the United States of America that today, the United States and Turkey have agreed to a cease-fire in Syria.
sheryl gay stolberg
Vice President Pence flew to Turkey, and on Thursday afternoon, he announced that Turkey had agreed to a cease-fire in which the Turkish government would suspend its military operations in northern Syria for five days in order to give the Kurds time to clear the area. So that raises the question, is this a breakthrough, or is this just giving Turkey what it wants in the first place, because they wanted the Kurds out?
michael barbaro
What else?
archived recording
Will you support this deal? What do you think of it?
archived recording (jeremy corbyn)
Well, from what we’ve read of this deal, it doesn’t meet our demands or our expectations.
sheryl gay stolberg
There’s finally a deal for Brexit that the European Union and Britain both think will work. But it’s not clear if it’s going to pass, because it has to go through Parliament, and the Labour Party has already said it’s opposed.
archived recording (jeremy corbyn)
We are unhappy with this deal, and as it stands, we’ll vote against it.
sheryl gay stolberg
And finally, on Thursday, it was a sad day here in the Capitol, because Representative Elijah Cummings, a towering figure in the House, died. Cummings was a son of sharecroppers. His own presence here was really a miracle to him.
archived recording (elijah cummings)
My father had never been in the Capitol building. He said, isn’t this the place where they used to call us slaves? I said, yes sir. And isn’t this the place they used to call us three-fifths of a man? I said, yes, sir. And isn’t this the place that they used to call us chattel? I say, yes, yes, yes, sir. And I’ll never forget, he said, when I think about you being sworn in today, he said, now I see what I could have been if I had had an opportunity.
sheryl gay stolberg
And over the last year, as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he had been a central figure in the investigations of the president, and in his role in these investigations, he continually pleaded for decency.
archived recording (elijah cummings)
We are better than this. We are so much — we really are. As a country, we are so much better than this. And I’m hoping that all of us can get back to this democracy that we want and that we should be passing on to our children so that they can do better than what we did.
michael barbaro
Sheryl, thank you.
sheryl gay stolberg
Thank you, Michael.
clare toeniskoetter
We’re walking out?
^michael barbaro^: 9
45 p.m. We appear to be the last journalists inside the U.S. Capitol. Feels like a good time to talk about who made the shows this week. “The Daily” is made by Theo Balcomb, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson. Walking and doing credits at the same time?

How several career diplomats illuminated the state of foreign policy in the Trump administration, even as the White House tried to block them from testifying.

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Clare Toeniskoetter and Rachel Quester, and edited by Lisa Tobin

transcript

transcript

The Week Diplomats Broke Their Silence

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Clare Toeniskoetter and Rachel Quester, and edited by Lisa Tobin

How several career diplomats illuminated the state of foreign policy in the Trump administration, even as the White House tried to block them from testifying.

rachel quester
There he is.
michael barbaro
I was not warned about the wind.
rachel quester
Good morning.
michael barbaro
Hi.
clare toeniskoetter
Hi!
rachel quester
Sondland is testifying as we speak.
michael barbaro
This is a big day. Hey, we’re here to get press credentials? We’re from The New York Times. All right. We’re in the House. So we’re in a — oh, watch out, people are coming. The House speaker is walking by with a very significant entourage. That was Nancy Pelosi. That was cool. O.K. So what are we doing? Oh, we’re waiting for Nick to get off the phone.
clare toeniskoetter
We also could say hi.
michael barbaro
I have a croissant I’d like to finish.
michael barbaro
From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”
speaker
Are you going to bring him in for a deposition?
michael barbaro
Today —
speaker 1
Nothing further at this moment.
speaker 2
Does this move the ball for impeachment, in your mind?
michael barbaro
A week inside the U.S. Capitol as the impeachment inquiry enters a pivotal phase. It’s Friday, October 18.
nicholas fandos
There’s a bunch of rooms, so —
michael barbaro
O.K.
clare toeniskoetter
What’s going on?
michael barbaro
We’re just trying to find a room that is quiet enough to make an episode of “The Daily.”
nicholas fandos
I think this will work.
michael barbaro
O.K. Here we go. Nick Fandos, you’ve been on the Hill all week. Walk me through this. What does the impeachment inquiry actually look like on the ground?
nicholas fandos
Yeah. So, I mean, the crazy thing is that the house opened this impeachment inquiry a little more than three weeks ago now on their way out of town for a two-week recess. So members were scattered all over the country, meeting with constituents, holding town halls, while back here in the Capitol, a core group of staff members, basically, for the House Intelligence Committee and a couple of others, stuck around and began issuing subpoenas and requests, setting up the very first witness depositions for their investigation. And so this week was the week that five of those depositions, one a day, were lined up, and lawmakers were going to be coming back. So that’s kind of what I was expecting when I arrived at the Capitol on Monday.
rachel quester
Hello.
nicholas fandos
Hey, it’s Nick.
rachel quester
Hi, how’s it going?
nicholas fandos
And I met up with our colleagues from “The Daily,” Rachel Quester and Clare Toeniskoetter, who were going to spend the week with me.
nicholas fandos
It’s so nice outside.
rachel quester
It’s so nice outside.
nicholas fandos
We had to meet up outside of the Capitol because it was Columbus Day, actually. The press galleries and all the functional staff were not working here. So I had to escort them in specially. We walked inside and down three sets of stairs.
clare toeniskoetter
Where are we?
nicholas fandos
We’re standing now beside the doors to the House Intelligence Committee SCIF.
nicholas fandos
And at the bottom of those stairs, we end up at the secured rooms, we call it the SCIF, of the House Intelligence Committee —
clare toeniskoetter
Wait, SCIF? Secure —
nicholas fandos
Compartmentalized Information Facility.
nicholas fandos
— which is one of the most secretive in Congress. It’s where this investigation is taking place, all behind closed doors.
nicholas fandos
And they have these red stickers on them, which get photographed all the time and are always in the newspaper, which just say “restricted area.” You can’t go there.
nicholas fandos
So the three of us and a bunch of reporters were gathered around outside, basically waiting for any emissaries to come out of the room and give some sense of what was going on back there with the very first witness deposition.
nicholas fandos
We spend all day trying to mentally pierce that barrier.
michael barbaro
So it says something about this week that this room is where Congress is holding these hearings.
nicholas fandos
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, it’s entirely outside of the public view. This is an investigation that could result in an attempt to remove President Trump. And the earliest stages of the investigation, at least, are all being conducted, as you say, out of public view. And this has been a source of some contention early on.
archived recording (jim jordan)
The first two interviews, totalling approximately 20 hours, not one single thing was said in those respective interviews that the American people should not be able to see, should not be able to hear.
nicholas fandos
Republicans have really seized on it to accuse Democrats of, basically, trying to impeach Trump in private —
archived recording (jim jordan)
The tragedy here, and the crime here, is that the American people don’t get to see what’s going on in these sessions.
nicholas fandos
— of hiding important work from the American people and from the press, who might be able to evaluate it. And the Democrats argue, though, that basically, this is investigative best practice. That, unlike past impeachments, they don’t already know what the story is. They need to find out the details. And the best way to investigate it is in private, where witnesses can’t line up their stories by hearing what somebody else testified, where lawyers can ask most of the questions, rather than lawmakers who are, maybe, trying to fundraise off of some quip, or speak to their constituents at a public hearing. And this allows them, ideally, to move quickly and collect a lot of information efficiently. So the idea is that they do all this investigative work first. And then, they figure out, what have we found? And what is the best of what we’ve got? And they move that, then, into the public sphere. And they present that evidence, they invite their best witnesses to come and testify, and they can kind of control the story that they’re building against the president.
michael barbaro
Much like a prosecutor, or a district attorney, quietly builds a case, makes an announcement of whether or not there’s an indictment, and then goes to trial.
nicholas fandos
That’s right. The rub, of course, is that this is Congress. And politicians love to blab. They get information that looks damaging to the president. If you’re a Democrat, you’d love for that to get out.
michael barbaro
So what’s the situation on Monday when it comes to these hearings? What’s actually happening in that SCIF, behind those closed doors?
nicholas fandos
So for most of the day Monday, all I know is that this former White House official, Fiona Hill, is in there testifying.
clare toeniskoetter
How many hours do you think you’ve spent standing, waiting, doing nothing so far?
nicholas fandos
I don’t know. Probably north of 30 hours, 35 hours. But it’ll get worse.
nicholas fandos
And it’s hour after hour after hour. There’s very little information coming out. My feet are getting sore.
nicholas fandos
Hey. Are you still free?
nicholas fandos
Chit-chatting with other reporters. Basically waiting for any kind of emissary to come out of the room and give us a sense of what’s going on.
nicholas fandos
It seems pretty quiet. I think Schiff just left to go — he’s speaking at the 92nd Street Y.
michael barbaro
You’re just spending the day standing outside this room.
nicholas fandos
Right.
nicholas fandos
[SIGHS]
nicholas fandos
And it was a long day. And, eventually, the sun goes down. Fiona Hill is still not done. And she finally leaves at about 8 o’clock.
clare toeniskoetter
Bye, thank you!
nicholas fandos
And, eventually, I just kind of had to go home. Because there was not a whole lot more reporting to do here.
michael barbaro
Hmm.
nicholas fandos
And it was only as I was walking back up to my apartment building that I started hearing from some sources and being able to piece together, over the next couple of hours, what had actually happened that day. And the testimony, it turns out, was pretty remarkable.
michael barbaro
What was the testimony?
nicholas fandos
So you’ve got to keep in mind, Fiona Hill is a respected career Russia expert who was brought in to the Trump administration to work for John Bolton on the National Security Council as one of the president’s top advisers on Europe and Russia policy. So she’s right at the center of traditional decision making around policy towards Ukraine. And the account that she gives is that there was a meeting earlier this summer in July where several other diplomats, including Gordon Sondland, a former Trump donor who had become ambassador to the European Union, met with some Ukrainian officials. And she tells lawmakers that this meeting veered dangerously off course, from her perspective, and that she and her boss, John Bolton, were so alarmed by what was said that Bolton told her, you need to go to White House lawyers right now and tell them that we’re not part of, and this was a quote, “whatever drug deal” these guys are cooking up.
michael barbaro
Wow.
nicholas fandos
Not a literal drug deal. But what Bolton and Hill thought was going on is that Sondland and the president’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and some other kind of diplomats who were more loyal to the president were basically holding out from the Ukrainians a White House meeting with President Trump, which is what they wanted, as leverage for the Ukrainians agreeing to investigate Democrats and Democratic issues that could benefit the president politically. Hill also testified that, at one point, Bolton referred to Giuliani as a “hand grenade” that’s “going to blow everybody up.” And so we were able to basically pull together this and some other elements of the story and publish it, I think, about 10:30 at night, and had some of those details exclusively, and really be able to tell the story of day one behind those closed doors.
michael barbaro
So beyond this being a very juicy scoop, what’s the significance of the testimony that Fiona Hill gave? What does it do for the inquiry?
nicholas fandos
So there are a couple things that I would say. One is that she implicates her boss, John Bolton, who is a boldface name in Washington. He’s the president’s top national security adviser. And saying that high up in the chain, the president’s national security adviser is calling this a “drug deal,” was so concerned about this he had me go to the lawyers — and it kind of opened the door to the fact that this set of events that we’re learning about in retrospect were setting off alarms in real time, and at very high levels of the government. The other aspect of it, though, is that it tells me, it’s like, I’m looking ahead to the rest of the week, and it seems pretty clear she’s not going to be the last person. Unlike in past investigations, where the White House has successfully shut down Congress, important witnesses are coming, and they’re going to talk, and they’re going to tell their story. We’re actually going to understand what happened here.
michael barbaro
Nick, I guess I just have, like, a collegial inquiry here. What’s the point of standing around all day if you end up getting the best stuff when you get home at, like, 10 o’clock at night?
nicholas fandos
[LAUGHS]
michael barbaro
Doesn’t that suggest that maybe you’re not going about this in the most efficient way?
nicholas fandos
Uhh, it’s a fair point. But a lot of this job is about putting yourself in situations where you might be able to glean information.
michael barbaro
So a readout at the end of day one. A big day of testimony, a big day for Nick Fandos.
nicholas fandos
Well, I don’t know about that. But we do learn some pretty significant details that set the stage for the rest of the week.
michael barbaro
O.K. So what happens the next day, on Tuesday?
rachel quester
Ready for day two.
clare toeniskoetter
Yeah.
nicholas fandos
So on Tuesday, we know that there is going to be another one of these closed-door depositions that’s probably going to go on again for hours, this time with a senior State Department official who was more or less in charge of Ukraine policy for the State Department.
speaker 1
So Julie’s group, we’re going to gather up. Make sure we have everybody. I don’t see Brian.
speaker 2
I don’t either.
nicholas fandos
But the first thing that I notice as I arrive at the Capitol is that the place has been transformed overnight.
rachel quester
O.K., so Nick just walked away, because he got a call from a member of Congress.
nicholas fandos
After two weeks of recess, lawmakers are back, aides are back.
speaker
Madam Speaker, will there be an formal vote on an impeachment inquiry? Madam Speaker?
nicholas fandos
There are even tourists wandering around through the SCIF area, running into reporters.
speaker 1
In part to keep an eye on the British.
speaker 2
Yeah, it’s somewhere up there. Oh, wait. There we go.
nicholas fandos
Stopping, looking at the TV reporters, who they recognize from CNN.
speaker 1
Have you guys heard of the whole impeachment inquiry?
speaker 2
Mm-hmm.
speaker 3
Yeah. That’s craziness.
nicholas fandos
The press corps seems to have somehow doubled. I don’t know how, because it’s already been huge following this stuff. And there’s just kind of an energy gripping the place that comes with 535 or so lawmakers and their staff, their kind of entourages, being back, moving around the Capitol.
michael barbaro
Can any member of Congress walk into the SCIF, right by you, and actually listen to these depositions as testimony?
nicholas fandos
The answer is no. And we actually saw it a couple times this week, when Republicans tried to go in and sit in on these depositions. But they were not on the committees that are leading the investigation. And therefore, under the committee rules, they ended up getting kicked out. But with lawmakers back in town, you’re talking about three committees that are leading the impeachment investigation. That’s dozens and dozens of lawmakers that sit on those. And they can all go and sit in. And they can come out, and they’re not supposed to talk in detail about what transpired, but they can give general impressions and hints about what they heard. In one case, one Democrat came out and basically broke the rules and just talked about what was happening completely.
archived recording
How did the questioning go today, Gerry?
archived recording (gerry connolly)
I thought it was very powerful testimony.
michael barbaro
And what did this Democrat divulge?
nicholas fandos
So he comes out and says —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
Here is a senior State Department official responsible for six countries, one of which is Ukraine —
nicholas fandos
— that he’d just heard the witness in the room, a State Department official named George Kent —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
— who found himself outside of a parallel process that he felt was undermining 28 years of U.S. policy in promoting the rule of law in Ukraine.
nicholas fandos
— that he and other career diplomats who were in charge of the State Department’s policy toward Ukraine had been shoved aside —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
All of the people charged with policy in Ukraine were replaced, apparently, after a May 23rd meeting at the White House organized by Mick Mulvaney, not John Bolton or Pompeo.
nicholas fandos
— and were told, starting late in the spring, that basically, their services weren’t needed anymore —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
And that was wrong. He used that word, “wrong.”
nicholas fandos
— that policy towards Ukraine was going to be run by Gordon Sondland, and Rudy Giuliani, and others out of the White House —
archived recording (gerry connolly)
The import of this testimony is deeply disturbing, especially the role of Rudy Giuliani.
nicholas fandos
— and they may as well lay low.
michael barbaro
And what’s the significance of that?
nicholas fandos
So the significance of that is that you have here another high-level American diplomat saying that the normal channels for foreign policy that have guided American policy for quite a long time are being scrambled, are being stepped on, basically, by the White House, which is putting their own guys in charge. And one of them that he singles out, yet again, is Gordon Sondland. Now you have a second witness, two in two days, coming forward and giving a pretty consistent account. And while it looked like, at first, the White House might be successful in stopping people from coming to testify, this is all picking up a little bit of momentum.
michael barbaro
So I’m taking it you didn’t watch the Democratic debate.
nicholas fandos
I did not watch the Democratic debate, and I did not watch playoff baseball.
michael barbaro
[LAUGHS]
nicholas fandos
What if we take a 20-minute break, and I can go and satisfy my editors a little bit by updating some stories?
michael barbaro
Yeah. All right. We’ll be back, as we say.
nicholas fandos
O.K. More soon.
clare toeniskoetter
Thanks, Nick.
nicholas fandos
You guys going to hang here?
michael barbaro
Yeah.
rachel quester
O.K. Should we go to break there?
michael barbaro
That was the idea.
clare toeniskoetter
See ya!
michael barbaro
O.K. So Wednesday.
nicholas fandos
Wednesday. Another day, another diplomat. This time, it’s a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who quit the State Department last week, reportedly because he was so frustrated by the very things that we’re talking about. He tried to raise alarms by that and didn’t get a response. And he was so fed up, he said he quit. So it’s clear after three days of testimony that we’re starting to see the diplomatic and foreign policy core, the expertise, the professional class that handles American foreign policy through Democratic and Republican administrations, basically coming one by one to tell a remarkably consistent story about how, in ways that they were uncomfortable with and they had not seen before, they were getting pushed aside. And the policy that was being executed in their place — they would say it’s not even a policy — but the actions in their place, basically, rather than, to put it in their words, the policy serving the well-being of the Ukrainians and the United States, it was serving the well-being of the president of the United States. And that was about it.
michael barbaro
But how exactly is that the basis of an impeachment inquiry?
nicholas fandos
So it’s not the fact that they were pushed aside that they see as so problematic. They’re telling a story about what happened once they were pushed aside. They think that’s created a set of conditions that led to these events that are at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. And that’s really what investigators are trying to get to the bottom of. And now, they’ve been able to establish how the circumstances, or the scene, was set for those things to happen by these current and former diplomats. But they still have more investigative work to flesh that out. ^CLARE TOENISKOETTER^ O.K., we’re walking up.
speaker
All right. So I’m going to just watch for —
nicholas fandos
If that’s O.K.
speaker
Yeah, yeah.
nicholas fandos
So in the middle of all this on Wednesday, I meet up with my colleague, Sheryl Stolberg.
nicholas fandos
Yeah, we’ll probably go to one of those tables.
sheryl gay stolberg
You think it’ll be a standing interview?
nicholas fandos
I hope not. But, you know, a guy’s got to get his steps in.
nicholas fandos
And we’re going to go upstairs into the Capitol to interview Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman who chairs the Intelligence Committee and is the man at the center of all these hearings leading the impeachment investigation. We had been hoping to sit down with Schiff in his office and have a kind of quieter, more reflective meeting. But indicative of the way things are in the middle of this inquiry, his staff asked, instead, if we could meet in a reception room.
sheryl gay stolberg
Let’s take this corner.
nicholas fandos
Right off the floor of the Capitol, where there were different meet-and-greets going on, and constituents were meeting with their members of Congress. And the room was buzzing and lively. And we staked out a corner where we could talk to Congressman Schiff.
adam schiff
How are you doing?
nicholas fandos
How are you?
adam schiff
Good.
nicholas fandos
Here, and Sheryl’s over here too.
sheryl gay stolberg
Hi!
adam schiff
Hi, how are you?
nicholas fandos
And we were able to put to him some, kind of, key questions about what we thought was going on to see how he sees it.
sheryl gay stolberg
You know, the president talks a lot about the deep state. Does it strike you that this is exactly what he fears, or what he thinks of as the deep state?
adam schiff
You know, the deep state theory used to be a fringe theory in third-world countries or kooky conspiracy theorists at home. When the president talks about the deep state, what he’s really talking about is, in particular, people that expose his wrongdoing and misconduct.
nicholas fandos
At one point, we put the question to him of what he made of all these diplomats coming forward and telling this story.
adam schiff
This president feels he has a God-given right to abuse his office in any way he sees fit, to coerce foreign powers to do his political dirty work, that he should not suffer the indignity of having it exposed. And he has learned otherwise. It is going to be exposed, it has been exposed and it will continue to be exposed.
sheryl gay stolberg
So this is the revolt of the so-called deep state.
adam schiff
You know, there’s no revolt, and there’s no deep state.
sheryl gay stolberg
I’m being —
nicholas fandos
He quibbled a little bit with the wording that Sheryl used. But he basically said, I agree with the premise of the question.
adam schiff
I think it’s a very serious attack on career public servants who are unwilling to compromise themselves in the president’s service. This has to be the last question because I’ve got to go vote on the last vote.
sheryl gay stolberg
I have two more real quickies. Do you have enough evidence to impeach?
adam schiff
I’ve got to go vote.
sheryl gay stolberg
Can he come back or is that it?
nicholas fandos
I can ask.
michael barbaro
So another busy day. Where is your head as Wednesday comes to an end?
nicholas fandos
So by the end of Wednesday, it just feels inescapable that this is all building, at least this week, towards Gordon Sondland coming in himself on Thursday and giving his account of what happened, of facing questions about these various accusations and accounts that investigators have been getting all week. And figuring out, how does he explain this stuff? How does he view what was going on? And we left the Capitol Wednesday evening waiting to see exactly what he was going to say.
michael barbaro
Right. Like, if this is a play, the character that everyone’s been talking about for the last 90 minutes eventually has to come onstage and say something.
nicholas fandos
That’s right. Except for, in this case, the stage is behind closed doors. And saying something, it turns out, amounts to releasing an 18-page opening statement Thursday morning right before he begins to answer questions.
nicholas fandos
Hello.
michael barbaro
Hi.
nicholas fandos
Welcome.
michael barbaro
Very nice to see you.
nicholas fandos
Very nice to see you.
michael barbaro
So that’s how Thursday morning begins. I walk into the Capitol with Rachel and Clare just as, it seems, you are digesting Gordon Sondland’s opening statements.
nicholas fandos
And my morning was basically spent trying to go through 18 pages of what he was going to go in there and say.
nicholas fandos
We received a copy of his opening statement. And Mike Schmidt, our colleague, and I pored through it to try and figure out, what’s new here? What’s he addressing? What does he have to say? And a couple of things jumped out at us. He basically says, in a meeting that he had with President Trump in May, not long after the new Ukrainian president is elected, President Trump basically rejected Sondland’s advice and the advice of other diplomats that were with him who said, you know, Mr. President, we think you ought to meet with this new guy. We think he’s going to do good work. Trump didn’t seem interested, and then directed them, Sondland said, to go through Rudy Giuliani, to go through his private lawyer.
michael barbaro
On Ukraine foreign policy.
nicholas fandos
He gave Sondland, his ambassador to the European Union, and other high-ranking officials in the room the direct impression that he had empowered Rudy Giuliani to basically run American policy toward Ukraine.
michael barbaro
Wow.
nicholas fandos
I mean, all week we’d been hearing these career nonpartisan diplomats coming in and pointing at Gordon Sondland. And here you have Gordon Sondland turning around just as quickly and pointing at the president and Rudy Giuliani and saying, everything I did, I did because they told me to. And I didn’t always feel good about it. I don’t think Rudy Giuliani should have been involved. I think the men and women of the State Department ought to be running our foreign policy, he testified. But I have to follow the directions of the president. And I thought, more or less, that I could work within those parameters to still achieve an end that I believed in, to still help Ukraine. And he said something interesting. He says, I didn’t realize at first. It was only later that I realized that Rudy Giuliani may have had some other motivations in mind. As if all of this is not enough, one of the president’s loyal diplomats seeming to turn on him and point the finger back at him.
michael barbaro
Hello.
michael shear
How are you?
michael barbaro
Mr. Shear.
michael shear
Good to see you.
nicholas fandos
My colleague Mike Shear walks up.
michael barbaro
I’m just going to say, any email that starts with, “This will be interesting,” I want to read the rest of.
michael shear
Mick Mulvaney is about to give a press briefing.
nicholas fandos
Oh, jeez.
nicholas fandos
And says, hey, the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who never addresses the press, has just scheduled a 12:30 press conference at the White House. He’s going to talk to reporters. And we think he’s going to talk about Ukraine.
michael shear
But, I mean, he should get a lot of questions about this stuff, about impeachment. I mean, he’s going to the White House press briefing room.
nicholas fandos
So Mike and I go back to a press room just outside the SCIF and set up shop around his computer, where we tune into this press conference.
michael barbaro
Mm-hmm.
rachel quester
(WHISPERING) What’s happening?
michael barbaro
We’re with Nick Fandos and Mike Shear watching Mulvaney.
nicholas fandos
And after addressing some unrelated topics at the beginning, he starts to field questions. And it gets crazy really fast.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the D.N.C. server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it. And that’s why we held up the money.
nicholas fandos
After this week of slow drip disclosures, and after weeks of the White House denying that there had been any kind of leverage, or quid pro quo, or exchange with the Ukrainians around the suspension of security aid for the country, he comes out and basically says — he does say, on the record, that —
archived recording
So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered to withhold funding to the Ukraine?
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. Then that is absolutely appropriate.
nicholas fandos
The White House withheld the aid for several reasons. And one of those reasons was President Trump wanted Ukraine to first commit to investigating potential collusion between Ukrainians and Democrats in the 2016 election that was meant to undermine his campaign. And on top of it, Mulvaney says, yep, this was the deal.
archived recording
Let’s be clear. What you’ve just described is a quid pro quo.
nicholas fandos
Reporters quickly call it a quid pro quo.
archived recording
It is — funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
We do that all the time with foreign policy.
nicholas fandos
And he said, that’s fine. It happens all the time. There’s nothing wrong with it.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
If you read the news reports, and you believe them — what did McKinney say yesterday? Well, McKinney said yesterday that he was really upset with the political influence in foreign policy, that was one of the reasons he was so upset about this. And I have news for everybody, get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.
michael barbaro
I mean, that’s an extraordinary thing for the White House chief of staff to say.
nicholas fandos
It is. And he goes a little bit further. He’s asked about Rudy Giuliani and his role. And his defense, again, is essentially that the president of the United States gets to dictate foreign policy. And if he wants his personal lawyer — a guy who he’s not paying, a guy who’s doing business, by the way, in Ukraine at the same time he’s evidently doing diplomacy — to run American foreign policy, well, that’s his prerogative. Elections have consequences. And that’s O.K. There’s nothing wrong with it.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
Elections do have consequences. And they should. And your foreign policy is going to change. Obama did it in one way, we’re doing it in a different way. And there’s no problem with that.
nicholas fandos
It’s a pretty stunning assertion. A pretty stunning view of executive power. It suggests the White House has not been telling the whole truth up till today.
michael barbaro
And then decided to tell it in a kind of extreme, unexpected way.
nicholas fandos
Right. It’s a little baffling to understand what exactly Mick Mulvaney was doing here.
archived recording (mick mulvaney)
I’m not going to take anymore. It’s nice to see everybody. Thanks again.
nicholas fandos
All right, so we should — we should get on the phone.
mike shear
What the hell just happened?
michael barbaro
Why don’t you take some time to figure out what this all means?
nicholas fandos
There’s also probably about to be a House vote, where we may need to go and see if we can’t get some quick reaction.
nicholas fandos
You know, it was pretty evident in the hour or so after that press conference that lawmakers on Capitol Hill didn’t quite know what to make of it either.
recording^
Today, the chief of staff said what we’ve always just talked about. It was also about exonerating Russia and looking at the 2016 election.
nicholas fandos
Some said, well, they just admitted to the whole thing, I suppose. So what do we do now? Others, Adam Schiff said —
archived recording (adam schiff)
It certainly indicates that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse.
nicholas fandos
A story that’s very, very bad just got much, much worse.
michael barbaro
Well, to the extent, Nick, that it’s knowable, what do you make of why the White House decided to do this? It’s kind of hard to understand.
nicholas fandos
It is. We don’t know if Mulvaney was acting on his own authority, who had put him out there. The president’s legal team, one of his other lawyers who’s not Rudy Giuliani, said he hadn’t been consulted before Mulvaney went out there. You know, there has been a move that President Trump returns to time and again in his presidency. And part of me wonders if this isn’t the same thing, where, when he’s being accused of something bad, of having done something under the table or that would be deemed inappropriate for others, instead of pretending he didn’t, he just kind of throws it all out into the open and says, you know, yeah, I did this. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. So what? Tell me it’s wrong. And I think at the end of this week, one of the biggest questions that I think emerges from all this stuff is that it’s now up to Congress, not just Democrats, but Republicans, too, to answer that question and say, is this right, or is this wrong? If he’s going to own up to most of it, and assuming that more officials come forward and fill in different pieces of this story as we’re coming to understand it, you know, can they stomach that? And is that a transgression that they’re willing to say is worthy of impeachment and worthy of his removal from office? I mean, it’s kind of on the president’s part, potentially, the ultimate high-stakes bluff, and I don’t think we know yet where things are going to fall out.
[music]
nicholas fandos
I think what we’re left with at the end of this week is, like, a question. Is this a story of a bunch of career diplomats, who have never really much liked President Trump or his policies, rebelling against him? And I don’t think that they really see it that way. From their perspective, you know, they’re used to having policy differences with presidents of both parties. They’re trained to implement the policies of Republicans and of Democrats. What I think is different, what is leading otherwise anonymous officials to blow the whistle, to march up to Capitol Hill and walk down all those flights of steps to the House SCIF and tell the story as they see it, is that they see this as something fundamentally different, and, importantly, as a part of their responsibility as permanent agents of the government, of people who are working on behalf of the American people, not a particular president, and that only when things seem to get so bad did they decide they needed to speak up.
michael barbaro
Nick, thank you for essentially giving us your entire week. We appreciate it.
nicholas fandos
It was a pleasure to have the company.
michael barbaro
It can get lonely in front of a SCIF, I imagine. Anyway, thank you, truly.
nicholas fandos
Yeah, I’m glad you guys were here. It’s been quite a story.
michael barbaro
The rest — so on Thursday night, there was a huge bipartisan outcry, and the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, tries to walk back his comments about a quid pro quo with Ukraine. He issues a statement essentially denying what he has said just a few hours earlier. And I’m going to read you the quote. He said, “Let me be clear. There was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election.” We’ll be right back.
sheryl gay stolberg
How does it sound?
michael barbaro
It sounds pretty good.
sheryl gay stolberg
Sound O.K.?
michael barbaro
I’ve never actually produced a bit of — any audio on my own. So this is a bit of an experiment.
sheryl gay stolberg
O.K., great.
michael barbaro
And I think this is definitely the first time we have done the headlines of “The Daily” inside the Senate press gallery. So Sheryl Stolberg — oh, I think, I’m supposed to hold this to my own mouth.
michael barbaro
So Sheryl, what do we need to know today?
sheryl gay stolberg
So it was a really busy news day.
archived recording (mike pence)
Today, I’m proud to report, thanks to the strong leadership of President Donald Trump and the strong relationship between President Erdogan in Turkey and the United States of America that today, the United States and Turkey have agreed to a cease-fire in Syria.
sheryl gay stolberg
Vice President Pence flew to Turkey, and on Thursday afternoon, he announced that Turkey had agreed to a cease-fire in which the Turkish government would suspend its military operations in northern Syria for five days in order to give the Kurds time to clear the area. So that raises the question, is this a breakthrough, or is this just giving Turkey what it wants in the first place, because they wanted the Kurds out?
michael barbaro
What else?
archived recording
Will you support this deal? What do you think of it?
archived recording (jeremy corbyn)
Well, from what we’ve read of this deal, it doesn’t meet our demands or our expectations.
sheryl gay stolberg
There’s finally a deal for Brexit that the European Union and Britain both think will work. But it’s not clear if it’s going to pass, because it has to go through Parliament, and the Labour Party has already said it’s opposed.
archived recording (jeremy corbyn)
We are unhappy with this deal, and as it stands, we’ll vote against it.
sheryl gay stolberg
And finally, on Thursday, it was a sad day here in the Capitol, because Representative Elijah Cummings, a towering figure in the House, died. Cummings was a son of sharecroppers. His own presence here was really a miracle to him.
archived recording (elijah cummings)
My father had never been in the Capitol building. He said, isn’t this the place where they used to call us slaves? I said, yes sir. And isn’t this the place they used to call us three-fifths of a man? I said, yes, sir. And isn’t this the place that they used to call us chattel? I say, yes, yes, yes, sir. And I’ll never forget, he said, when I think about you being sworn in today, he said, now I see what I could have been if I had had an opportunity.
sheryl gay stolberg
And over the last year, as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he had been a central figure in the investigations of the president, and in his role in these investigations, he continually pleaded for decency.
archived recording (elijah cummings)
We are better than this. We are so much — we really are. As a country, we are so much better than this. And I’m hoping that all of us can get back to this democracy that we want and that we should be passing on to our children so that they can do better than what we did.
michael barbaro
Sheryl, thank you.
sheryl gay stolberg
Thank you, Michael.
clare toeniskoetter
We’re walking out?
^michael barbaro^: 9
45 p.m. We appear to be the last journalists inside the U.S. Capitol. Feels like a good time to talk about who made the shows this week. “The Daily” is made by Theo Balcomb, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson. Walking and doing credits at the same time?

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Members of the American diplomatic corps testified about the state of U.S. foreign policy in private hearings on Capitol Hill this week. According to our national political correspondent, their testimonies revealed “a remarkably consistent story” about the ways in which career diplomats have been sidelined to make room for Trump administration officials. The conduct of those officials, and the nature of the directives they received, is at the center of the House impeachment investigation.

We look back at a week inside the U.S. Capitol as that inquiry enters a pivotal phase.

On today’s episode:

Image

CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

Background coverage:

  • Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told impeachment investigators on Thursday that President Trump delegated Ukraine policy to his personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani.

  • Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, threw Washington into turmoil on Thursday when he first confirmed, then retracted, that Mr. Trump had withheld military aid to pressure Ukraine.

Video

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The acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters that military aid was held back in part to prod Ukraine to investigate Democrats, undercutting President Trump’s denial of a quid pro quo.CreditCreditLeigh Vogel for The New York Times

Nick Fandos and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.

“The Daily” is made by Theo Balcomb, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson, Wendy Dorr, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Alexandra Leigh Young, Jonathan Wolfe, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, Adizah Eghan, Kelly Prime, Julia Longoria, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, Jazmín Aguilera, M.J. Davis Lin, Dan Powell, Austin Mitchell, Sayre Quevedo and Monika Evstatieva. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Mikayla Bouchard, Stella Tan, Julia Simon and Lauren Jackson.

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