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Why the House is moving so quickly on Trump impeachment inquiry

It has been a historic week for President Trump and Congress, with startling revelations about an intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint against the president ultimately leading to the launch of a House impeachment inquiry. Yamiche Alcindor reports on the whirlwind of events and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss who besides Trump might be involved and how fast the investigation is moving.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congress is headed home for a break tonight, leaving a White House besieged by impeachment revelations.

    The disclosures and President Trump's denials kept coming today, and the top Democrat in Congress kept up the pressure.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A historic week and, at the end of it, both sides sounding off.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summed up the situation from her point of view like this:

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    The impeachment of a president is as serious as our congressional responsibilities can be, apart from declaring war or something.

    And so we have to be very prayerful and we always have to put country before party. The clarity of the president's actions is compelling, and gave us no choice but to move forward.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On Monday, President Trump started the week in New York upbeat. He was looking forward to being on the world stage at the U.N. General Assembly. But that visit was quickly upended, when news broke of a whistle-blower complaint from the intelligence community against him.

    It focused on a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The complaint alleged that President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. And it accused the president of temporarily withholding military aid to force Ukraine to look into the younger Biden's business dealings in Ukraine.

    The whistle-blower didn't personally hear the phone call, but said multiple officials relayed the facts. Reports say the whistle-blower is an unidentified CIA officer. On Tuesday, Speaker Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry. She confirmed it would narrowly focus on that call.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    The president of the United States used taxpayer dollars to shake down the leader of another country for his own political gain.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Initially, White House officials blocked release of a transcript the call, as well as the whistle-blower complaint itself. But, by Wednesday, after both the House and Senate demanded the transcript, the White House gave in. It distributed a memo summarizing the call. It also sent the redacted whistle-blower complaint to Congress.

    And, yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee made the document public. Among the revelations, the whistle-blower accuses President Trump of — quote — "using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."

    The complaint also said senior White House officials intervened to — quote — "lock down" all records of the Ukraine phone call. And it alleged that — quote — "This was not the first time under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this code word-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive information."

    Today, reports surfaced that unnamed White House officials confirmed the attempt to lock down the Zelensky call. Minutes after the complaint was released on Thursday, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee.

  • Joseph Maguire:

    We consulted with the White House Counsel's Office, and we were advised that much of the information in the complaint was in fact subject to executive privilege, a privilege that I do not have the authority to waive.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, yesterday, during a private event at the U.S. mission to the U.N., President Trump lashed out at the whistle-blower and the whistle-blower's sources.

    Bloomberg News published video from the event.

  • President Donald Trump:

    That's close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days, when we were smart, right, with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, the president took to Twitter, saying it's — quote — "sounding more and more like the so-called whistle-blower isn't a whistle-blower at all."

    Back in Washington, House Democrats are forging ahead on their inquiry, even as they begin a two-week Columbus Day recess.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.:

    The president of the United States is threatening a whistle-blower's life. This is authoritarian behavior, and we have to recognize and see it for what it is.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But Republicans, by and large, are defending the president.

  • Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio:

    He had no firsthand knowledge, wasn't on the call, and the inspector general even told us that he had a bias against the president. And yet we're going to — the Democrats are going to move ahead with impeachment after reading that transcript? It's just ridiculous.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Speaker Pelosi said today there is no timeline for the inquiry, but the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said impeachment hearings could begin as early as next week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now with the latest.

    So, Yamiche, the Democrats getting more specific about who they want to come testify from the Trump administration. What are you learning about who all may be implicated in this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The whistle-blower's complaint focuses on President Trump, but, like the Mueller report, it also outlines a number of individuals that are either trying to mitigate President Trump's alleged actions or trying to help him.

    So I want to walk through some of the people mentioned in the complaint. There's Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer. The whistle-blower calls him — quote — "a central figure" in President Trump's alleged effort to pressure Ukraine.

    He's said to met in person with Ukrainian officials. There's also John Bolton. He's the former national security adviser. He is implemented because the National Security Council is being accused of trying to bury President Trump's call with the president of Ukraine in a computer system.

    There's also Attorney General William Barr. He's accused by the whistle-blower of being involved in pressuring Ukraine. And Trump talks about Barr on the call with president of Ukraine — the president of Ukraine.

    There's also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, because State Department officials are said to be on the call. And Rudy Giuliani also claims that the State Department called him and asked him to get involved in — with Ukraine.

    And then, lastly, there's Kurt Volker. He's a U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. And Gordon Sondland, he's the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Both of them are said to have given advice to Ukraine, basically saying, here's how you deal with President Trump's actions.

    So there's a lot of people involved here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, you were just reporting that Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House, is talking about maybe moving as quickly as next week.

    What are you learning about how the committee is going to move forward? There's so much to cover and they want to move quickly.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Democrats have said that they're going to move quickly with this impeachment inquiry expeditiously, they have said.

    And they're doing basically just that. The House Intelligence Committee is supposed to be going back to — basically coming back into D.C. on Friday and — early next week, at least — and having a hearing with the inspector general Michael Atkinson.

    He's supposed to be testifying behind closed doors about basically the handling of this call. Also, three House committees subpoenaed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for documents related to Ukraine. The House Intelligence Committee, the House Oversight Committee and the House Foreign Relations Committee are saying, you have until Friday to produce those documents.

    Also, NPR has surfaced an hat interview that happened in March where Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said that if the House voted to impeach President Trump, the Senate would have no choice but to hold a trial.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, so much going on.

    This has been — I mean, every week is high pressure at the White House. This one has been particularly so.

    How are they dealing with this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The White House is in full defense mode. And they're really trying to help — trying to get help from the Trump campaign with all of this.

    The president has been lashing out, but the Trump campaign is going to be launching millions of dollars in ads, both on Facebook and social media, but also in cable news outlets. And they're going to be basically making the case that the president is being unfairly targeted.

    The other thing to note is that there's going to be, in some ways, the spin that's going to continue to go on from the White House. And that's been in its — in their part, their defense of the president.

    It's also important to know that there are 300 former national security officials who released a letter. And I want to read part of that letter, because all of this is going on as people are basically sounding the alarm.

    In that letter, they say: "We consider the president's actions to be a profound national security concern." They also say: "There is no escaping that what we know already is serious enough to merit impeachment proceedings."

    So as the president is trying to essentially launch his impeachment defense, you have people that are — that have worked for both Democrats and Republicans who are pushing back on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And those ads you mentioned, the White House is saying they're going to run — that's going to start pretty quickly.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It's going to be the Trump campaign running the ads. But, yes, it's going to be pretty quickly. It's starting this weekend.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor, so much to keep track of. Thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks so much.

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