NPR’s Audie Cornish speaks with Rep. Sean Maloney of New York, a Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, who participated in Wednesday’s public impeachment hearing.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Testimony in the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump went public today.
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ADAM SCHIFF: If you would both rise and raise your right hand, I will begin by swearing you in.
CORNISH: Those words directed at two career diplomats – George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, and William Taylor, the acting ambassador in Ukraine.
We’re going to turn now to one of the lawmakers who questioned Kent and Taylor today. It’s Representative Sean Patrick Maloney. He’s a Democrat from New York. He joins me now from Capitol Hill, as we can hear.
Congressman, welcome back to the program.
SEAN PATRICK MALONEY: My pleasure.
CORNISH: Let’s open with a point that Republicans on the committee were making today. It’s that the witnesses testifying were removed from firsthand knowledge of President Trump’s direct involvement in withholding aid from Ukraine. Here’s Jim Jordan of Ohio.
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JIM JORDAN: This is what I can’t believe. And you’re their star witness.
WILLIAM TAYLOR: Mr. Jordan…
JORDAN: You’re the guy, based on this, based on – I mean, I’ve seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this. Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on September 1.
CORNISH: A lot of names there. But we did hear the witnesses today saying, I overheard a phone call, or, someone said X, Y or Z. Does this matter, whether or not they had firsthand knowledge?
MALONEY: Well, what we saw today were two professional diplomats with extraordinary records of service give their testimony, and that testimony was devastating to the president. You have in Ambassador Taylor a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam with 101st Airborne Division, 50 years of service to the country. Now…
CORNISH: But they didn’t attack his credibility, right? They attacked the idea that he had not heard from the president directly on these issues.
MALONEY: Right. But of course, we have other witnesses with direct interactions with the president. They’re coming. And like most of the arguments – really, all of the arguments – the Republicans have made, these will be exposed as unavailing when you consider all the facts and evidence. Remember, Ambassador Sondland had direct conversations with the president. Indeed, as we learned today from Ambassador Taylor, a foreign service officer was sitting with Ambassador Sondland the day after the call in question and could overhear the president on the phone with Ambassador Sondland discussing the investigations of Burisma and the Bidens.
CORNISH: And we should say…
MALONEY: That’s the kind of…
CORNISH: …Ambassador Sondland was the ambassador to the EU but, through the White House, was on issues of Ukraine.
MALONEY: And that’s the kind of information that Ambassador Taylor has provided to assist the investigation. So they’re not just critical witnesses. They are part of a larger puzzle that we will put together for the American public over the next few days with many witnesses with direct information. And by the way, there are other witnesses with direct information who are stonewalling the committee. Ambassador Bolton has refused to appear.
CORNISH: And we know that there are some legal issues there, as that’s being teased out possibly in the courts. And I want to get to one other fact that came up because you had Republicans who argued that aid to Ukraine ultimately went through and that it went through without any of the requested investigations ever happening. Here’s Representative John Ratcliffe of Texas.
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JOHN RATCLIFFE: What did President Zelenskiy actually do to get the aid? The answer is nothing. He did nothing. He didn’t open any investigations. He didn’t do any of the things that House Democrats say that he was being forced and coerced and threatened to do. He didn’t do anything because he didn’t have to.
CORNISH: What is the response to this?
MALONEY: Boy, that is one of the most cynical statements I’ve ever heard. That is like saying the bank robber running out of the bank with a sack of money saw the police cars in the front of the bank and ran back in and put the money on the counter, and so no robbery occurred.
The reason the aid was released was that two days before, three congressional committees began these investigations. So I guess Mr. Ratcliffe’s point is that all it took was a simple impeachment inquiry and massive attention by the United States Congress to get the aid released. And we know from other testimony that the Ukrainians were, in fact, prepared to go public with a statement to actually say the things that Giuliani and the president were demanding they say. This plan was…
CORNISH: So you’re arguing that the attempt to…
MALONEY: Excuse me. This plan was…
CORNISH: I want to jump in here, though, because you’re – what you’re arguing – I want to make sure I understand it – is that the attempt by the White House – the alleged attempt by the White House to leverage this aid is enough, even if it didn’t go through. And by enough, you mean it could potentially be an impeachable offense.
MALONEY: That’s what we have the whistleblower to thank for. In other words, it was the whistleblowing that sounded the alarm. That’s why we call it whistleblowing. Once we knew about it, the wrongdoing ceased. So to say that the plot was foiled because a patriotic American came forward and blew the whistle does not go down to the president’s credit. So for the Republicans to hang their hat on that misses the whole point.
CORNISH: Republicans have argued that when the State Department evaluates foreign assistance, it’s appropriate to look at corruption in those countries. Given that issues of corruption have long been a part of the discussions between the U.S. and Ukrainian leaders, what is your response to that?
MALONEY: Right. Well, of course, it’s appropriate to look at corruption. There’s no evidence the president had any general concern for corruption. He had a specific concern about smearing the Bidens, and there is a mountain of evidence that proves that. And we’re going to present that to the American public in the coming days.
CORNISH: That’s Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat from New York. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
Thank you for your time.
MALONEY: My pleasure.
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