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Volker To Appear Before House Panels Conducting Impeachment Probes

NOEL KING, HOST:

The White House has until Friday to turn over documents relating to President Trump's call with his Ukrainian counterpart. That's the call in which he asked Ukraine's president to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, among other things. After Friday, congressional leaders say they will issue subpoenas.

Today, though, House lawmakers will hear from President Trump's former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker. He's going to testify on Capitol Hill in a closed-door session. Volker resigned from the State Department last week. His name showed up in the whistleblower complaint that led to this impeachment inquiry.

All right, to help situate us a bit, we have Representative Val Demings of Florida. She's a Democrat from the Orlando area, and she serves on both the House intelligence and House judiciary committees. She's in the studios of WMFE in Orlando. Good morning, Congresswoman.

VAL DEMINGS: Good morning. It's great to be here.

KING: Before we go to the Hill, the president will be near your district today. How do you think he'll be received?

DEMINGS: Well, you're absolutely correct. He will be near the district today signing an executive order regarding Medicare. As we all know, Medicare is very important to this community, and certainly very important to people around the nation. And so any major changes, of course, to the program would require congressional approval. However, the president will be here, and we'll see where it goes from there.

KING: Fair enough. All right, let's talk about this closed-door session today with Kurt Volker, the former Ukraine envoy. What does the House Intelligence Committee - what do you want to ask him?

DEMINGS: Well, you know, we're still on our fact-finding mission. A lot has happened over the past week as it pertains to the whistleblower's complaint. Of course, our primary concern is the safety and security of the whistleblower. He or she is protected by federal law. We want to make sure that their identity is protected and their safety is protected. And that's, of course, our No. 1 concern.

The whistleblower report, as you know, was very well-detailed, very well-documented, very thorough. There are almost a dozen other persons who have direct knowledge about what is contained in the report. And we also know that the readout that was released by the White House corroborates what was in the report. And so we just - we're still on this fact-finding mission, and our plan is to not only talk to the envoy from Ukraine, but to also speak to anyone with direct knowledge about the phone call that took place with President Zelenskiy.

KING: OK, so you really are just looking for any information that you can get from Mr. Volker. The committee has also subpoenaed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. What do you want to ask him?

DEMINGS: Well, I thought Secretary of State Pompeo's answer was quite interesting about the information contained in the whistleblower's report. We later found out that he was, in fact, on the call, which makes him now a fact witness. And so I would just suggest that Secretary Pompeo start preparing for his testimony before the intelligence committee.

KING: Preparing for what, though, may I ask? What's a specific question that you want to sort of get at with him?

DEMINGS: Well, he is now a fact witness. And so we now know that the president of the United States basically abused his power as president to coerce a foreign country for personal gain. We also know that now Secretary Pompeo was on that call. We want to, basically, get his impressions of the call...

KING: Oh, OK.

DEMINGS: ...And hear what he has to say about it and any role that he may have directly played in the call.

KING: Fair enough. What happens if he or anyone asked to testify refuses to comply?

DEMINGS: Well, I do believe that Chairman Schiff made it quite clear that we will not tolerate the stonewalling from this White House or anyone in the administration that we've seen before. And so we're serious. This is an impeachment inquiry, and we're going to follow the facts where it leads us and exercise the authority that has been given to Congress by the United States Constitution.

KING: Very quickly, your Republican colleagues say it is worth looking into Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine. Are you considering doing that?

DEMINGS: The president of the United States is a major distractor, major manipulator. This investigation centers on the president of the United States and his abuse of power.

KING: All right, that sounds like a no.

DEMINGS: We are staying very focused.

KING: Yeah. Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida, thanks so much.

DEMINGS: Thank you.

KING: I want to turn now to NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who's been listening in. Mara, President Trump is aggrieved loudly and on Twitter. Is there any sign that he is shifting the debate about his actions in his favor?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: We haven't seen polling that shows that. What we have seen is that there's a little uptick in the support for the impeachment inquiry and - but not a groundswell. Where I think that Republicans and Trump supporters say they are making progress is that they are getting this story, unsubstantiated as it may be, about Joe Biden and his son Hunter into the media narrative. The Trump campaign is spending something like $10 million on an ad buy about these allegations about Biden.

And I think what they're hoping is that this will play out just like it did with Hillary Clinton, where they kind of soften Biden up so either he doesn't win the nomination - most Republicans I talked to say they'd much prefer to run against Elizabeth Warren - or that he is a wounded candidate if he does become the nominee. And don't forget; the Democrats are in a primary. The question is, are Democrats going to rally around Joe Biden when they're trying to defeat him for the nomination?

KING: Yeah.

LIASSON: So that's where he might be making some progress, even though he isn't helping his own case.

KING: Lastly, President Trump said yesterday that he will comply with Congress' requests for documents and witnesses. Let me play you that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a fraudulent crime on the American people, but we'll work together with Shifty Schiff and Pelosi and all of them. And we'll see what happens.

KING: We'll see what happens. What do you think?

LIASSON: Well, the president in the past has often said he wants to cooperate; he has nothing to hide. But in the end, then he says his lawyers won't allow him to produce information that the investigating body wants. This time, he has cooperated more than in past investigations. They didn't fight to keep the whistleblower complaint secret, and they did turn over the rough transcript of the call with the president of Ukraine. That might make it harder for the White House to resist turning over other documents and witnesses.

KING: OK. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.