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Sen. Murphy: Trump’s Ukraine call underscores need for House impeachment inquiry

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., says the memo summarizing the conversation between President Trump and the president of Ukraine is "absolutely devastating" and "underscores the need for the [impeachment] inquiry the House began yesterday." Murphy, who this month met with Ukraine's leader, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he doesn't believe Trump was just trying to clean up corruption.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the U.S. lawmaker who has been visiting Ukraine for the past six years, and earlier this month met there with its new president, Zelensky.

    I spoke earlier today with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat, who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    Senator Murphy, thank you very much for joining us.

    Given your longtime knowledge, familiarity with Ukraine, what is your reaction to this memo we are now seeing of the conversation between President Trump and the president of Ukraine in July?

  • Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.:

    It's absolutely devastating.

    Within moments of Zelensky asking the president for more help for increased weaponry to fight Russia, the president asks Zelensky to investigate one of the president's political opponents, Joe Biden, and makes some vague suggestion that President — that Vice President Biden was bragging about getting a prosecutor — or stopping a prosecution in Ukraine, which is fundamentally not true.

    There's no way to come away from that phone call without the impression that a priority of the president's is to take part in his political campaign for reelection in the United States.

    And, of course, this phone call doesn't stand on its own. Rudy Giuliani's name is brought up several times. And we know that Giuliani and perhaps others were repeatedly trying to get the Ukrainians to open up these investigations to politically destroy one of the president's rivals.

    I don't think we have ever seen anything like it. You are not allowed to trade away the credibility of the United States in order to score political points or destroy your political rivals.

    And I think it underscores the need for the inquiry the House began yesterday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, as you know, though, the White House is saying this is just an effort, an open effort by President Trump to encourage the Ukrainians to clean up corruption in their — in their government.

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    Well, that would be made more credible if the president had mentioned any other corruption investigation over the course of that call.

    There are, you know, likely dozens of different corruption matters that the president could have pressed the Ukrainians on, if his actual concern was cleaning up corruption in Ukraine. He only mentioned one, and it happened to be requesting an investigation, which is not presently happening, against his likely 2020 campaign opponent.

    Second, if he was really interested in corruption, he would have told Zelensky to talk to the embassy. He didn't. He told Zelensky to talk to Rudy Giuliani, who is the president's political fixer, who is a representative of the president's campaign, who is not in charge of rooting out anti-corruption in Ukraine.

    That's the duty of the U.S. Embassy. So the president gave away his priority in the context of this call. He was trying to enlist Zelensky in his political operation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, if you read the memo, it comes across as if President Zelensky is agreeing to do what President Trump asked him to do.

    He sounds like he's agreeing to work with Rudy Giuliani and to work with the attorney general, Barr.

    What do you make of that? You — you have met with President Zelensky.

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    I have met with President Zelensky, and I raised this general issue with him. At the time, I didn't know that the president himself had made these demands of Zelensky. I did know at the time that Giuliani had made certain demands.

    The president, in my meeting with him, President Zelensky, said he had no interest in getting involved in a U.S. election. I think you can perhaps understand, a novice politician, a new president who has never done this before is attempting to, you know, set a good relationship with a U.S. president, who is clearly making requests that are out of bounds.

    And so, yes, you read that transcript, and it looks as if Zelensky has an interest in doing business with Trump. It's possible he was trying to get out of that phone call without a confrontation.

    We don't have any evidence that Zelensky actually went and ordered that prosecution. In fact, it appears that he didn't, that the new prosecutor that he brought in has made a decision that there's no merit to pursuing this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    Senator, we know that you and other Democrats have been calling on the whistle-blower in this case, others in the intelligence community to step forward to testify before Congress.

    We now know that the acting director of national intelligence is going to testify tomorrow morning before the House Intelligence Committee. What would you want to know from him?

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    Well, I mean, I'm concerned that this information is only going to flow to the members of the Intelligence Committee. I have got to go back and check the statute. But I just saw the revelation that the whistle-blower complaint will be presented to the Intelligence Committee.

    Remember, that's only a hand full of senators. And, ultimately, if this is the subject of an impeachment inquiry, then everyone who is going to vote on impeachment either in the House or the Senate needs to see this whistle-blower complaint.

    So that's the first threshold we need to cross. But then, of course, on substance, I don't know anything that's in this complaint. So it may have to do with Ukraine. It may have to do with Russia. That's why all of us need to see this as soon as possible, not just the Intelligence Committee.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee, thank you, Senator.

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    Thanks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    After that conversation, in a press conference, President Trump accused Senator Murphy of threatening Ukraine's leader with revoking Democratic support in Congress.

    It was one of several unsubstantiated claims made by Mr. Trump today.

    Senator Murphy's office then sent us this statement — quote — "In the meeting Republican Senator Ron Johnson and I had with President Zelensky three weeks ago, I made it clear to him that Ukraine should not become involved in the 2020 election, and that his government should communicate with the State Department, not the president's campaign. I still believe this to be true."

    And now to take a closer look at the memorandum released by the White House of the phone conversation between President Trump and Ukraine's President Zelensky, I'm joined by Larry Pfeiffer, former senior director of the White House Situation Room during the Obama administration and chief of staff to the director of the CIA during the Bush administration.

    He's currently serving as the director of George Mason University's Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy and International Security.

    Larry Pfeiffer, thank you very much for being here.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Thank you very much for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, as somebody who has worked in the White House, in the Situation Room, sat in on a number of phone calls between the president of the United States, leaders of other countries, how normally would a whistle-blower complaint be handled around something like this?

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Oh, gosh, I don't know if there's a normal — a normal really here.

    We have phone conversations that are being transcribed. Then a memorandum is being written to capture that transcript. It can be something as explicit as what we saw today, or it could be something summarizing the conversation.

    So the transcript today, you know, clearly was pretty explicit in what the president was saying. And at one level, you have to applaud the president for putting this very explicit document out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, in your experience in — well, let me just back up for just a second.

    In recording — it's not recorded. There's no audio recording of these conversations.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So there are individuals there taking notes…

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … a®MDNM¯s fast as they can on this conversation.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Yes, they're actually listening to the conversation live, and they're typing furiously on their computers, trying to capture every single word and nuance of the conversation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then what is done with that?

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    So, we have three individuals. They work up three separate transcripts. They then get together and reconcile them into a unified draft.

    That is then provided by the Situation Room to the NSC directorate responsible for the call. In this case, it would have been Europe. And an NSC senior director or director would review that, apply some expertise to perhaps correcting some of the material.

    And then they would ultimately decide in what format that final memo would be. Would it be an explicit transcript or would it be more of a summation? In this case, it looks like they went with the verbatim transcript.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And — clearly. But, again, it wasn't recorded. It was their…

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    No, no, not recorded.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was whatever their notes were.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But how many people, roughly — obviously, things are done differently from one administration to the next.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Sure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Roughly, how many people ultimately would have access to that document?

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    So, the document itself, there would be the individuals in the Situation Room. There would be the folks in the directorate. That could be anywhere from one to three or four people in the directorate.

    That memo is then provided to the national security adviser's front office under normal situations. So, there could be a few people there. And then it is provided to the executive secretary of the National Security Council for filing and distribution, so, again, another couple of people.

    And then, depending upon where it is distributed, there could be another handful more people as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then, wearing your hat as someone in that — who has worked in the intelligence community — and we have talked about your experience working in a White House — if — one of those individuals either had to — is the whistle-blower himself or herself or shared that information with someone who has now seen this and decided it was concerning enough to bring it forward.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Right. Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you were just saying a moment ago this is not a normal thing, clearly.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    No, not — I mean, to see something so egregious that one would put his career on the line to do a whistle-blower complaint suggests to me that they have more than just one phone call, and they have some fairly compelling information to provide.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, that's the information that has been — that has been reported out.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are just now starting to see reaction from members of Congress who have seen — and our Lisa Desjardins mentioned that — who have seen what the whistle-blower complaint is.

    And some of them are saying it's disturbing, including Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Right. I'm not surprised.

    I was fully anticipating that this whistle-blower complaint would be — would be more complete, more — would have more information that will ultimately require additional disclosures.

    Perhaps he reflects conversations that he participated — he or she participated in. Perhaps it reflects e-mails or other documents that relate to what was going on with the Ukraine problem.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just a very quick question based on your experience in the intelligence community.

    Is it — is it expected that the president, that the White House would know the identity of the whistle-blower?

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    No, the whistle-blower should be being protected by the I.C. inspector general and the intelligence community.

    So the president of the United States shouldn't know the whistle-blower's name, unless the whistle-blower decides they want their name to be disclosed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Larry Pfeiffer, director of the Hayden Center at George Mason University, thank you.

  • Larry Pfeiffer:

    Thank you very much, Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    After that conversation, in a press conference, President Trump accused Senator Murphy of threatening Ukraine's leader with revoking Democratic support in Congress.

    It was one of several unsubstantiated claims made by Mr. Trump today.

    Senator Murphy's office then sent us this statement — quote — "In the meeting Republican Senator Ron Johnson and I had with President Zelensky three weeks ago, I made it clear to him that Ukraine should not become involved in the 2020 election, and that his government should communicate with the State Department, not the president's campaign. I still believe this to be true."

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