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News Brief: Impeachment Transcripts, Election Day, Climate Pact Withdrawal


The impeachment inquiry is happening behind closed doors, of course. But now some of the transcripts have been released.


That's right. And one of the transcripts is of the testimony from former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. And it is clear that she felt President Trump wanted her out. We also have the transcript from Michael McKinley's testimony that was made public. He's the former top adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. McKinley resigned in protest, feeling the diplomatic corps was being undercut. And get ready. We're expecting more transcripts to be released today.

KING: NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen has been following all of this as it develops. Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So there was a lot of interest in what Ambassador Yovanovitch said behind closed doors. What did we learn from her transcript?

KELEMEN: Well, we learned a lot more about how she was ousted from her post and why that's important. She told the committees that she first learned that Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was targeting her from a Ukrainian official who told her to, in her words, watch her back. That official also told her about Giuliani and two Soviet-born American businessmen who wanted her withdrawn. She believes that's in part for their own personal business dealings.

And Yovanovitch describes that as a dangerous precedent. You know, of course presidents have the right to choose his own ambassador. But Yovanovitch suggested that Trump made the decision based on untrustworthy figures, including a former Ukrainian prosecutor who spread a false story about her and then retracted it.

KING: OK. So she had a lot to say. And then there was the testimony of Michael McKinley, the man who resigned. He was a little bit of a lower-profile figure than Yovanovitch. What did we learn from his transcript?

KELEMEN: Well, his testimony was mostly about how all of this played in the State Department. As you mentioned, he was a top adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And he saw Pompeo as doing some things to improve the department. But when he read what the president said about Ambassador Yovanovitch in that now-infamous phone call with Ukraine's president - that she would "go through some things" was his quote - McKinley tried to get the secretary to issue a public statement of support.

He said, look - she's still on the role. She's still employed by the department. We should just say something nonpartisan, that we respect the professionalism and tenure of Ambassador Yovanovitch. That didn't happen, and McKinley said the silence had significant moral - effect on morale at the State Department.

KING: OK. So today there are some other transcripts that we're expecting. These are other key witnesses. Whose are they? And how might they shake things up?

KELEMEN: So we're talking about Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker. These are two who played more of a central role to what the House committees are investigating - that is, whether Trump was withholding military aid to press Ukraine to work with Giuliani and dig up dirt about the Bidens and look into discredited theories about the 2016 election meddling.

These two men facilitated contacts between Giuliani and the president - the incoming president of Ukraine. Gordon Sondland was a political donor, the current ambassador to the European Union, so he had the access to the White House that others didn't. Kurt Volker was the part-time U.S. envoy, whose main job was to help Ukrainians resolve the war fueled by Russia in Eastern Ukraine.

KING: OK. So there will be a lot of interest, certainly, in what they had to say.

Michele, let me ask you lastly about a story that's been developing since late yesterday. So we have news reports now that there's a key player in this investigation who says he's willing to cooperate with impeachment investigators. Who is this person, and what is he offering - quickly?

KELEMEN: So we're talking about Lev Parnas. He's one of the two Giuliani associates who was at the center of all this, including the smear campaign against Yovanovitch. He initially refused a request to cooperate with the committee; that's when he had a lawyer who once worked for Trump. But as Reuters first reported, his new lawyer has opened a dialogue with the House committees to cooperate but also to reserve his constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination.

KING: OK. NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Sure thing.


KING: All right. Today is a big Election Day in four states. Voters are going to be picking new governors or state lawmakers or both. And we're talking about Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia.

GREENE: And we should say, we are just a year out from the next presidential election. And some of these major contests are shaping up to be really close today, like in Kentucky, where President Trump was rallying last night to support the incumbent governor Matt Bevin.

With Trump right by his side, Bevin was speaking to a crowd in a place that basketball fans know very well - the legendary Rupp Arena, where the University of Kentucky Wildcats play basketball.


MATT BEVIN: This is better - this is better than the Final Four, I'll tell you what, in terms of energy. This is extraordinary. Thank you, Kentucky. It is critical that we go top to bottom, run the slate, vote straight Republican.

GREENE: That's Kentucky. Races in Virginia and Mississippi are also expected to be pretty tight.

KING: NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea is on the line from Kentucky. Good morning, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So you were at the president's rally last night. The president, of course, has his own reelection to worry about. He's also got impeachment to think about. Did he seem able to focus on the governor's race?

GONYEA: The president did talk about Matt Bevin. He's here to help him. But he's also making this race in Kentucky very much about Washington, about his own battles. Last night he talked a lot about impeachment. He called it a deranged witch hunt. And he's linking the Democrat running for governor, State Attorney General Andy Beshear, to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and to Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and to the impeachment proceedings.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Beshear doesn't represent you. He represents the Washington swamp, and he's backed by the same people trying to overthrow the last election.

KING: OK. So President Trump is trying to connect Andy Beshear to Washington, to the swamp. How is Beshear campaigning in the face of that?

GONYEA: So Beshear had a big lead at one point in this race. And in the final days, it has narrowed. It's very close. And while the incumbent, Republican Bevin, has embraced Trump, Beshear has tried to just keep talking about the issues that he sees as important to Kentucky voters, things like health care. Listen to this ad of his.


ANDY BESHEAR: The actions of our current governor tear our families down, they harm those most in need, and they don't help those that are forgotten. When I say I'm going to be a governor for all Kentuckians, I mean it. We can do so much better. And as governor, I'm going to ensure that we do.

KING: All right. So he's trying to focus on the issues. Kentucky's close - and that's notable because it's a red state. Why are some of these races so close, Don?

GONYEA: Especially in Kentucky, Democrats still have a registration advantage. So people don't necessarily vote - they don't vote Republican - Democratic, I'm sorry - at all in federal elections. But in a statewide race, a Democrat has a chance. Bevin has been massively unpopular because he's picked fights with teachers over their pensions, because he's tried to cut Medicaid expansion. And Andy Beshear is from a well-known family. His father, Steve Beshear, was Kentucky governor until just four years ago.

KING: OK. So a tight race- we'll be watching it. NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks so much, Don.

GONYEA: Pleasure.


KING: The Trump administration has formally told the United Nations that the U.S. is leaving the Paris climate accord.

GREENE: Right. This withdrawal will take effect after a one-year waiting period. So that's one day after the 2020 elections. If a new president is elected, he or she could reverse this decision. But for now, the United States stands alone when it comes to pulling out of the climate pact. Andrew Light is a former State Department official who helped negotiate the agreement.


ANDREW LIGHT: And that's one of the ironies of all this. Even though we're the ones who've been pointing to these potential scenarios for problems with other countries, we seem to be the biggest problem.

GREENE: So what does all this mean for the year ahead?

KING: Robinson Meyer writes about climate change for The Atlantic, and he's with us in studio this morning. Thanks for coming in.

ROBINSON MEYER: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Good morning.

KING: So the U.S. has officially notified the U.N. We knew this was coming.

MEYER: (Laughter) Yes.

KING: We've known this is coming for a long time. What does it mean now?

MEYER: So it means we're actually, officially, definitely leaving...


MEYER: ...Next year. The day after the presidential election, actually, the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Now, we could then reenter kind of as soon as the following year. So the next president could immediately take us in if it's not President Trump.

But it means that there will be a time next year where the U.S. is not in the climate negotiations, where it's not participating and where it's not able to bring kind of the force of American diplomacy onto other countries and into other kind of moments of climate negotiation and climate diplomacy.

KING: Let's talk about the force of American diplomacy. This all makes me wonder whether other countries that have signed out - that have signed on to the accord are using the U.S. backing out to back out themselves.

MEYER: So people were worried we were going to see that. But...

KING: Yeah.

MEYER: ...What actually seems like is happening is that - the bigger risk is that countries will just go and decarbonize and prepare for climate change by themselves and kind of leave the U.S. behind.

So a great example here is that solar panels, for instance, were invented in the United States. The United States still has many of the patents for them. Yet at this point, Germany and China basically control both manufacturing and kind of the whole global supply chain for solar panels because they have climate policy and they buy the most. And so if they were to decide to really lean into that and to kind of prepare even more for climate change than they are now and to cut their emissions and decarbonize even further, they could wind up basically having this whole global industry that, even though the United States invented, it has no role in the modern version of.

KING: That's really interesting. And that could hit the U.S. economy, I would imagine.

MEYER: It absolutely could because, at this point - you know, renewable jobs actually - renewables generate more jobs in the U.S. than fossil fuels do - or that - than coal does, at least. And over time, you know, more energy jobs are going to be in this renewable space, in preparing buildings for climate change and building seawalls and all that stuff. Kind of the more we let other countries take over manufacturing and take over those industries, the more jobs will be in other places and not here.

KING: OK. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced all of this on Twitter. He says the U.S. has its own way to deal with climate change. Do we know what he means by its own way?

MEYER: (Laughter) We don't. I was shocked he said that. You know, there's two things we've done. We've cut coal and moved to natural gas. And that's like moving from Coke to Diet Coke in a way.


MEYER: And then some states have their own climate policy, but the Trump administration is trying to stop those. So I really wasn't sure what the secretary was talking about.

KING: All right. I would imagine you have a couple of follow-up questions.

MEYER: (Laughter).

KING: If you have the chance, Robinson Meyer covers climate change for The Atlantic. Thank you so much for coming in today.

MEYER: Thank you.


David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
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