WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, this morning joined CNN New Day to discuss the impeachment inquiry.
“What concerns me most here is we see a president who either doesn't know or doesn't care about what the line is between his personal political interests and how to pursue that and the national security interests of the United States,” said Senator Coons.
“[T]his is recent, this is clear, and there was direct involvement by the President of the United States in seeking the engagement of the president of a young democracy under attack by Russia in ways that would help his 2020 election,” said Senator Coons.
Video and audio available here.
Excerpts from the interview:
Have you read the whistleblower complaint?
Senator Coons: No, I have not. I am not a member of the Intelligence Committee, I am pressing to get the opportunity to review it. I think that it is significant that today both Acting DNI Maguire and the Intelligence Community Inspector General Atkinson will be appearing before the Intelligence Committees.
Your reaction to the phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky?
Senator Coons: First, it is not a transcript, as you well know, it is a summary, it is a memorandum, and it is striking to me that the White House released this summary of that call. It seemed clear to me that President Trump said to President Zelensky, "I am asking you a favor," and then specifically raised whether or not President Zelensky and his new administration in Ukraine would assist with an investigation into President Trump's leading opponent for the presidential candidate next year. This is striking that we have a President of the United States on an open call with the President of Ukraine, a country that has faced five years of withering attacks from Russian-supported separatists, and who was eagerly awaiting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the United States that had been suspended. This strikes me as a call that's really more appropriate to be reading a transcript of a mob wiretap than a conversation between the presidents of two democracies.
Do you think your Republican colleagues in the Senate had something to do with the changed tactics of the White House?
Senator Coons: I do think there were a number of Republican senators, I spoke to Senator Graham on the floor yesterday, obviously we saw Majority Leader McConnell join with Minority Leader Schumer in passing a unanimous resolution that the whistle-blower complaint ought to be advanced to the Intelligence Committees. I do think that there were signals sent by strong supporters of the President that he should come forward with this information because they were confident it would show nothing. In reading this memo summarizing that conversation, I see a there there. I see very clear evidence of a new president eager to receive assistance from the United States, and the President of the United States saying to him, "do us a favor" and then later saying "meet with my personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani,” who is not a representative of the State Department, the Defense Department. If President Trump's answer as to why he did this, why he pressed for an investigation, why he held up the aid, was that somehow, he was concerned about corruption, then that's a matter for the Department of Justice or the Department of State. If the president was legitimately concerned that our European allies were not helping out, his other excuse, that is a matter for the Department of Defense, the Department of State. Why is he inserting his own, personal attorney into this? And what has been the role of Attorney General Bill Barr in this? I think that deserves further and prompt investigation.
I know you would like Attorney General Barr to appear before your committee. What would you ask him?
Senator Coons: First, I think it’s important to know whether or not the oversight mechanisms within the Inspector General for the intelligence community is functioning appropriately. That is something the Intelligence Committees are getting at today, but my understanding is that some of this matter was referred to the Department Justice and they concluded there was nothing there. It is striking to me if that was in fact their conclusion. Second, I think it is appropriate for us to know, and I am on the Foreign Relations Committee where this would be taken up, why the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid was slow-walked, was held up at the direction of the president. If there was no policy reason for it to be held up, that suggests even further, that is important circumstantial evidence, that President Trump was dangling this assistance, in order to compel cooperation with his personal political goal. Last, what concerns me most here is we see a president who either doesn't know or doesn't care about what the line is between his personal political interests and how to pursue that and the national security interests of the United States.
Your reaction to Attorney General Barr’s statement?
Senator Coons: That is pretty unequivocal, and here is what is striking: President Trump proffered the excuse that he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine and thought corruption broadly needed to be investigated. That is the sort of matter that would properly have been referred through the Department of Justice, from our attorney general to their attorney general. If nothing like that was done and in fact the only follow up was through Rudy Giuliani, that is also important to know.
Would you like to see Attorney General Barr recuse himself?
Senator Coons: Absolutely. I think it would be appropriate, especially if he has had no actual contact, if he is not engaged, not involved, then I would like to see him recuse himself from any further investigation into exactly this was handled in the White House. What I think we will hear later today or what I think the Intelligence Committees may well hear today is that what the whistleblower was concerned about was both the content of this call and the way that it was handled within the White House, ways in which White House staff acted to try and manage the record of this call and to prevent it from becoming public. That process within the White House is what I think is going to end up being a central concern, right alongside our president blatantly asking for the help of a foreign government in interfering in our 2020 elections against his strongest rival for the 2020 election, Joe Biden.
The Washington Post reports that information about communications between President Trump and foreign leaders was transferred to a separate and different computer network from where those communications are normally stored. What do you make of that?
Senator Coons: Well, that is another intriguing detail that I think the Intelligence Committee today will be getting more information about. This is why I think it is appropriate for there to be an investigation into these details. Unlike the matter that Robert Mueller investigated for a long period of time, where it was somewhat opaque, it was hard to get to the bottom of it, what was actually discussed, who was actually at the meeting, this is recent, this is clear, and there was direct involvement by the President of the United States in seeking the engagement of the president of a young democracy under attack by Russia in ways that would help his 2020 election. This is much clearer, and intriguing developments like that, I think, suggest why this merits prompt investigation.