AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're now going to turn to a congressman who's had a front row seat to the House impeachment inquiry. Representative Scott Perry is a Republican from Pennsylvania. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's heard from many of the witnesses in the inquiry, including Gordon Sondland. That's the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. He testified today.
Congressman Perry, welcome to the program.
SCOTT PERRY: Hey. Thank you very much.
CORNISH: Before we get into the testimony, I want to start with those comments from White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney telling reporters that the hold up in military aid to Ukraine was tied to that country opening an investigation into the 2016 election and specifically whether or not they were cooperating with an ongoing investigation with the Department of Justice. Now, NPR reporting from the DOJ says that they were not aware of any investigation tied to military aid, so did the chief of staff just publicly confirm the case Democrats have been making for weeks that this was a political decision?
PERRY: Yeah, I'm not sure he - that he did that. I unfortunately have been - I did hear, you know, portions of what he said just on the air with you here today, but I've been in the skiff all day, and so I don't want to characterize his statements without hearing the whole thing. But it's my understanding that he was switching subjects at the same time. The two things have been conflated with one another.
CORNISH: But there was an overall tone, right? At the top of the program, you may have heard him say, I have news for everybody. Get over it. There's going to be...
CORNISH: ...Political influence in foreign policy. Is that how we should be looking at foreign policy?
PERRY: Well, you've got to understand as well that the American taxpayers work hard for their money, and if we're going to spend that money on foreign aid and assistance, whether it's Ukraine or Syria or anywhere, the American people want to make sure that America's interests are being furthered. And so...
CORNISH: Are America's interests the president's interests when it comes to the elections?
PERRY: Well, again, he's looking at investigations - if I can characterize what I heard, he's looking - talking about investigations that were ongoing regarding 2016. So those are things that happened in the past where - I think that not only the president but the American people would like to know, what is the final conclusion? Whatever happened with all this stuff? Where did it come from? Where did it start?
CORNISH: And the Intelligence Community assessments on that that it was Russia are not enough, you believe?
PERRY: Well, I think there are still lingering questions about the genesis of the Steele dossier and its - whatever component parts originated in Ukraine, and that's not members of Congress saying that. That's been widely reported. And so again, I think a lot of people want to know, you know, what the final answer there is because we never did get a final resolution on that.
CORNISH: Although I just want to make clear again, the Intelligence Community has pointed to Russia on this and not Ukraine. I want to move on to Ambassador Sondland's testimony because in his opening statement, he wrote that President Trump directed Sondland and others to work with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine, and Sondland said he didn't want that, that he would not have recommended that Giuliani or any private citizen be involved in these foreign policy matters. As a House Foreign Affairs Committee member, how do you read that?
PERRY: Well, first of all, I got to be careful because I'm not allowed to characterize any of the testimony, whether it was released or not from these depositions. But that having been said, I think that any of the career State Department bureaucracy and foreign service don't like it at all when somebody outside of the administration, so to speak, is operating in that space, and...
CORNISH: To jump in here, Sondland is a businessman hotelier from the Pacific Northwest who donated a million dollars to Trump's inauguration. He's not a career bureaucrat, and here he is saying that this should not have happened.
PERRY: Right. Well, he's saying that because they want to work within the strict guidelines of the process within the agency that they're involved with.
CORNISH: You mean diplomacy or - I don't understand what you mean by the strict guidelines.
PERRY: Well, that you only deal with people that are agents of the government, so to speak - that they are on the table.
CORNISH: Diplomats and ambassadors...
PERRY: Diplomats, et cetera - and none of them seem to like it when there's any interference in that whatsoever, whether they think it's furthering the interests of the United States or not. They seem to - and again, I'm just going to characterize and paraphrase. This is just my perception from what I've heard overall generally. It's that they feel like they are the ones that are in control of the conversation regarding foreign service and diplomacy and don't like it when anybody outside of their...
CORNISH: So you believe that Giuliani should have been involved. This was not a mistake to you.
PERRY: Well, I didn't say that. I - you know, I didn't say that at all, but I do think it clouds the water, and it does make things more complicated, to say the least. But whether it's better or not, that remains to be seen.
CORNISH: Do you agree with Mr. Sondland again and others who have said this - that inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong? That's something he said specifically.
PERRY: Yes, to influence an upcoming election, but I got to stress to you that the conversations that we've been dealing with that I'm familiar with all deal with the 2016 election.
CORNISH: And so you don't see the connection to Hunter Biden and son of a vice president who would be a future rival to be a problem.
PERRY: Well, it certainly could be a problem, but again, if you're investigating things that happened in the past and they point to things that are currently existing, do you just then quit the investigation? I mean, rooting out corruption, which is a core function...
CORNISH: And - but I just - I want to make sure I understand which investigation because we have the DOJ saying, look. This isn't something we were investigating at the time...
CORNISH: ...And that they did not want aid to Ukraine held up.
PERRY: Well, the DOJ doesn't decide on anything regarding aid to Ukraine in this regard. That's the purview of the administration, the State Department and the president.
CORNISH: I'm sorry. The Pentagon said that they did not want aid held up, and the DOJ said they weren't doing an investigation. So all of this...
CORNISH: ...Is emanating from the White House, Giuliani. And is it all...
PERRY: Well, there...
CORNISH: ...Tied to a future rival?
PERRY: Again, I got to be careful what I can characterize from the hearings and what I can't, but it's my understanding that there had been ongoing investigations in Ukraine regarding 2016 that were either ended abruptly or were - had re-occurred prior to these - all these conversations.
CORNISH: Congressman, I believe we're going to have to leave it there.
CORNISH: That's Congressman Scott Perry, Republican from Pennsylvania - also sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Thank you for your time.
PERRY: Thank you.
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