Hearing Recaps Impeachment Investigation; Justice IG Finds No Bias In Russia Inquiry In a hearing summarizing the findings of the impeachment inquiry so far, Democrats said they believe the case for removing President Trump from office is clear.

And in a report released Monday afternoon, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the department's Russia investigation was "properly" predicated and conducted without political bias — but there were numerous problems with the surveillance of a junior campaign aide to Donald Trump.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, election security editor Phil Ewing, and National Political correspondent Mara Liasson.
NPR logo

Hearing Recaps Impeachment Investigation; Justice IG Finds No Bias In Russia Inquiry

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/786379432/786494360" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Hearing Recaps Impeachment Investigation; Justice IG Finds No Bias In Russia Inquiry

Hearing Recaps Impeachment Investigation; Justice IG Finds No Bias In Russia Inquiry

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/786379432/786494360" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

CHARLOTTE: Hi. This is Charlotte. I'm here with my baby sister Emily. And I love Jack Speer, and I love NPR, who lives in Washington. And I love my mom and dad. I'm 3 years old.



CHARLOTTE: I want Jack Speer to be the president. This podcast was recorded at...

KEITH: 2:40 p.m. on the 9th of December.

CHARLOTTE: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. OK. Here the show.


KEITH: Aw. Charlotte and Emily - so cute. For those who don't listen to the radio and only consume their NPR through our incredible podcast, Jack Speer is a veteran newscaster who casts the news in the afternoons for NPR.

PHIL EWING, BYLINE: And he's got a great voice...

KEITH: He does have a great voice.

EWING: ...Which those kids have probably heard in the car.

KEITH: (Laughter) Whether they were willing or not.

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

EWING: I'm Phil Ewing, election security editor.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KEITH: If it's Monday, it must be time for another impeachment inquiry hearing.


JERRY NADLER: The House Committee on the Judiciary will come to order.

KEITH: This morning the House Judiciary Committee kicked off another hearing, this one sort of a best-of review of the previous hearings. For example, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democrat from New York, used a lot of lines that we've heard before.


NADLER: The evidence shows that Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States, has put himself before his country. He has violated his most basic responsibilities to the people. He has broken his oath. I will honor mine if you would order yours, and I would urge you to do your duty.

KEITH: And so did Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee.


DOUG COLLINS: At the end of the day, all this is about is about a clock and a calendar because they can't get over the fact Donald Trump is president of the United States and they don't have a candidate that they think can beat him. It's all political.

KEITH: And after those opening statements, the hearing largely became testimony from attorneys. Mara, who was here to testify?

LIASSON: This hearing was a hearing to present the report from the Intelligence Committee to the Judiciary Committee. The Intelligence Committee did a fact-finding investigation. Now the Judiciary Committee takes all that information and decides, does it amount to an abuse of power, an abuse of power that's bad enough to warrant the president's removal from office? And they would draw impeachment articles for that.

So who they had today was Daniel Goldman, who was the Intelligence Committee's counsel. They also had Steve Castor, the Republican counsel. And the reason why that could be a little confusing is because he is the counsel to both committees, the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee. And then you had Barry Berke, who is the Democrat's counsel on the Judiciary Committee.

So it got a little confusing because you had lawyers who are usually doing the questioning, the committee counsels sitting in the, quote, "witness chairs" even though they weren't witnesses.

KEITH: Yeah. And so we had all of these attorneys, who we have seen in previous episodes of the impeachment hearing, and they were in different seats. I mean, they were even in different seats over the course of the hearing. It was a musical chairs situation.

EWING: They're pooling staffers. The Republicans have decided to take this a little bit less seriously than the Democrats. Democrats had two staff attorneys - Daniel Goldman, who works for the House Intelligence Committee, and Barry Berke, who works for the Judiciary Committee. They took their turns giving evidence to Chairman Jerry Nadler and the other members, but Castor did double duty for the Republicans.

KEITH: So, Mara, you were in NPR's live Special Coverage of this hearing for hours. What's your takeaway from this hearing?

LIASSON: My takeaway is the Democrats feel that they have laid out a tremendous amount of evidence that the president abused his power by asking the leader of a foreign government to investigate one of the president's own domestic political rivals. Republicans shot back by saying that the aid what might have been held up for 55 days - but eventually, it did flow to Ukraine; that the Ukrainian president said he never felt pressured and that none of these things rise to the level of impeachment. As the ranking member said, Doug Collins, where is the impeachable offense?

EWING: This is like one of those stories you tell to your friends at a cocktail party, at a bar. And you've told it so many times, you kind of have got it down to a schtick. And even when they know they've heard it before, they kind of are nodding along because they expect about what's going to come next. Each time these sides tell the story, they tell it in basically the same way, but they refine it slightly, which is what this was. The process here is that the Judiciary Committee has to write articles of impeachment, having decided that it's going to go ahead with impeachment.

And so it needs to review the evidence, as it were - something that we've done many times. But Jerry Nadler, the chairman, thinks that his members had to have it one more time from these staff members just to make sure they have the details right.

KEITH: This all makes me wonder, what was the point of today's hearing?

LIASSON: Look. Everybody gets to decide whether this is necessary viewing for them. For people who've been mainlining these hearings, there was probably nothing new that they learned today. On the other hand, the vast majority of people are not paying close attention, and that is one of the reasons that the Democrats repeat what they found over and over again to make their case. It's like, you tell them what you told them. Then you...

KEITH: Tell them.

LIASSON: ...Repeat it again.

KEITH: And then you tell them again.

LIASSON: And then tell them again. Yeah.

KEITH: That's the old speechwriter rule.

EWING: Right.

LIASSON: But there's nothing wrong with that. For us, some of this stuff might not be new, but for most people who are just tuning in, it is.

EWING: There is a TV broadcast every day. Democrats want there to be a clip on those TV broadcasts of something happening in the Congress, whether it's members of Congress or witnesses or these staffers talking about it, because if you can reach more people with each passing opportunity, they figure that that's the effective way to try and change public opinion.

KEITH: Mara, there was a statement from the White House. It lines up pretty closely with what Republicans, including Castor, were arguing.

LIASSON: Yes. Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, tweeted five indisputable facts - kind of a parody of the format that the Democrats had used today in the hearings. No. 1, no evidence of wrongdoing by POTUS. No. 2, Ukraine said there was no pressure. No. 3, lethal aid to Ukraine wouldn't exist without Donald Trump. Four, no obstruction whatsoever, and five, this is an unfair and unprecedented impeachment process.

KEITH: And yet...

LIASSON: And yet, we're barreling ahead with impeachment.

KEITH: And Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, did say that we are presumably getting articles of impeachment this week. It seems like this train is on the fast track, and this is the week that the articles of impeachment come.

EWING: That's right, but they have a decision to make before we reach that point. Is this going to be a narrow case that's just about Ukraine - the findings of the Adam Schiff investigation - or is it going to be a broad case that brings in, for example, the findings of the Robert Mueller special counsel report and talks about alleged obstruction of justice and other things that Trump has done. They need to answer that question before. Then they can actually decide what articles of impeachment that they write to go forward with this.

KEITH: And I guess that decision will be made pretty darn soon. We are going to take a quick break, and when we get back, there is a report from the Department of Justice inspector general about whether the agency did anything improper when investigating possible ties between President Trump's campaign and Russia.

And we're back, and this much-awaited Department of Justice inspector general's report, known as the Horowitz Report, is out. We have it, and Phil Ewing, you have been reviewing it closely. Let's go back to the beginning, though. Why was this report launched, commissioned? How did this come about?

EWING: Well, if you come back with me in the history hutch back to the past months and years before now, President Trump has made a number of allegations about the conduct of the Justice Department and the FBI with respect not only to the 2016 investigation but more broadly. And one of them was that his campaign or his home at Trump Tower was spied upon, and...

KEITH: Oh, I fondly remember being at Mar-a-Lago when he tweeted that and then spending the entire weekend trying to figure out where the allegations came from.

EWING: And after enough of those allegations, the Justice Department agreed that its inspector general, Michael Horowitz, would look into the origins of the special counsel investigation, as it became. And the report that came out on Monday is the result of that work.

KEITH: All right, so what did the inspector general, Horowitz - what did he find?

EWING: Well, the high-level finding is that there was no evidence of political bias that underpinned these decisions taken by the Justice Department and the FBI in 2016 and since. But there was at least one specific case involving a former aide to Trump in 2016 named Carter Page where there were apparently a number of problems - 17 omissions or other statements of fact which were problematic according to investigators in the application the FBI used to get surveillance authority to collect his communications. That's significant because any flaws, problems by investigators is political ammunition for the president and his supporters.

KEITH: Well, and the president has already weighed in on this.

LIASSON: Yeah, and what's so interesting about this - I mean, this is yet another Justice Department report that says something, and Attorney General Barr gets to perform his own interpretation on it. And then so does the president.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is incredible, far worse than I would have ever thought possible. And it's an embarrassment to our country. It's dishonest. It's everything that a lot of people thought it would be except far worse.

LIASSON: And Attorney General Barr had said he thought that this report showed that there was an intrusive investigation of the president's campaign that was started on the thinnest of suspicions. So Barr has done his best to describe this report in the most positive way for the president - in other words, showing that some - that he was done wrong. But unlike in the Mueller report, Barr doesn't have three weeks to himself before the actual thing is released.

KEITH: Well, in fact...

LIASSON: So here it is. It's out there. It shows there was no political bias in the beginning of the investigation into possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign. One little factoid that I found really interesting is that Manafort - Paul Manafort was under federal investigation for money laundering millions of dollars from Ukraine in January of 2016, long before he was hired by Donald Trump...

KEITH: To be his campaign manager.

LIASSON: ...To be his campaign manager.

KEITH: Phil, this is a question I have. It seems as though the attorney general and also this other attorney - U.S. attorney John Durham, who is doing another separate investigation of some of the same ideas - it seems like they are looking at a different inspector general report than we are.

EWING: Durham hasn't been heard from very much since he's been brought in to do another investigation into the investigation. But he issued a very unusual statement on Monday, saying, we've been looking in other places beyond Horowitz, the inspector general, outside the United States. And we don't necessarily agree with some of the conclusions that he's reached here. We don't know what that means. We don't know what Durham has uncovered or what he's going to say when he issues his report if that's what takes place here.

But one thing we do know is that Durham's probe has been upgraded into a criminal inquiry. So he could impanel a grand jury and use it to issue subpoenas, and so there could be still more yet to come out of Durham. We're going to be watching for that very closely.

KEITH: But aside from the politics of this or was the president right or wrong when he tweeted about being spied on, Christopher Wray, the FBI director, in response to this inspector general's report, is saying that the FBI is going to make changes in the way it operates.

EWING: That's exactly right. He said they're making 40 changes across the board. They're going to change the way they run investigations. They're going to change the way they use confidential human sources, the way they interact with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

And he also said something I thought was really interesting. "I'm establishing new protocols for the FBI's participation in counterintelligence transition briefings provided to presidential nominees," closed quote. Why is that important? Because one question about 2016 was, if the FBI thought that Trump's campaign was conspiring with the Russians, why didn't it ever brief Trump and his campaign leaders about those suspicions? And no one's really answered that satisfactorily.

But what Wray appears to be saying is, if something like this happens again, we are going to go to the top and begin giving different briefings than we did in the past because the idea is that would be more productive than, for example, trying to collect surveillance about the people in the campaign and trying to roll up some scheme. Instead, now they'll just go right in and say, we have these suspicions.

KEITH: They'll say, oh, my gosh; you've been hacked, or, hey; you've got this weird dude working for you who's talking to the Russians.

EWING: That's what he's saying. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we hope that this will not be tested again in 2020 because I know that I'm not prepared to live through that again.

KEITH: All right, so one thing we will live through is another congressional hearing. Michael Horowitz himself, the man - the author of the report, will testify on Wednesday. All right, that is a wrap for today. But, guys, I have some news.

EWING: Go on.

KEITH: Our live show in January at Drew University has sold out. Woohoo (ph).

EWING: Awesome.

KEITH: Woo (ph). And I will be there.

LIASSON: I will, too.

KEITH: But if you guys missed out on that incredible opportunity, our live show in Chicago still has a few tickets left. We will be there with WBEZ, and you can grab tickets at nprpresents.org. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

EWING: I'm Phil Ewing, election security editor.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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.