STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
On the day before the hearing, we sat with the chairman, Adam Schiff, faced each other in armchairs and talked through the importance of public testimony.
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ADAM SCHIFF: All of us are going to have to consult with our conscience, our Constitution and our constituents in making these decisions in both the House and the Senate, and public opinion will be important.
INSKEEP: Yesterday on All Things Considered, we heard the chairman make his case. And he made some news - raising the possibility of charging the president with various offenses, including bribery. That is one of the acts the Constitution names as worthy of impeachment. Schiff knows, however, that Republicans have been trying out various defenses of the president, and we asked about those defenses as our talk continued.
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INSKEEP: What evidence, if any, shows that President Trump himself directed all the elements of this affair?
SCHIFF: Well, I'm going to defer to the hearings and let the American people make a judgment about that. For one thing, I don't know that I have the time during this interview to catalogue what the witnesses have said thus far, but I think...
INSKEEP: Do you believe there is evidence that shows that?
SCHIFF: Yes. And I think what the public will see is that there aren't many facts that are truly in dispute here. And, of course, the president's conduct on that call is not contested. The fact that the aid was withheld is not contested. Many of these facts are not really subject to much dispute - the interpretation of them, yes, but the facts, not as much.
INSKEEP: Well, I'm thinking about the fact that you have Gordon Sondland, one of the diplomats involved here, now has sent you a letter stating that he himself delivered this statement to a Ukrainian official that they must make a statement on investigations if they wanted to get the military aid. But then he testifies, and I'm quoting here, "I presumed that the aid's suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement," leaving room for an order that came from someone other than the president.
SCHIFF: I'm not going to go into specific testimony. But I can say that for weeks now, my colleagues in the GOP said, well, the Ukrainians never even knew the aid was being withheld. How can there be any problem if the Ukrainians were unaware that the aid was withheld? There's no dispute about the fact that Ukraine found out about the aid being withheld.
INSKEEP: When did they know? When did the Ukrainians know?
SCHIFF: Well, this the public will get to see in the public testimony, but...
INSKEEP: Well, I think that's an important thing to push on now because, as you know, Republicans are saying the Ukrainians did not know, as of the president's July 25 phone call, that the aid was being withheld. There is some testimony to that effect. Do you know when the Ukrainians found out the aid was being withheld?
SCHIFF: We know that there are now multiple witnesses who have related conversations with Ukrainians about their knowledge that the aid was being withheld before it was made public.
INSKEEP: Did they know they had a problem with military aid when the president of the United States called them and asked for investigations on July 25?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all, I would dispute whether it's really the issue about whether they knew before or after July 25. The fact of matter is they did find out. And so whether they learned before that call or they learned after that call, they learned, and they knew what the president wanted. And ultimately, they were prepared to give the president what he wanted. That's, I think, the most important of the facts.
INSKEEP: Does it matter at all in the gravity of this, the seriousness of it, that the affair you just described failed, it didn't happen, the aid was released?
SCHIFF: The fact that the scheme was discovered, the fact that the scheme was unsuccessful, doesn't make it any less odious or any less impeachable. If the president solicited foreign help in the U.S. election, if the president conditioned official acts on the performance of these political favors, whether Ukraine ever had to go through with it really doesn't matter. What matters is, did the president attempt to commit acts that ought to result in his removal from office?
INSKEEP: As you know, the president and his defenders have said he was only thinking about the 2016 election. Is it any less grave, in your view, if it was only about 2016, but all the same facts apply?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think the hypothetical is so at odds with the facts because we have the president's own call record. And the president brings up two investigations he once conducted, one into this debunked CrowdStrike conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine that hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016, not the Russians. That, by the way, is the Russians' favorite narrative of the matter.
But the president also wanted an investigation of the Bidens. And this wasn't simply what was raised on the call, although it is certainly the most direct evidence of what the president wanted, but it was raised by the president's proxies, people like the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
INSKEEP: In deciding whether to go forward with impeachment, of course, you have to consider the ultimate result - whether you really have a chance in the Senate. If you decide the facts are serious enough, would it be worth it going ahead, even if you know you're likely to fail, that the president would not be removed?
SCHIFF: I've always thought that the strongest argument for impeachment was also the strongest argument against it, which is if you don't impeach a president who commits conduct of this kind, what does that say to the next president about what they can do and to the next Congress? At the same time, if you do impeach but the president is acquitted, what does that say to the next president, to the next Congress? There's no good or simple answer to that conundrum.
Impeachment is not only a remedy to remove a president. It's also the most powerful sanction the House has. And if that deters further presidential misconduct, then it may provide some remedy, even in the absence of a conviction in the Senate.
But again, I have to hope that my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle will keep an open mind, will do their constitutional duty, will set aside the party of the president because, otherwise, why are they even there, and what does their oath of office really mean?
INSKEEP: Mr. Chairman, thanks for your time.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Adam Schiff, who is the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and who is leading the public impeachment hearings that begin today. You can hear them on many NPR stations. So that you know, NPR has invited all the Republican members of the intelligence committee to take our questions - not one agreed. We'll keep asking.
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