RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Was it a quid pro quo? Was it not? Over the past 24 hours, the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, has had a hard time clarifying that. Yesterday in a press conference, Mulvaney acknowledged that President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in part to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Democratic National Committee. It came after a question from ABC's Jon Karl.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
JON KARL: So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered...
MICK MULVANEY: It was on...
KARL: ...To withhold funding to Ukraine?
MULVANEY: The look back to what happened in 2016...
KARL: Investigation into Democrats.
MULVANEY: ...Certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolute appropriate.
KARL: And withholding the funding?
MARTIN: Mulvaney later tried to walk back his comments, writing in a statement that, quote, "there was absolutely no quid pro quo."
So how, if at all, does this affect the House impeachment inquiry? We are joined by Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He is from the state of Illinois and serves on both the House Intelligence and House Oversight Committees. And he had a front-row seat, as a result, to all the hearings this past week. Congressman, thanks for being with us.
RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: I want to start with what Mick Mulvaney said yesterday and then tried to unsay. What did you make of his comments about the president withholding military aid until Ukraine investigated the DNC?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, first of all, I should say that you don't need a quid pro quo for a crime to have been committed with regard to the latest Ukrainian scheme. You know, the mere request for foreign assistance with a domestic political initiative is in itself illegal. But in this case, there was a brazen admission of a quid pro quo, and I think that what he said initially was his candid admission of what actually happened.
MARTIN: Republicans insist, though, that the president has done nothing wrong here. They say it again and again, that this was about tackling corruption in Ukraine, which several previous administrations have tried to do, as well, and that's true. And they say if a byproduct of that work proved to be beneficial to Trump politically, so be it, but that wasn't the intention. How do you respond to that?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, first of all, this wasn't about corruption in Ukraine. This wasn't about somehow investigating, how do we get good government in Ukraine? This - the primary intention of the request for help was to get help with, as Lisa Murkowski put it, a political initiative in the United States. That is clearly illegal. And in this case, what he said was basically something that people have debunked repeatedly, this issue with regard to the DNC server and so forth. But in any case, he clearly linked the military aid to help with the domestic political initiative. I think there was more to it than just what he said. But what he said was deeply disturbing.
MARTIN: Yesterday, the committees overseeing impeachment heard from the U.S. ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland. And the most significant moment, at least from his prepared remarks released to the press, is that President Trump ordered him and two other top diplomats to work through Rudy Giuliani...
MARTIN: ...The president's personal lawyer, on Ukraine. What does that signify to you?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I can't discuss specific testimony. But what I walked away was the feeling - with was the feeling that, you know, Giuliani was supposedly operating a shadow foreign policy. And what that means is that, you know, basically instead of acting in the best interests of the country, what he was doing was trying to serve the private interests of different clients, including President Donald Trump.
MARTIN: What was the most significant moment out of all the testimony this week? Understanding you can't talk about the particulars, but what was the most significant takeaway?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: From Sondland's testimony, again, I think that there's a distancing of himself from wrongdoing. I walked away with the feeling that he clearly remembered that he wasn't involved (laughter) with any wrongdoing, but he had temporary amnesia about his own involvement. I think overall this week, I thought that witness after witness, especially the career public servants, came forward despite the risks to their own careers and talked about how there was misconduct going on with regard to foreign policy, and they didn't want to have anything to do with it.
MARTIN: I have two quick questions with our remaining seconds. Mick Mulvaney announced yesterday President Trump has decided to hold the G7 summit at his own resort in Florida. There are obvious conflicts of interest there. It might violate the Constitution. Is it going to be part of the impeachment inquiry?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, there's already an ongoing investigation in the Oversight Committee with regard to the emoluments clause issues, and I'm sure that this will be wrapped up in that. But finally, again, this was a brazen move on a day when we were mourning the passing of Elijah Cummings, the champion of oversight and checks and balances on the executive branch. We're not going to allow this to slide. In the spirit of Elijah, we'll continue with the emoluments investigation in the Oversight Committee.
MARTIN: Very briefly, you have subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani's documents. He has rejected that. Will you subpoena him to appear?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I don't want to get ahead of my chairman, Adam Schiff. You know, we have to see where this goes. But certainly, the fact that he's not producing the documents is evidence of obstruction of the inquiry, as well as it will invite the inference that the blocked testimony and evidence supports the allegations of the whistleblower complaint.
MARTIN: Democratic congressman from Illinois Raja Krishnamoorthi, thank you so much for your time.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, Rachel.
MARTIN: NPR's Ryan Lucas was listening in on that conversation. Obviously, Ryan, Rudy Giuliani is central to this entire inquiry. As we mentioned, he hasn't handed over documents. What recourse do the committees have if he just refuses to cooperate?
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, there are a couple of things that Congress can do. They could, in theory, lock him up. They could, in theory, take him to court and try to compel his testimony. But I think we've seen time and again from Democrats, including today from the congressman, saying that what we're going to do is take this sort of refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas and consider that obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and we can add that to potential articles of impeachment against the president - obstruction of a congressional inquiry.
The other thing that struck me in what the congressman had to say today, very quickly, is something that we've heard time and again from Democrats - trying to push this idea that you don't have to have a quid pro quo in all of this for there to be wrongdoing.
LUCAS: A lot of us have focused on that. There has been a lot of attention on that. But there doesn't have to be necessarily a quid pro quo for there to be improper conduct that the House could consider impeachable.
MARTIN: An abuse of power, in other words. NPR's Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department. Ryan, thanks for your context. We appreciate it.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.