AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
One person who will be looking at the Trump administration's immigration policies is the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler. Welcome to the program.
JERROLD NADLER: Thank you.
CORNISH: Now, your committee has oversight over many key areas - right? - Justice Department, voting rights and immigration, as we mentioned. And on that last issue, you told CBS that the zero tolerance policy that led to the separation of migrant families on the border was a deliberate creation of the White House, that they're trying to make things as miserable as possible, and, quote, "if kids die, they're apparently willing to have that."
CORNISH: Are you going to investigate the deaths of those two migrant children?
NADLER: Yes, we are. We're going to investigate the deaths of those two migrant children and the entire family separation policy. And there are a lot of questions. How could they, for example, deport parents to foreign countries, making no provision to give the kids back first or even to figure out identification for the kids? So we have kids now months later that may never find their parents again. This is state-sanctioned kidnapping.
CORNISH: Does it feel like investigative actions and oversight - that's really the only recourse Democrats have right now. Does it feel like you have no real ability to change...
NADLER: No, no, no, no.
CORNISH: ...Trump administration policies?
NADLER: No, it doesn't feel that way at all. And you can't talk about that the first day of Democratic control in the Congress. We have leverage. Investigation and publicity and oversight is a major constitutional responsibility and ability that we have. But number two, we have the power of the purse. You can't pass a budget without the House as well as the Senate, and we can put requirements in that budget. We can put limitations on the use of funds. We can put requirements for the use of funds and so forth. So even if you cannot pass a subject matter bill through both houses or the president would veto it, they can't pass a budget without the House consent. So we have considerable leverage.
CORNISH: You've also - on another topic, you've sponsored a bill that would protect the special counsel office, Robert Mueller...
CORNISH: ...Who's investigating interference in the 2016 election.
NADLER: We reintroduced that bill today.
CORNISH: And you've also threatened to subpoena acting Attorney General Mr. Whitaker. What do you hope to learn from him?
NADLER: We are very concerned about a massive fraud on the American people by the president and by his campaign in order to obtain office through fraudulent means - hush money payments to women, Michael Cohen working with the Russians plus obstruction of justice in the investigation of that. We have to look into all of that. And the special counsel is looking into that or into some of it insofar as they may be crimes.
But we have to look into all of that to protect the integrity of our elections and the integrity of our democratic system and to protect the American people from being defrauded by the Trump campaign or by future campaigns, for that matter. So that is the prime thing that we have to do. We have to put an end to Republican efforts over the last two years to interfere with and undermine the special counsel's investigation.
CORNISH: If the Mueller investigation uncovers evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, are you prepared to pursue impeachment even if it's politically...
NADLER: Well, it's too...
NADLER: It's too early to talk about impeachment. But what is important at this point is to follow all the facts where they lead, to make sure that those facts are public and to make sure that they're not interfered with by the Trump administration. So if the special counsel issues a report, we have to make sure that that report is - becomes public. If necessary, we'll subpoena it. If necessary, we'll call Mueller to testify in front of the committee about it. We have to make sure that it's not buried by the Trump administration, by Whitaker or by Barr.
CORNISH: But President Trump has been implicated in campaign law violations as part of Michael Cohen's plea. Is something like that an impeachable offense?
NADLER: It could be, but I don't want to get into impeachment now 'cause it's - we're not prepared for that at this point. Some of what he's been accused of could be impeachable offenses. But the real question now is to find out what happened, to find out what frauds were committed, what frauds against American democracy and to make sure the public knows that. And we think the public can judge and we can judge and the Judiciary Committee, et cetera, where we should go from there, whether it should be impeachment, whether it should be protective legislation for the future, whatever it may be.
CORNISH: And you were - earlier you were speaking about William Barr, the White House's nominee for attorney general.
NADLER: Yes, and and the acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker.
CORNISH: Is it possible that you will overplay your hand? I mean, if everyone with a gavel is interested and pushing for the investigations they've long hoped for, can people go too far?
NADLER: Well, it's theoretically possible that people could go too far, obviously. I don't think we're going to do that. We are very mindful of priorities and of what we have to look into and what we have to do. What we have to do is protect the integrity of our institutions, protect our elections from being subject to fraud or to stealing through fraudulent means, make sure that it didn't happen or, if it did, make sure that people are held accountable and make sure that safeguards are in place so that kind of thing doesn't happen again.
CORNISH: New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler - he's the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
NADLER: Thank you.
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