AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In a palatial hearing room on Capitol Hill today, the House Intelligence Committee heard testimony from the third witness to testify publicly in the House impeachment inquiry. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch told lawmakers that she believes she was removed from her post as part of a campaign to pressure Ukraine to open investigations that would benefit President Trump.
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MARIE YOVANOVITCH: How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?
CHANG: Congressman Eric Swalwell was one of the Democrats questioning the career diplomat today, and he's with us now from Capitol Hill.
ERIC SWALWELL: Thank you. Good evening.
CHANG: So a lot of Republicans today were praising Yovanovitch for being a patriotic public servant, but at the same time, they questioned why she was even there. Here's ranking member Devin Nunes.
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DEVIN NUNES: Were you involved in the July 25 Trump-Zelenskiy phone call or preparations for the call?
YOVANOVITCH: No, I was not.
NUNES: Were you involved in the deliberations about the pause in military sales to Ukraine as the Trump administration reviewed newly elected President Zelenskiy's commitment to corruption reforms?
YOVANOVITCH: For the delay in...
NUNES: For the pause.
YOVANOVITCH: For the pause, no. I was not.
NUNES: Thank you, ambassador. I'm not exactly sure what the ambassador is doing here today.
CHANG: All right, so let me direct the question to you, congressman. Why was Yovanovitch there today? What's key to her part of the whole story?
SWALWELL: This tough, smart, committed diplomat stood in the way of Donald Trump's corrupt scheme. She was the person you would want there if you were truly interested in corruption. However, the president was interested in weaponizing corruption, and so through Rudy Giuliani and others, he smeared her while she was there, moved her out, put Giuliani and Ambassador Sondland in place and even smeared her on that July 25 call to President Zelenskiy and, even as she sat there today telling her story, smeared her as she was testifying, which, I think, you know, shows how important she is. He's the one that smeared her before - during the call and after the call. She's important to him because she was an impediment to his scheme.
CHANG: But let me ask you this. Republicans repeatedly pointed out that ambassadors serve at the president's discretion. Even Yovanovitch herself agreed that the ambassador job is an inherently political job. It can be doled out for political reasons. You can be fired for political reasons. So do Republicans have a point while Democrats are interrogating why she was dismissed?
SWALWELL: No. You can fire someone for a good reason. You can't fire them for a corrupt reason. You can't fire someone because of their race, because of their gender. And if you're the president of the United States, you will be held to account if you fire someone to put in place a corrupt scheme. That's what the evidence is suggesting. We have more hearings to go. But she was an impediment to the corruption that he needed to play out on his behalf for his upcoming election.
CHANG: Let me push back another way. Republicans also argue that if the president did want to push an agenda in Ukraine, then why replace Yovanovitch with someone like Bill Taylor, who's also a well-respected longtime diplomat who's obviously not a Trump loyalist?
SWALWELL: And, you know, I first appreciate that you have to, you know, quote, unquote, "push back," you know, but the truth is, this isn't - you know, just because the Republicans say it has any merit to it - all of the evidence shows that Bill Taylor was cut out. Actually, it was Ambassador Sondland who was running this scheme for the president. It was Rudy Giuliani who was running this scheme for the president. So just because the Republicans floated out there doesn't mean, I think, it deserves any equivalence.
CHANG: Well, he was still involved, obviously, in pivotal text messages that had been disseminated since.
SWALWELL: He was concerned, yes. From what he knew, he expressed great concern. In fact, he said on a September 8 text message, are we really holding up aid to help a political campaign? But the people who had a sharp, straight line to President Trump in this corrupt scheme - Ambassador Sondland, Rudy Giuliani and, from his own words, Mick Mulvaney, who said he was told by the president to put a hold on the aid because of the 2016 election investigation.
CHANG: Now, as this hearing was going on today with Yovanovitch, President Trump sent a disparaging tweet about her. Chairman Schiff suggested that that was witness intimidation. Do you expect witness intimidation to end up on the list of impeachable offenses on future articles of impeachment?
SWALWELL: Witness intimidation by the president will certainly be used to show a consciousness of guilt. People - innocent people do not intimidate witnesses, and the fact that the president did so, I think, shows, you know, he - his own knowledge of his guilt. And so he wants to...
CHANG: Is it an impeachable offense to you?
SWALWELL: So it will be considered as obstruction of justice. But here, you know, unlike prior impeachment hearings - Clinton, Nixon, et cetera - the act of using $391 million of taxpayer dollars to have the Ukrainians investigate your opponent, that's much bigger than anything else. And that's our primary focus.
CHANG: All right. Well, we're now two days into these public impeachment hearings. Let me ask you, do you feel like these hearings are actually achieving - actually winning over public opinion? Do you really feel like these hearings are changing people's minds?
SWALWELL: The American people are seeing strong evidence of the president's abuse of power, and if he has exonerating witnesses - people who can clear him - now's the time to stop - to send them to Congress and stop blocking them from testifying.
CHANG: That's Democrat Eric Swalwell of California.
Thank you very much.
SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thank you.
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