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Experts analyze the testimonies of career diplomats William Taylor and George Kent

For a variety of reactions to the first day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, Judy Woodruff speaks with Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor general under President Clinton; C. Boyden Gray, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union under President George W. Bush; Mieke Eoyang of Third Way National Security Program; and Michael Allen of Beacon Global Strategies.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now two people who were here with me all day for our live coverage of the hearings.

    They are Mieke Eoyang. She's a former top staffer for Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, and Michael Allen, former House Intelligence Committee staff director under Republican leadership.

    Also with us here in the studio, C. Boyden Gray, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union under President George W. Bush and White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush, and, from Raleigh, North Carolina, Walter Dellinger, former acting U.S. solicitor general and head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Clinton.

    Hello to all of you. So much to consider.

    We have had hours and hours of testimony today.

    Boyden Gray, I'm going to start with you, because you served in the White House and, as we said, you served as ambassador to the European Union.

    What did you primarily take away from all this testimony?

  • C. Boyden Gray:

    What I primarily took away from it is, the two witnesses who appeared are very solid citizens, the best, you know, in the Foreign Service, although I guess Taylor's not a Foreign Service officer.

    I took away that they're solid people, but they didn't break through the big problems the Democrats have, which is the aid went through and no request was made for an investigation. So what is the transaction that is under investigation? What is the so-called high crime?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Walter Dellinger, what about that?

    As someone who's watched the American — got to get you on the right camera over here.

    As someone who's watched the American legal process for as long as you have, did they make the case? Did they not make the case? What did you hear?

  • Walter Dellinger:

    Well, I certainly they made the case.

    And in response to Boyden Gray's point that the aid actually went without any investigation, the aid went because they were caught, the whistle was blown, Congress was going to investigate, and they hastened to release the aid.

    But I think, Judy, the big picture is here, like in Watergate, what we have is a president attempting to use the powers of his office to improperly influence the outcome of the next presidential election.

    Both of the demands made on the Ukrainians, first to, in effect, cast some aspersions on Biden, who was the leading candidate against the president at that time, and the fact that he wants to gin up blaming Ukrainians for interfering in the 2016 election, which is a way of excusing what Vladimir Putin did — and there's no Russian hoax.

    What — Mueller repeats what every agency of government agreed to, that there was a systematic and vast interference, sweeping interference in the election in 2016. The president has encouraged that kind of interference.

    And in the Ukraine example, it's sort of like the Watergate break-in, is the one instance where we — of a larger project, which is to undermine the next presidential election, made worse here by the use of a foreign power.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we are — so we're hearing two quite different interpretations.

    Michael Allen, to you, first. You served on the committee, on the Intelligence Committee, for a number of years, as we said, staff director.

    Did you hear today something that materially changed the scales in this argument?

  • Michael Allen:

    So, not yet. We have a long way to go, obviously.

    The thing I was looking for most today was, were the Democrats able to lay out a crime, in other words, to answer the question, why are we here?

    And so the crime here in this case would be, did the president convince — were they convinced that the president conditioned aid? And then they need to answer the question, does it matter? Was U.S. national security hurt?

    And I think here is where you saw the Republicans advance a series of arguments which are basically that the aid was delayed, it wasn't withheld, no investigation occurred, like the president allegedly asked for, and nor were there any ensuing statements that came out insinuating that Vice President Biden had done anything wrong.

    So we have a long way to go, but I don't think the Democrats have gotten over the hurdles that they need to establish.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mieke Eoyang, same question to you.

    Did what we hear today change our understanding of what it is that the Democrats say the president did?

  • Mieke Eoyang:

    I think a lot of the facts that we heard today were already in the public domain. The basic outlines of this inquiry have been out since the president released the call record earlier.

    So we have known for a long time that the president was bringing pressure to bear against Ukraine for these investigations into the 2016 election and Biden.

    And what we heard today was really important context-setting of what U.S. national security policy is, why anti-corruption efforts were so important, and why Ukraine was so interested in maintaining U.S. aid, and so why it was so — such a divergence to see this attempt to push Ukraine into these other investigations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because you're saying it was so different from what had been done previously?

  • Mieke Eoyang:

    Exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I mean, we went so far — Boyden Gray, back to you.

    We heard Congresswoman Speier say, you know, more and more, she said there's evidence of bribery, if you look at what the president did. Did you see — did that come through to you?

  • C. Boyden Gray:

    Didn't come through to me because, I'm now repeating, it doesn't to me make any difference exactly why the aid went through.

    I mean, I think there are a lot of different reasons. They were running out of time. They had to do it because of September 30 was a drop-dead day. But, no, the aid went through. There was no — there was no transaction there, and there wasn't any request for hearings or an investigation.

    So what happened? A lot of confusion, a lot of talk. I hate to say this about any president, but this particular president is not known for his consistency. And he's changes his mind many, many times on many, many issues.

    The question is, what actually happened? And what actually happened was nothing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mieke Eoyang, can we say there's just enough lack of clarity in all of this that, in the end, the White House, Republicans can argue — you know, and again, the aid flowed in the end?

  • Mieke Eoyang:

    Right.

    I think that one of the fundamental mistakes the Republicans are making is insisting the aid has to have flown, that it had to be a completed contract here.

    When we're talking about a government initial making a demand that's not in an official government act, that's not in our national — it's not in the national interests, it's not a part of their official duties, but is a personal benefit, the request itself can be a crime, right?

    The request itself is problematic. And, here, people talk a lot about bribery. In the Constitution, impeachment is one of the listed crimes. There was a broader understanding of bribery then. It was about self-enrichment and self-benefit then.

    And when we talk about this, I think there are lot of people who think, this is more like a crime of extortion, where pressure is being brought to bear on someone who is unwilling to do something they don't want to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see this?

  • Michael Allen:

    The question is — and I think you're on to something. The question is, is it a high crime or misdemeanor deserving of negating a presidential election and removing a president?

    That's the thing we all have to confront as a country. That's what the Democrats are trying to do by laying out their case over this series of weeks. Today is only the first day.

    I don't think they were able to hit the mark, but it's very, very early. But it is a tremendously high bar. And that's the way the founders intended it to be.

    And so I think we're going to have to wait and see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Boyden Gray, this came up in my conversation with Jackie Speier.

    The fact that the White House is not willing to allow most of the administration officials to testify — some of them are testifying under subpoena. But the fact that they haven't wanted to cooperate with this investigation, does that affect how we should understand what we're hearing?

  • C. Boyden Gray:

    I think it's up to the individual member of the House and Senate, at the end of the day, obviously.

    But, no, I don't think it makes any difference. I think the key is that nothing happened.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nothing happened, meaning?

  • C. Boyden Gray:

    There was no transaction. There was no request for hearings. There were no hearings. There was no holdup of aid. The aid went through. There was no harm done, no harm, no foul.

    It was — sure, was it messy? Well, when you go into a separate channel in foreign policy, which every president's done and every president in the future will do, you run the risk of confusion and mixed signals.

    And I think that's what happened here, but nothing, in the end, actually ever happened.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Walter Dellinger, I'm going to come back to you now on this point, but also, again, another point that was raised when I spoke with the two members of Congress.

    And that is, in that conversation that the president had, President Trump had with the president of Ukraine, there wasn't a reference to corruption broadly. There was a reference to Joe Biden, to Joe Biden's son, and to the 2016 election.

    How much of a difference does that distinction make?

  • Walter Dellinger:

    I think it makes a huge difference, because what we have here is a president that seems intent on using the powers of his office in order to sabotage the next presidential election.

    And what you will see, this is a president who has shown no interest in corruption anywhere in the world, home or abroad. What he wanted was to use $4$400 million of military aid as a leverage to get this particular government to facilitate his election campaign by harming what seemed to be his strongest opponent.

    He has encouraged the Chinese. He has encouraged the Russians. And he has given the Russians a green light for their massive involvement in the next presidential election.

    That's why I think it was imperative for Congress to act.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mieke Eoyang, we pointed this out, I think, earlier in the day, but it — typically, in an impeachment process, not that there have been that many — this is only the fourth one — it's the Judiciary Committee that is involved.

    It is unusual to have the Intelligence Committee of the House involved. How awkward is it? How — I mean, it's precedent-breaking. How does Intelligence fit in to this story?

  • Mieke Eoyang:

    Yes, I think that it is very precedent-breaking, in part because, when you look at the two most recent impeachments in the modern era, what you have is a statutory independent counsel who did the investigations that the House has to do itself now, because there's no way that they could get an independent counsel passed and signed by this president.

    So you have the Intelligence Committee conducting this investigation, in part because the issues arose in the Intelligence Committee through this whistle-blower, in part because it's foreign policy issues, but also, in part, because Chairman Schiff is one of the best investigators in the House, and he's a very careful and thoughtful prosecutor.

    So when the speaker looks at who her choices are, he made the most sense.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Michael Allen, how does this come down for you?

  • Michael Allen:

    This is a really big mistake to have invested our old committee with impeachment. The Intelligence…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A big mistake?

  • Michael Allen:

    A big mistake.

    The Intelligence Committees were founded after some intelligence abuses in the late '70s to be an oasis of bipartisanship, to oversee the sensitive, the most sensitive activities of the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI.

    And to all of a sudden to vest with them the most partisan of exercises that the U.S. House of Representatives can go through, I think, is doing damage to what should be a place where people get along.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Walter Dellinger, we did hear Congressman Doug Collins, who is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which will handle, if this process — assuming it goes forward, it goes next to the House Judiciary Committee.

    He was saying, none of the rules that we would normally observe have been followed here.

    He namely was referring to, he said, the rules of evidence. We haven't been able to examine the evidence going into this. How much will that matter?

  • Walter Dellinger:

    You know, I think that it's a big mistake to assume that we're looking for the particularities of a crime or that we're following the federal rules of evidence.

    What we have is, I think, fairness. All sides had a chance to question the witnesses today. And I think we're just — those discussions are just avoiding the central question of whether we have a president who is willing to use his leverage over foreign governments in a way to distort the next presidential election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is the first of a number of days in this process.

    And we want to thank all four of you for being with us.

    Walter Dellinger, joining us from North Carolina, Boyden Gray here in Washington, Michael Allen, Mieke Eoyang, thank you all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And please do join us on Friday.

    As we said, today was just the first day, but, on Friday, starting at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, we will have live special coverage of the next impeachment hearing with the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

    She was fired by President Trump, Marie Yovanovitch. She will be at the witness table then.

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