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News Brief: Vindman Testifies On Trump Ukraine Call, ISIS, NCAA


Why did President Trump really withhold military aid from Ukraine?


Written testimony from a foreign service officer deepens that question in the House impeachment inquiry. Catherine Croft served in a key position concerning Ukraine. Yet, in testimony obtained by NPR, she tells impeachment investigators she knew of no reason to withhold the aid. She was only told President Trump had ordered it.

Investigators are asking if the president held up the assistance to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival. Today's testimony follows Tuesday's interview with Ukraine specialist Alexander Vindman. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff talked about him this way.


ADAM SCHIFF: We have the greatest respect for his service to the country, a service that continues and today took the form of coming before our committees to bravely answer these questions. We hope that his example of patriotism will be emulated by others.

MARTIN: Vindman listened to the president's phone call with Ukraine's president back in July when Trump asked for investigations. He says he was so worried he consulted a lawyer. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal report that Vindman says the White House record of the call leaves out some relevant phrases. NPR has not independently confirmed that, but the White House record does include ellipses - dot, dot, dot - which indicate missing words.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales is covering this story. She's in our studio. Good morning.


INSKEEP: What could be missing here?

GRISALES: Well, as you said, The New York Times is reporting that Vindman told House investigators that the partial transcript released by the White House is missing these key phrases. He said that this included a Trump assertion of recordings of Vice President Joe Biden. And also...

INSKEEP: Claiming that there was some kind of recording of Biden talking about corruption in Ukraine or something like that?

GRISALES: Exactly.


GRISALES: Yeah, signaling that this exists, as well as a mention of Burisma Holdings, which is the energy company where Joe Biden's son, Hunter, worked. And this undercuts what the president has said in the past, that the White House had a, quote, "word-for-word, comma-for-comma transcript" that would silence his critics. And, of course, the White House has said that the transcript they released was not verbatim.

INSKEEP: I guess we should be clear - this alleged reference to recordings, we have no idea what those are, right?

GRISALES: Exactly.

INSKEEP: We don't know if there's any secret recording or anything like that.


INSKEEP: How did lawmakers respond to this?

GRISALES: Well, Democrats called it a powerful testimony from a current White House official. Vindman is a decorated Iraq War veteran and a top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council. And he was alarmed at Trump's demands for a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens. And he repeatedly reported these concerns to his superiors.

But Republicans had a much different take. For example, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Vindman was, quote, "wrong" in his recollection; this as other Republicans argued less with the substance of the testimony and more with the process. Take a listen to New York Republican Lee Zeldin.


LEE ZELDIN: This process has been illegitimate. It's been without credibility. It's been without fairness. This was an opportunity clearly wasted by the speaker.

GRISALES: And so there were some Republicans that went after Vindman personally, questioned his loyalty or talked about his service. But many Republicans pushed back on that and said that was an area that should not be handled in such a way...

INSKEEP: Oh, so even some Republicans said it was a smear to talk about this person's patriotism...

GRISALES: Yes. Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...Just because he said something that was inconvenient for them politically.


INSKEEP: Now there's going to be more testimony today, as we mentioned. What's expected?

GRISALES: So two State Department officials are expected to testify today, Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson. We know some of what they'll say from opening statements we obtained for NPR. And both worked on Ukraine. Croft is a former NSC director. And Anderson is a former special adviser. They worked alongside a previous witness, Kurt Volker, who has already testified.

Anderson in particular will tell lawmakers that State Department officials were stopped by the White House from issuing a statement condemning Russia. There will be one area they will not touch on, which is exposing any details that will help lawmakers understand who the whistleblower is that triggered this entire probe.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's right. OK. Thank you very much. That's NPR's Claudia Grisales.

GRISALES: Thanks for having.


INSKEEP: Is the Islamic State now operating without a leader?

MARTIN: The U.S. says a commando raid led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And yesterday, the president said on Twitter that Baghdadi's, quote, "number one replacement has been terminated." The president did not give a name.

INSKEEP: Well, who does replace Baghdadi? And how much does it matter? NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam is here. Good morning.


INSKEEP: What is ISIS saying about its leadership?

ALLAM: Well, it's saying nothing at the moment. The group itself hasn't even acknowledged the death of Baghdadi, much less said anything official about a potential successor. That's not unusual. Al-Qaida took a few days before confirming Osama bin Laden's death. But it is something to keep in mind because, until ISIS officially announces, everything is speculation.

That being said, of course a group like ISIS does not operate without a succession plan. Any senior leader of a group of this profile instantly becomes one of most high-value targets in the world. It's not a job you typically retire from. You end up killed or captured. So, of course, there's a list of potential heirs. But at this point, it's a bunch of names until an official successor is designated.

INSKEEP: Oh, I suppose if you're ISIS, you're a little reluctant to make that announcement, perhaps, because that person would become a high-value target instantly.

ALLAM: Indeed. And also, we don't know - we don't have a clear picture yet who's dead, who's been captured, who's still even out there able to take over the group.

INSKEEP: Any idea who President Trump was talking about when he said the second choice or the No. 1 choice as a successor, I suppose I should say, was killed?

ALLAM: Yeah. We asked about this. One U.S. official told us Trump was referring to Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, a senior ISIS spokesman, a close aide to Baghdadi. But there was some confusion because we'd already known he was dead for, you know, about 24 hours before Trump tweeted it. Al-Muhajir was said to be killed in a separate raid soon after Baghdadi's death.

And certainly Muhajir was a contender. But as we've said, there have been other names floated. And for Trump to kind of boast that, you know, the U.S. had taken out the No. 1 replacement for Baghdadi, it might overstate the case.

INSKEEP: That other question, then - how much does it matter who the leader of ISIS is?

ALLAM: It is important. It sets the tone for the direction of ISIS going forward. Baghdadi oversaw the group in its bloody heyday. His most important legacy is the declaration of a caliphate. He ruled, you know, this extremist mini-state. And the caliphate idea was the big draw for the extremists who came en masse to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. And the group is clever enough to put the focus on that mission and that goal of the caliphate rather than to make ISIS a cult of personality around Baghdadi.

I spoke to Amarnath Amarasingam. He's a Canadian terrorism researcher. And he's interviewed several ISIS members. And he asked them the succession question. Here's the answer he got.

AMARNATH AMARASINGAM: Often the answer was, you know, we don't really - we're not really fighting for a person, right? We're not really fighting for an individual. We're fighting for a state. We're fighting for this caliphate project. And we're fighting for this kind of historical moment or this kind of historical, state-building moment.

ALLAM: So, yes, ISIS is weakened. It's lost its so-called caliphate and its leader within the space of a few months. It's at a crossroads. And the next leader does face a big task about rebuilding those forces, making sure the group doesn't splinter. But the one thing analysts do agree on is don't call ISIS vanquished.

INSKEEP: Hannah, thanks so much.

ALLAM: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Hannah Allam.


INSKEEP: Colleges and coaches make millions of dollars from the play of student athletes; the athletes have not.

MARTIN: At least not until now. The NCAA Board of Governors unanimously voted yesterday that college athletes can profit from marketing their own names and images. The college sports governing body was under pressure after California passed a law allowing student athletes to make money.

INSKEEP: Kavitha Davidson is a reporter for The Athletic and co-hosts the podcast "The Lead" and is on the line. Good morning. OK. Let's try again for Kavitha Davidson of The Athletic. Are you there, Kavitha?


INSKEEP: There we go. Hi there, Kavitha. You're on. This is Steve Inskeep. How much pressure was the NCAA under?

DAVIDSON: Yeah. Hello?

INSKEEP: Hi there, Kavitha. This is Steve Inskeep. I'm not sure you're able to hear us quite clearly, but we're going to get there I think. What we're asking is how much pressure the NCAA was under to make this change?


INSKEEP: Hi. We'll try one more time.

DAVIDSON: I'm on my Skype. I haven't changed anything. I'm on my Skype.

INSKEEP: You are live on the air, Kavitha. You are live.

DAVIDSON: Oh, hello. How are you?

INSKEEP: Hi. It's Steve Inskeep. So we've introduced this - we've introduced this story. How much pressure was the NCAA under?

DAVIDSON: Well, they were under a lot of pressure. So earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom passed a bill granting what's known as NIL rights to college athletes. That's the right to profit off of their names, images and likenesses in the form of sponsorship deals with jersey companies, getting paid for signing autographs - that kind of thing.

Now, other states like Ohio and Florida had been exploring similar deals - similar bills. But we actually had Governor Newsom on our podcast. And he said that one of his goals in signing this bill was to put pressure on the NCAA to address this issue as a whole. And then you have people like Senator Cory Booker, who we actually interviewed for today's episode as well. And he's proposed a plan as part of his presidential platform that would in part bring this issue under federal law.

So there's been this growing legislative pressure on multiple fronts. And then in May, the NCAA's Board of Governors formed a commission to study the issues raised by these various proposed laws. And the NCAA's announcement yesterday came from the recommendation of this group.

INSKEEP: So I want to understand this. When they say that they can profit - athletes can profit off of their names and likenesses - this is marketing deals, right? It's not that they're going to be paid some kind of salary for playing, right?

DAVIDSON: Exactly. And the NCAA is very clear in their language that they - you know, they're not opening a door for athletes to become employees. And this is not pay for play, so to speak. Athletes cannot be compensated by the university directly. They can sign deals with outside companies.

Now, the California bill has specific language there that also prohibits athletes from signing deals with outside businesses that conflict with existing deals that the universities might have. So for example, if a university has an apparel deal with Nike, an athlete at that university can't then go sign an individual deal with, like, Under Armour.

INSKEEP: Kavitha, thanks for the update, really appreciate it. Kavitha Davidson is with The Athletic. She co-hosts the podcast "The Lead."

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "RAIN FALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hannah Allam is a Washington-based national security correspondent for NPR, focusing on homegrown extremism. Before joining NPR, she was a national correspondent at BuzzFeed News, covering U.S. Muslims and other issues of race, religion and culture. Allam previously reported for McClatchy, spending a decade overseas as bureau chief in Baghdad during the Iraq war and in Cairo during the Arab Spring rebellions. She moved to Washington in 2012 to cover foreign policy, then in 2015 began a yearlong series documenting rising hostility toward Islam in America. Her coverage of Islam in the United States won three national religion reporting awards in 2018 and 2019. Allam was part of McClatchy teams that won an Overseas Press Club award for exposing death squads in Iraq and a Polk Award for reporting on the Syrian conflict. She was a 2009 Nieman fellow at Harvard and currently serves on the board of the International Women's Media Foundation.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Kavitha Davidson
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