MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Democrats' march towards impeachment continues. Members of the House Intelligence Committee have just voted to approve their report summarizing the case for impeachment against President Trump. As expected, the vote fell along party lines. Now the inquiry moves to the House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for drafting articles of impeachment. Four constitutional scholars will testify tomorrow. Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff sat down with our colleague Steve Inskeep this afternoon and talked about the case against Trump.
ADAM SCHIFF: Our report shows abundant evidence, really, overwhelming evidence, that the president used the power of his office, conditioned official acts - a White House meeting and hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a nation at war - in exchange for things of value to him; political favors, two investigations he thought would help his reelection campaign - one into Joe Biden, the other into this debunked theory, this Russian-pushed narrative that it was Ukraine not Russia that interfered in our last election.
STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Your report says the president personally solicited these investigations, which, of course, is shown by his own phone call. But have you proven with this testimony that the president personally ordered a quid pro quo, personally ordered that that investigation be tied to military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting?
SCHIFF: Yes. And, indeed, the president's own people have said as much. Ambassador Sondland, who was given this broad portfolio that covered Ukraine, acknowledged that there was a clear quid pro quo, both as to the White House meeting and also, he came to understand, as to the military assistance. The president's...
INSKEEP: But he said he presumed. That's a word that Republicans have leaned on. He presumed there was a quid pro quo.
SCHIFF: Well, he also said that following his conversation with President Trump in which the president said Zelenskiy had to go to a mic and announce these investigations, they would be at a stalemate unless the president did, meaning the aid would not be released. And let's not forget. The president's own chief of staff confirmed what Sondland said when he acknowledged in a press conference that, yes, they withheld the aid in order to get this political investigation, and we ought to just get used to it. There's going to be politics in foreign policy. Well, that's not what America does.
INSKEEP: Do you still think this fits the definition of bribery, which is what you said in our last conversation?
SCHIFF: I think this certainly meets that definition. The uncontested facts show this president solicited something of value - these political investigations - and offered official acts - a meeting, 400 million of military aid - in order to get those political favors. That is exactly what the founders had in mind when they talked about bribery as a breach of the public trust to obtain something of value, particularly from a foreign power.
INSKEEP: What are your thoughts about the wisdom or unwisdom (ph) of adding other charges to a possible list of articles of impeachment? - looking into the Mueller report, looking into matters relating to Russian interference in the 2016 election, looking into allegations of obstruction in that matter.
SCHIFF: The way I see the process working is we'll submit our report to the judiciary committee. They will also consider the Mueller report and the evidence of obstruction of justice. They'll also consider, you know, frankly, something also very serious that is outlined in our report, and that is his obstruction of Congress. It is difficult to imagine a more ironclad case of obstruction of Congress than this one, where the president instructed all of his departments to refuse lawful subpoenas, not turn over a single document. We didn't get any documents from the State Department, from the Office of Management and Budget, which withheld the aid from the White House itself, from the Department of Energy, from the Department of Defense. The prescription that witnesses defy subpoenas and not appear - it's hard to imagine a more wholesale obstruction of Congress.
And I would say this to my Republican colleagues. If they're prepared to countenance this, they must be willing to accept the fact that when there's a Democratic president that they believe is engaged in any kind of misconduct, they will be powerless to find out because that president will simply fall back on this example and say, Donald Trump didn't need to turn over any materials. Donald Trump was able to defy subpoenas. The Congress power of oversight is really a power in theory only, and that will fundamentally alter the balance of power. And it will make future corruption and malfeasance that much more likely.
INSKEEP: Given that you have laid out these facts, why do you think public opinion remains so divided? It moved in your direction for a while, but it remains deeply divided.
SCHIFF: Well, it moved very substantially in the direction of the impeachment inquiry and, ultimately, impeachment itself. When we had this conversation a couple of months ago, a very strong majority of the country was against even doing an impeachment inquiry. Now a very strong majority not only supports the investigation we've been doing, but a bare majority also thinks that he should be impeached and removed from office.
INSKEEP: Or a plurality, depending on the poll...
INSKEEP: ...Maybe a little less than 50%. But go on.
SCHIFF: But that is a very substantial change from a few months ago. And I think it's a function of the public understanding the magnitude of this president's misconduct.
INSKEEP: Would censuring the president, voting to criticize him without trying to remove him from office, be something that would be more in line with public opinion on this?
SCHIFF: I'm not a fan of the idea of censure. I think we have to decide whether the mechanism that the founders provided ought to be utilized or it should not be utilized. One of things that I think we have to keep in mind in that debate that we're about to have is the fact this president will do it again. He has made that abundantly clear. This is a president who is not chastened by the experience of the catastrophe of Russian intervention in our last election and is willfully seeking further intervention in the next election. I think we need to consider, what's the remedy for that? Or are we prepared to accept, as Mick Mulvaney suggested, that we should just get used to it? We should get used to a certain level of corruption in the office of the presidency that affects our own election integrity.
KELLY: That is Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, speaking to NPR's Steve Inskeep. There was more to their interview, and you can hear it tomorrow on Morning Edition.
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.