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News Brief: Impeachment Inquiry, Trade War, NATO Commitment


The transcripts keep on coming. More testimony from the closed-door impeachment inquiry is now public.


Yeah. The latest comes from George Kent, his deposition. He's a top State Department official working on Ukraine policy. And it backs up key details of the original whistleblower complaints. And with each transcript that comes out, congressional Republicans get pushed further back on their heels. Here's Senator Lindsey Graham trying out some different approaches this week.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward the Ukraine - it was incoherent. They seemed to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.

I think it's impossible to go forward without knowing who the whistleblower is and giving the president a chance to cross-examine his accuser.

Now, I can determine myself whether or not this is a quid pro quo. I've determined it's not.

KING: All right. NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is on the line. Hey, Domenico.


KING: OK. So a transcript of George Kent's testimony was made public yesterday. He's a State Department official working on Ukraine, as Rachel said. What did we learn that we didn't know before?

MONTANARO: Well, Kent said Giuliani - Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney - was running a, quote, "campaign of lies and a campaign of slander" against former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. He detailed his own disagreement with that pressure campaign. He likened it to what other corrupt countries do. He said, quote, "Politically related prosecutions undermine the rule of law."

Kent clearly - you know, he's somebody who has a deep well of institutional knowledge on what U.S. foreign policy has been toward Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union, and he was very articulate in describing that. And you see why Democrats want him out in the open next week testifying.

KING: Let's pull back a little bit because we had a drip of these transcripts being released all week long. There is a lot to read. It's thousands of pages, I think.


KING: What are the biggest things you took away?

MONTANARO: Well, there's a lot of things, but let me name three. One, the fact is that all roads in this international pressure campaign continue to lead back to Giuliani. Two, Republicans keep talking about wanting to hear from this whistleblower, but the whistleblower's complaint was largely completely corroborated. The one exception is Attorney General Bill Barr's role. We didn't hear a lot about that. And three, perhaps the biggest development of the week was European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland. He reversed his testimony after multiple witnesses contradicted him, and he admitted to telling an aide to Ukraine's president that military aid was unlikely to come unless the president went forward with a public statement committing to investigations of conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and the vice - and Vice President - former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter. You know, multiple witnesses testified that there was a repeated and concerted effort to dig up dirt on the Bidens in order to benefit Trump's 2020 reelection campaign.

KING: All right. That is all the past tense. And now to the future. Next week, we get public testimony for the first time. What are you keeping an eye out for?

MONTANARO: Yeah. We're going to hear for the first time from Kent, Yovanovitch and acting Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor. And I'd say it's less about what they say than how they say it. I mean, these closed-door depositions have been released. They were hours-long testimonies. They're unlikely to have anything new to reveal. But how are they going to say this stuff on camera, in public, with Republican supporters of the president champing at the bit to question them out in the open? How that goes could go a long way in swaying public opinion or not.

KING: And then, Domenico, lastly, the president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney - he's been subpoenaed to testify today now, right?

MONTANARO: He has. But he's unlikely to come forward to testify. He's not expected to show, like others. One witness pointed to Mulvaney as the person who ordered the withholding of military aid at the president's direction. If he doesn't show, Democrats are likely to just go forward with this as part of an obstruction of Congress article of impeachment. They don't want to get dragged in the courts and let this process drag out much longer.

KING: OK. NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.


KING: There are some signs that the trade war between the U.S. and China might be entering a new, more cooperative phase - at least according to China.

MARTIN: Right. So China's Commerce Ministry has announced that the two countries have agreed to lift some tariffs as part of what they're calling phase one of a trade deal. There's been no formal announcement, though, of any kind of agreement like that from the U.S. side. So what does this actually mean? Are the two sides finally making progress on a deal?

KING: Here with answers is NPR's chief economics correspondent, Scott Horsley. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So there is something really interesting happening here if you are reading news reports, as we all are. Some White House officials seem to be indicating that there is an initial deal between the U.S. and China. Others in the White House are saying, wait a second. Nothing is certain until the president signs off. Do we know if there is a deal here?

HORSLEY: Wall Street certainly hopes there's a deal.


HORSLEY: Investors seized on those comments from the Chinese Commerce Ministry yesterday about a possible agreement to roll back tariffs, and the Dow surged more than 180 points. You might think of that as the wishful thinking rally.

KING: OK (laughter).

HORSLEY: Not the first time this has happened, remember?

KING: Yeah.

HORSLEY: Back in August, when President Trump told reporters at the G-7 that China had called and wanted to go back to the bargaining table. And we saw a jump in the market then, even though China signaled ever so politely that they had no idea what the president was talking about. Investors very much want to see an easing of trade tensions. Whether that actually materializes is another story.

KING: Do we understand what's up with the mixed messages coming from the White House?

HORSLEY: This may suggest a bit of a tug of war within the administration between the hawkish hardliners who want to keep the trade war going and those who are more eager to see a deal struck. Ultimately, this is going to depend on what President Trump wants to do. And, as we all know, that is hard to predict. So we may also see White House aides being reluctant to be too definitive about where President Trump ultimately lands.

KING: OK. And if there were an initial deal, what's in it?

HORSLEY: You know, Myron Brilliant, who heads up international affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been talking to both sides. And he says any deal would have to involve some give-and-take from both China and the United States. At a minimum, it would probably on the U.S. side mean a suspension of the next round of tariffs due to kick in in December. Those tariffs would hit hard on things like laptops and cellphones. China, though, wants to see more. They want to see a rollback of the September round of tariffs, sometimes called the Walmart round, which hit a lot of things like clothing and household items. What Brilliant says the agreement would not include, though, is any structural movement on the big issues that prompted the U.S. to launch this trade war more than a year ago.

MYRON BRILLIANT: I look at this as, like, one chapter in a book. I don't think we're going to complete the trade agreement just by the signing of this phase one agreement. But it's a start in the right direction.

KING: Start in the right direction. Scott, as you know, some White House advisers have continued to take this line that the trade war hasn't really been that bad for U.S. consumers or businesses. I know that you've been looking into this. How much has the trade war cost U.S. businesses so far?

HORSLEY: Well, the direct cost is more than $3 billion in tariffs in the month of September alone. That would increase, obviously, if those December tariffs kick in. But there's also been the indirect cost of uncertainty that has cut into business investment, caused a slowdown in manufacturing. Those are really the big costs that are starting to add up.

KING: NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


KING: A European leader has raised some big questions about the future of NATO.

MARTIN: Yeah. French president Emmanuel Macron offered a dark view in an interview with The Economist. He said NATO was suffering a, quote, "brain death," and he blamed some of President Trump's policies. Macron questioned how the North Atlantic Treaty Organization can keep its promise of collective defense with less American leadership.

KING: Sophie Pedder is the Paris bureau chief for The Economist, and she conducted that interview with Macron. She's with us now on the line. Hi, Sophie.

SOPHIE PEDDER: Good morning to you.

KING: So a really interesting term - NATO's suffering from brain death, Macron says. What does he mean?

PEDDER: Well, I think what he was talking about in the interview was really NATO's ability to coordinate strategically. I mean, that's why he uses the metaphor of the brain. It's about - it's not about operational ability to act on the ground. He was clear that NATO still functions well in that respect. But it's the strategic coordination, and that was brought about, really, by the U.S. decision unilaterally to withdraw troops from Syria. And so it's about not consulting between NATO allies when making those decisions.

And, of course, the U.S. decision then prompted Turkey's decision to move into the border territory. That means that you've got two NATO allies working against each other. And it just - this is an area where Europe really has very direct interests. It feels very close to Europe, Syria. So I think it's that. It's not about the whole of NATO being in a state of brain death. I think what he means is the coordination, the strategic thinking and the way that NATO operates as an alliance.

KING: And he obviously very clearly thinks that the United States making unilateral decisions, as you said, is part of the problem. I wonder, how are European and NATO leaders reacting to these comments? They feel a bit like a hand grenade.

PEDDER: Well, yes. It was - there were some pretty rapid reactions in Europe to this yesterday. We had Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, who called his comments drastic. And she reaffirmed the fact that Germany puts a huge value on the NATO alliance, so she was clearly pushing back on it - on his comments. On the other hand, Moscow was officially very pleased with Macron's comments. And this was, in a way, music to Moscow's ears to have NATO criticized in this way, even if, you know, you have to, I think, look at the background and see exactly which bits of NATO Macron was criticizing.

KING: Do we have a sense of what Macron was trying to accomplish by saying what he did so publicly?

PEDDER: Well, you know, I think that he's not - he's the sort of leader who's not afraid of saying things and saying things that can upset people. We've learned that about him. And I think what he's really trying to do is send a wake-up call to Europeans and say, look - you know, over the last 70 years, you've relied on American defense guarantee under the transatlantic alliance and that the decisions that America's made now leave, in a sense, a cutting - cutting Europe loose. And so Europe has to wake up, take stock of this and start thinking of itself more strategically and more as a - you know, as a power player in the world. And that will mean building up defense capability, spending more on defense and thinking of a way in which Europe can start sort of acting as a proper, muscular player in the world.

KING: Can you just sum up quickly, Sophie - and I know it's speculation - but what would Europe look like without NATO?

PEDDER: Well, it's very difficult to see, and I'm not sure that Macron has an answer to that. But I think that - and it scares a lot of people in Europe, obviously, especially in the east in places like Poland. But I think that - and in Germany, for that matter. But I think, you know, the important thing from his point of view is to put that discussion up on the table. He wants us not to be complacent and to start thinking about these things and start preparing for that kind of future.

KING: Sophie Pedder of the Economist joining us via Skype. Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANDBOOK'S "UNKNOWN DESIRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
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