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House GOP Leader Defends Trump, Says Expert 'Is Wrong' That Ukraine Call Was Improper

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy criticized the impeachment inquiry led by House Democrats.
Susan Walsh, AP

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy criticized the impeachment inquiry led by House Democrats.

Updated 3:30 p.m. ET

The prepared testimony of an Army lieutenant colonel who listened in on the phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine last July is "wrong, " according to the top House Republican.

"Nothing in that phone call is impeachable," Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said. McCarthy said he did not question Lt. Col. Andrew Vindman's service, but said, "People have different philosophical beliefs."

In his opening statement, Vindman stated that he "did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine."

In the call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter's dealings in Ukraine.

Trump was also pressing for an investigation into the 2016 election, and McCarthy said that was fine.

"The president has a right," the Republican leader said. "It's an open case. It wasn't about something in the future. It was about something that transpired."

By a 68% to 28% margin, though, Americans said it is not acceptable for a president to ask a foreign country's leader to help investigate a potential political opponent, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Support comes from

McCarthy also criticized the impeachment inquiry led by House Democrats, as Republicans indicated they are likely to vote to oppose a resolution Thursday that will outline the next steps in the process. Republicans and President Trump have contended the process is flawed and stacked against Trump.

"You can't put the genie back in the bottle," McCarthy said. "Due process starts from the beginning."

In a tweet, Trump contended that his polls show the impeachment inquiry will lead to the loss of "many seats in 2020."

But public polls indicate a majority of Americans support the probe, almost two dozen incumbent Republicans have announced they will not run for reelection and GOP allies are voicing concern that 2020 could be a wipeout for Republicans.

The GOP conference chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said Democrats are "attempting to put a cloak of legitimacy around this process. It won't work."

Cheney also spoke out against some GOP critics who have questioned the patriotism of Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient who was born in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, and others who have testified.

"It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation," she said, "and we should not be involved in that process."

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., wouldn't comment on specifics of Vindman's testimony, but said, "It's no secret that folks on the other side are trying to figure out who the whistleblower is. From my opinion, it seems to be in service of the president's wanting to identify who that person is, and potentially retaliate against him or her. I think that's absolutely unacceptable."

Asked about Democratic concerns that Republicans are trying to "out" the whistleblower through Vindman's testimony, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said, "We're just trying to get information that we're entitled to."

Jordan suggested that House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., instructed Vindman not to answer questions about who he had spoken with. Jordan said knowing who Vindman communicated with is important information and reiterated: "I want to get to the truth. I already know the main facts about this, that there was no quid pro quo in the call."

The call, based on the record released by the White House, shows the president asking Zelensky if he would "do us a favor though" right after Zelensky asked about military aid.

And Amb. William Taylor said in his deposition last week that Trump ordered a withholding of military aid and a White House meeting until Ukraine's president agreed to publicly state that his government would look into conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and the Bidens.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., would not comment on the substance of Vindman's testimony, but noted that, based on Vindman's opening statement, "there are some inconsistencies" between Vindman's statement and the testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union and a major Trump donor.

Lynch said he "would be surprised if we didn't revisit Mr. Sondland's testimony."

Lynch called Vindman a "consummate professional, very honorable, very believable, very precise with his remarks," adding that his sympathies lie "with the United States and with democracy."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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