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Under pressure to defend Trump, GOP lawmakers decry House impeachment inquiry

In the impeachment inquiry roiling Washington, Republican lawmakers are attacking the way their Democratic counterparts are handling critical interviews. Complaints escalated following testimony from the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine that directly links President Trump to withholding military aid to Ukraine for political favors. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Taking on the impeachment process, more Republican lawmakers are speaking up against how the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives is being conducted.

    This follows testimony from the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, who, on Tuesday, directly linked President Trump to the withholding of U.S. military aid in return for political favors.

    Here to report on where it all stands today, our own Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Lisa, I'm going to start with you.

    I know you were talking to a lot of folks on the Hill today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What are congressional Republicans saying as they push back against this impeachment inquiry? And do you get a sense of how much pressure they are feeling to defend the president?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's tremendous pressure.

    And what a difference a day makes, because we saw, I think, Republicans especially in the Senate yesterday struggling to understand that testimony of that top diplomat from Ukraine, Bill Taylor.

    Today, we heard the sound of a resounding defense of the president. Part of that came from a White House lunch that the president had with a few Republican senators, including Senator Lindsey Graham.

    At that lunch, Graham told us reporters at the Capitol today that the president said he feels in his bones this process is unfair. He wants, urges, demands Republicans push back.

    Here's how Lindsey Graham described where he is on the process.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    And when you're talking about the president of the United States, it seems to me you would want to have a process that is consistent with who we are as Americans and consistent with what Bill Clinton was allowed to do, Richard Nixon was allowed to do.

    And the process in the House today, I think, is a danger to the future of the presidency, because if you can drive down a president's poll numbers by having proceedings where you selectively leak information, where the president who is the subject of all of this is pretty much shut out, God help future presidents.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, he's saying quite a lot in that sound bite.

    Let me break it down quickly. When he's talking about Bill Clinton and President Nixon, what he is asking for in part is the chance to — basically, the president should be able to object to testimony, see the testimony against him, have his own counsel, his own witnesses.

    Now, Democrats say that's coming. They're saying this closed-door process so far is the initial investigation phase.

    Now, when Lindsey Graham talks about poll numbers and leaks, he's talking about the testimony that we have seen, the opening statements especially, from some witnesses.

    You know, Lindsey Graham admitted to me he's not exactly sure where it's coming from. He suspects House Democrats are putting that out there.

    But a bigger picture here, Judy, when I talk to House Democrats — or House Republicans in particular, they say they feel such pressure to fight for this president because their base is telling them they have to fight for this president.

    They have been told by statistics, this president is not just the one controlling the Republican message, he is the Republican message. So they have to storm committee hearing rooms to show they're behind this president. And one source told me today they think that isn't going far enough, that they want to tell their base they're fighting for the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, you're obviously talking to folks at the White House.

    Republicans on the Hill feeling pressure from their base, but clearly they're also getting signals from the White House?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the White House and President Trump are really pushing Republicans to defend him both privately and publicly.

    So, as Lisa mentioned, there was a lunch at the White House today. And the president was essentially walking Republicans through what he wants them to say about him. He wants them to say that, I did nothing wrong. He wants them to make sure that they're making it clear that he feels like the process is flawed.

    Mick Mulvaney also told lawmakers that the White House is trying the get its plan together on impeachment. So what you see is the White House trying to tell Republicans, we are going to eventually get handle on this and please bear with us while we do this.

    And then publicly the president has been making statements. On Monday, we saw the president really lash out at Republicans and say, you need to get stronger. The Democrats here have their stuff together. They're sticking together. And I'm having to deal with Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who is tweeting and going on TV, basically, really criticizing me, and that's not what I want to see. I want to see more people getting on TV and defending me.

    And then we saw the Republicans storm the Capitol and go into that secure facility and basically do exactly what the president says. That's what he saw as getting tougher and really the kind of loyalty that he's been seeking.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what are you hearing about the president's attitude toward all this? Anger? Frustration? I mean, where do they put it on a scale of whatever?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president is very, very angry about this impeachment inquiry.

    This issue of Ukraine has really been something that's stuck to this presidency and has been a headline for so long. The last couple — really, the last four to five weeks have been all filled with this.

    And we have seen this president kind of really go away from all sorts of scandal and controversy. And this one isn't going away in the same way.

    I also want to walk through kind of the president's own responses to this impeachment inquiry, because it's really something that's been something that we should be beholding. So let's look at what the president has said and what the White House has said.

    They said at first that there was no pressure applied to Ukraine on this call. Then they said aid was delayed to Ukraine, but that it wasn't about the investigations into the Bidens or into Joe Biden or Hunter Biden.

    They then said the aid was tied to the investigations of Democrats, but Ukrainians were unaware of that.

    And what we have seen is that the White House's responses have really been pushed back and have been proven to be untrue at least in time after time after time. We have seen, with the no-pressure campaign, we saw the call where he says, I need you do me favor, though. Joe Biden needs to really be investigated.

    They also said that the aid wasn't delayed because of the Bidens. We now — there have been multiple people at least that have come to Capitol Hill to say that aid was tied to the Bidens.

    And then you have the fact that they say Ukraine wasn't aware. And, in fact, there are multiple reports that say Ukraine knew as early as May that the president wanted them to try to really influence the 2020 election.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Lindsey Graham was asked about that today, saying the president — the White House has had multiple messages. And he said, you noticed that, huh?

    So, Republicans know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, getting back to the process, which is what the Republicans have been focused on, what do we know about how the normal, regular process is for these kinds of investigations compared to what's happening right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think is so important. There is so much spin right now.

    Let's look at what we know about these closed-door hearings that are going on right now. First of all, right now, Republicans on three committees — that's 47 different House Republicans — do have access to all of this testimony if they want.

    Now, that does include about a dozen of those members who protested yesterday. They didn't need to so-called storm the facility. They had access as it was.

    Now, most Republicans don't have access, but many do.

    Democrats say this is a regular practice. They point to a few things, Judy. Let's talk about the Benghazi investigation run by the House Oversight Committee under Republican Trey Gowdy. They also had closed-door hearings like this. And, in fact, they kicked out Republicans as well.

    Lindsey Graham is saying essentially this is higher stakes and I think this needs to go public sooner. He thinks this is a derailment of the impeachment process.

    But impeachment is how you define it. And Democrats say they are moving to a public kind of scenario soon, but the pressure, of course, to do that is mounting, and Republicans want to put that pressure on them.

    They also want to make this process look like a circus, which is one of the reasons they did that yesterday. Democrats are trying to make it look serious. So watch those two different dynamics.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two forces heading in each other's direction. We will see where this all ends up.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you both.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thanks.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    You're welcome.

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