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Reading The Ukraine Documents


The House impeachment inquiry into President Trump differs significantly from past impeachments in one big way - it is remarkably easy for people to read the evidence for themselves. Democrats have been releasing documents, and Republicans are asking Americans to make up their own minds about them.

NPR's Sarah McCammon spoke with several people who've been doing that.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: President Trump's defenders say the records that have emerged so far failed to show any wrongdoing.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: If you read this transcript, that's the furthest thing from the truth.

RICK SANTORUM: OK. Did you read - you guys need to read the transcript.

MARK LEVIN: I have a lot of questions about his memo. I don't need press people interpreting it for me. I can read it myself.

MCCAMMON: That was Senator Lindsey Graham speaking on Fox News, former Senator Rick Santorum on CNN and conservative radio host Mark Levin on Fox. They're talking about the summary released by the White House of President Trump's call with the Ukrainian leader and the whistleblower report raising concerns about that call.

Malachi O'Brien is a Southern Baptist pastor and Trump supporter in the Kansas City area. He felt it was important to read both documents for himself.

MALACHI O'BRIEN: We cannot get our talking points just by people that analyze the news. We need to analyze it for ourselves.

KRISTEN LAVELETT: I think making my own decisions and seeing the words plain and clear - I've always been that kind of thinker that I want to go directly to the source as much as I'm able to because there is a lot of media spin either on left or the right.

MCCAMMON: That was Kristen Lavelett, who leads a nonprofit in Salt Lake City. She describes herself as a lifelong Democrat. They both think reading the documents is important, but that's pretty much where their agreement ends. O'Brien says he believes some of that information never should have been made public, like President Trump's private conversations with the Ukrainian president. And O'Brien doesn't see any problem with that call.

O'BRIEN: It just seemed like a conversation that he was just asking a lot of questions. It doesn't seem Richard Nixon-ish. It doesn't seem like that. It doesn't seem Watergate-ish. Let's go break in. Let's cause that to happen. It doesn't seem like that all.

MCCAMMON: For Lavelett, the documents paint a very different picture. She was disturbed by the whistleblower's claim that White House officials locked down records of the Ukraine call inside a system meant for highly sensitive national security records.

LAVELETT: That shocked me because that felt like a very illicit act to try to hide something.

MCCAMMON: Craig Sewall is a doctoral student in social work in Pittsburgh and a registered Democrat. He read the whistleblower report on his commute and had a similar reaction to that part.

CRAIG SEWALL: As I was reading it on this crowded bus, I actually said out loud, wow.

MCCAMMON: Sewall says he hopes Americans will look at the evidence in the documents and reach their own conclusions.

SEWALL: But then the pessimist in me thinks that everyone has their mind made up, and they're going to bring their preconceived notions to the document, and it will confirm whatever those preconceived notions are.

TRAVIS HINTZ: I don't know if there is any objectivity anywhere anymore.

MCCAMMON: That's Trump supporter Travis Hintz, who works for a homebuilder in Phoenix. He read the call summary and saw nothing to worry about, but he does agree with Sewall on one thing.

HINTZ: We're so set in our political views that it's like we see what we want to see. And I'm sure I'm guilty of it, too.

MCCAMMON: Hintz says he doesn't know many people who are reading the documents, and he thinks even fewer will change their minds if they do.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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