NOEL KING, HOST:
Ambassador William Taylor says that during his time as the top U.S. diplomat for Ukraine, he became aware of a secret irregular channel for communications between the Trump White House and Ukraine that operated in the shadow of official channels.
Taylor testified before three congressional committees yesterday. Congresswoman Karen Bass of California sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And she was there at Ambassador Taylor's deposition yesterday. Representative Bass, good morning.
KAREN BASS: Good morning.
KING: So what were your biggest takeaways from this deposition that some of your colleagues have called damning?
BASS: (Laughter) Yes. I will say first of all that Ambassador Taylor is a patriot, a courageous leader that we should thank, especially thinking down the line. Historically, I believe he will be remembered that way. To me, that stands out. The fact that he has served in the State Department for many, many years and, I got the sense, was appalled at the idea that there would be an informal and formal channel.
And the idea that a head of state would essentially be told if you want to meet with the president, if you want military assistance while you're in the middle of a war, you have to go public and say that you will investigate the person who I am concerned about being my opponent in the next election. And we're going to use the guise of talking about the last election. That was the most shocking to me. And I think that it really stunned everyone in the room.
KING: I want to ask you about that. What was the reaction like in the room? People were stunned. People were shocked. How did they express that?
BASS: Well, everybody was reading along his statement. And so you got the depth of it. The room was respectful, but you definitely heard, you know, folks verbally expressing their surprise and their shock.
KING: How does Ambassador Taylor's testimony fit with the other testimony that Congress has heard so far in this matter?
BASS: Well, I think that it's more and more evidence piling up. But what I believe is happening right now is, within the intelligence community and the State Department, I think people have had enough. I think people have been disrespected and abused, essentially, for the last 2 1/2 years. And I think they're finished. You know, I serve on foreign affairs. I focus on Africa. I go overseas a lot. And every time I go to an embassy, I wind up having to act like a cheerleader because people are so demoralized.
They feel like here they are working all around the world, the average American doesn't even know the places that they are and what they're doing and what they have to face, leaving their family for years. And the idea that they would have a president who has no interest in what they do, who actually denigrates the work and their service is very painful. So it's important for members of Congress to go overseas and to encourage them.
KING: Let me ask you sort of a side question about the administration. A few hours before the deposition yesterday, President Trump tweeted something. And I'm quoting him here - "all Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here - a lynching." In addition to your role on the foreign affairs committee, you're also chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. May I ask what was your response when you heard him compare his situation to a lynching?
BASS: Well, what the president did was he essentially compared our constitutional duties and responsibilities, as a coequal branch of government, to provide oversight of the administration, he compared that to a hate crime, a horrendous hate crime, a horrendous period in U.S. history that, frankly, wasn't that long ago.
Trump does this every time his back is against the wall. He knew there was going to be devastating testimony yesterday and so he threw out a racial bomb. And he does that consistently he throws out something regarding race because he knows that's the third realm in our country.
KING: Let me just ask you briefly - Republicans took to the floor yesterday after Ambassador Taylor testified. They said all of this is a sham. It is secretive. It's going behind - it's going on behind closed doors. What do you think of that?
BASS: Well, first of all, it's not a sham. It's important for us to receive testimony and hear from people right now behind closed doors so that they're not tracking their testimony. However, I know that this will go to an open hearings very soon. But it is important that we bring everybody in first, we hear their testimony.
The Republicans are sitting right there. They have full access to everything that's going on. We are invited. If you serve on one of the three committees, anyone can come in the room. And so this is not hidden from them. This is not a secretive process. That's disingenuous.
KING: California Congresswoman Karen Bass. She's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and she's chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Thank you so much for joining us.
BASS: Thank you.
KING: And I want to bring in NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who's been listening. Tam, Hi.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.
KING: So what has been the White House's response to Ambassador Taylor's explosive, as it's being called, testimony?
KEITH: So Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, did put out a statement last night. In fact, I asked her a bunch of questions specifically about what he was alleging. And instead, they sent this blanket statement that says, quote, "President Trump has done nothing wrong. This is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution. There was no quid pro quo. Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats' politically-motivated, closed door, secretive hearings."
KING: OK. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks so much.
KEITH: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.