Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, in his office on Capitol Hill.
All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly interviews Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, on Capital Hill about the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Mary Louise Kelly: We are speaking on the day that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced the House is ready to move forward with articles of impeachment. What’s your response?
Rep. Doug Collins: Really, no response. This is what we’ve been expecting for a while. I mean, somebody I heard say this was breaking news. This is only breaking news if you’ve been in hibernation for the last year. They’ve been wanting to do this. They’re moving forward now. Yeah, I do find it a little bit surprising that it came after yesterday. And which, frankly, if you were trying to say, “What is the articles about?” I mean, you can take a different perspective. But it is really concerning to me that the one thing that is not clear, that has been clear in other impeachment exercises, whether you agree with this president or not, it’s irrelevant. I think Mr. Turley and some of the others even pointed this out —
Jonathan Turley [constitutional law scholar], one of the witnesses yesterday before your committee —
Yeah, he laid this out that we don’t have uncontested facts here. I think, well, I guess if you had an uncontested fact it will be: there was a phone call. But past that, there seems to be a difference of opinion. Even one of the witnesses yesterday talked about inference, there was all this. So I think this is a concern for many of us going forward is how we go forward after yesterday. What I think the speaker did today was to simply revive and say, “Yes, we’re doing this.” I did think it was interesting, though, she didn’t give a timeframe. But although, after some conversations I’ve had already this morning, we still would like it to be before Christmas.
The suggestion is that this will happen before Christmas.
I would think so, yes.
So how does that play out? What’s next in your committee?
I think it makes it very difficult. Look, when my chairman [Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.], I think, and I’ve had a long relationship, when we do, when he does it — and we’ve had times when we do it right and we get along very well and when we don’t. But I think even at times when I’ve even been critical of him, I think the speaker and the leadership in the Democratic Party is probably putting too much pressure on a process that he’s not had his hands on for the last six months. We were taken away from us. And now he’s expected to take what others have given and not be given the full run to have our own crack at these witnesses, our own chance to see. And there’s reasons for that. We may — some of the witnesses, may or may not, and I’m not going to name who they might be, we call them in, it’s interesting to see do they maintain their same story? Do they maintain it in the same way? These are things that we’re not gonna get the opportunity, it looks like, right now to test.
Let me follow on a couple of things you’ve said. One is: you want to be able to question fact witnesses yourself.
Yes. That’s the biggest thing.
But fact witnesses have been questioned by the House. They’ve testified. The House Intelligence Committee did seven hours of hearings, held seven hearings, questioned people over more than 30 hours under oath. Do you expect that they would come before your committee and say something radically different?
Well, they could. But also, we, again, there’s a two-fold problem here. Number one, if that was the only issue, then let the let the House Intelligence Committee write the articles of impeachment and bring ’em to the floor. Don’t give ’em to Judiciary. Then why are we coming back to Judiciary? Why are you putting in a step —
But to the central question: there has been testimony, by fact witnesses, in front of the House and they were questioned under oath by Republicans and Republican counsel.
Right. But so is every investigation. I’ll take it even to an attorney. The police investigate. They ask questions. They’ve investigated. They’ll have witnesses. They’ll have testimony. But yet when it comes to court, they still have to to give testimony. OK? If you’re counseling what Adam Schiff [House Intelligence Committee chairman, D-Calif.]said, we’re the investigative group, then we’re coming to the next phase of that, why would we not have the same, you know, firsthand knowledge of this here? And there may be questions that I asked that were not asked in the other.
But there is another issue that I think was glossed over there. Not in your question, but I think in the understanding. We have to go back, two months ago now, to when the Democrats decided to, quote, “formalize their impeachment process.” OK, they did the rules. And this is how it was going to break out. One of the things that was very important there was, is that they waited till the Judiciary Committee to actually bring in what we’ll call at least partial engagement from the White House in and of itself, for witnesses or for cross-examining others and things like that. If we don’t have a rule — like yesterday, it was no use in the White House counsel’s coming for that because it was really nothing for them to ask and to be a part of.
I want to follow on that, but make your point.
Yeah, but there’s not. And so, but if there is other witnesses, like, so when we get the report, there will be a chance for them to ask questions of Adam Schiff, everybody else, or another witnesses, this is their time to actually do that. And if we don’t have a robust set of hearings in our committee, not that they don’t come to the same conclusion and impeach him, that’s their perogative. But do they really want to tell the American people they went through the time and expense and effort to pass these rules but never really put them into action?
You’re calling for a robust set of hearings —
And being able to cross-examine witnesses. Isn’t the fact that fact witnesses aren’t appearing before your committee and others a direct consequence of White House interference?
They’re blocking witnesses from testifying.
No, it’s a direct consequence of this House being so bent on calendar and clock to get an impeachment done that they’re not willing to go through their own, you know, their own — as Jonathan Turley actually said yesterday — the abuse of power is coming in a Congress that’s not willing to work through the process. And I think that’s part of the issue that we’re dealing with. Remember —
The Intelligence Committee in their report has documented 12 witnesses that were called. I’ll give you the exact number here. Twelve current and former officials with direct knowledge. The White House is preventing them from testifying. Ten of them have been subpoenaed. The White House Intelligence Committee impeachment report also documents not a single document has been produced by the White House, the office of the vice president, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or the Department of Energy. Despite 71 specific demands for documents.
They have. No, especially again, though, but none of the report also lists any of the reasons why that, especially on the witness side, why they’ve chose not to participate, and the privileges that may be invoked here. This is something —
But the subpoenas are in effect. They’ve been —
The subpoenas are in effect but even — there were subpoenas in effect under the Obama administration as well. And even Eric Holder [Obama’s attorney general] was held in contempt for not complying with a subpoena.
But I’m taking these subpoenas. How does that not constitute obstruction?
Well, what you have to look at is, you go through a process here. OK. And one of the things that this process — and I brought this out yesterday. Our committee has been belligerent in its approach to many of the processes that we’ve had — getting documents from DOJ, getting other things. And if you just had that simply to look at as your lens, then that’s fine. But you can’t because you have to look at the Congress as a whole. Eliot Engel [D-N.Y.], one of the quieter, more efficient chairmen on this Hill, and a Democrat that I’ve respected, I’ve worked with him for a while, his committee has been amazing at getting documents and working through processes with this administration.
This is the [House] Foreign Affairs Committee.
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The Foreign Affairs Committee. You know why? Because they actually engaged the administration to actually work on it. While we were in the middle of some of our biggest discussions with the Department of Justice, on not getting information, Adam Schiff began to get documents because he went and said, “Here’s how we can do this. Let’s perpetrate this.” But also, let’s not also think that the president and the White House did not — they released the transcript of the call. They released a second transcript of the call. They’ve — if you go back to Mueller, you go about — unprecedented even by, what they talked about yesterday, of the access that was given through the Mueller report. I think at a certain point in time, you just get to the —
But to blocking 12 witnesses, who have direct knowledge of these events.
As I said yesterday, it would be my — and it was answered by Mr. Turley — it’s also, there is a precedent for the president himself, not just for himself, but for the presidency, to make sure that there are certain constitutional bounds that they’re claiming and privileges that they’re claiming.
Now, the remedy for that, as was discussed in the meeting yesterday, is the court system. And if they don’t like that, look, it was brought out yesterday in the hearings. Don McGahn [former White House counsel] —
But it seems like you’re asking to have it both ways —
You want these witnesses to testify, but the White House is blocking them from testifying. So, should the White House allow them to testify?
Well, you’re assuming that I want the 12 witnesses to testify. You’re making an assumption that those 12 witnesses that I would want to have testify —
I’m quoting you saying you’d like people who have direct knowledge of evidence to testify —
Well, I do—
Like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, or acting White House —
How about the whistleblower? How about how about Adam Schiff, who had contact with the whistleblower?
You have called for Adam Schiff —
I’ve called for Adam Schiff. And what’s really interesting is: why has Adam Schiff also not released the Intelligence Committee’s IG Report?
Although be careful what you wish for, because Adam Schiff, whatever you think of his politics, is pretty skilled at commanding a hearing room.
Did I ever say he wasn’t? I think that’s a broad assumption that you just made. I’m not scared of any member of Congress and how he does it.
I’m not saying you’re scared of him, I’m saying: is that a witness who’s going to advance your cause?
Oh, I think it would. But I think the under issue is this. If not, what are you hiding from?
But also, I will say this about him being the — I’ll watched with interest his skill at, quote, “leading his committee room,” when he on parliamentary issues and things that he should have, he blatantly run over and not recognize and not recognize motions. That’s not skillful. That’s not running a committee room, that’s overrunning the rules and being a bully. Let’s just be frank about that. You call it whatever you want to call it. But when you don’t recognize motions, when you don’t recognize and properly follow out procedure, then that’s on him. And you can call it skillful if your perspective is to like him, and you call it a bully if you’ve perspective with what actually happens. The biggest blow ups we’ve ever had in committee, in Judiciary Committee, is when Chairman Nadler didn’t follow the rules. When he follows the rules, like yesterday, it goes orderly and we’re able to get in our questions and do what we need to do. That’s the part that I’ve always said: do whatever you want to do. You are the majority and you can go back and listen to transcripts that I’ve had. You have the votes. You can do whatever you want to. But when the minority — the only thing that makes this place up here viable is the minority having rights and having them exercised. And when we’re not able to do that, that’s when the problems occur. And it did even under them when they were in the minority.
You raised the question of precedent and what precedents may be setting here — may be being set here — and I want to stay with that for a minute. The president has decided not to participate in any of this, in any of this process —
Up until now.
He’s declared it a hoax. White House counsel has said it’s unconstitutional, illegitimate and they’re not going to participate —
Up until now.
Have you gotten a signal that they are planning to reverse course?
Read the letter from [White House Counsel] Pat Cipollone this past week where he said he was not going to participate, but would reserve the right to participate and looks forward to participating in what we do.
Should they participate?
Yes. When there is an actual opportunity in which it is a situation in which they can present, do the presentation that they need to. I think that’s what we’re working on right now.
But the situation being what it is, why not come make their case? If it was “a perfect call,” if the president did nothing wrong.
OK. Well, let me just say, and sort of, I’ll do, if you want to do hypothetical, I’ll do hypothetical. I saw you shoplifting yesterday. Come, please tell me that you didn’t shoplift. No. And be careful, because if you’re saying he has to come prove his innocence, you need now to come prove your innocence for shoplifting.
I’m going to turn the line that I know you’re about to give me back on you, which is: I’m not going to indulge in hypothetical here. But what we have is a concrete situation, where the Constitution has empowered the House to conduct this. A majority of the House has voted to look into impeachment. Why not come make the case and let Americans make up our own minds?
Well, number one, I would not recommend anybody go under the Schiff star chamber over the past few months. It’s just the way it was run was not affordable to anybody from a third party perspective. When you look at it from that perspective, that’s one of the things to think about. But don’t think my hypothetical too serious, you know, too out of context, because if you’re forcing — this is something’s been very troublesome to me all along in these processes that we’ve seen — is that you assume guilt and you have to prove your innocence. We’ve seen this in many things over this past year, and that’s just not the way our system works. If it is, then we need to go back and re-examine our system. The problem is — this is also why it’s hard, I believe, for Democrats to actually get traction on this — because they inherently see people who live in the real world every day, who get up and go to work, who look at this, who are concerned if they had issues or run-ins where people accused them of stuff: they’re used to a system of due process that is fair. Whether we agree with the end result or not, that’s the one thing that I think if I was, if I was looking at it from an outsider to the Democrats, say: you may have your case and you may want to impeach. But at the end of the day, if people don’t believe what you’re doing is fair, then it doesn’t matter.
You said Democrats are having trouble getting traction on this. I’ll just note for the record that consistently, polling is showing that a majority of Americans do support this process, support this investigation going ahead. But let me ask you a non-hypothetical —
Well, the polls also very much reflect the presidential election. You’re not moving hearts and minds here. And when you look at the issue here of Clinton, you look at Nixon, there was bipartisan understanding on this Hill because of facts that were given that said, “Yes, there is a problem here.” You don’t have that here. The only bipartisan vote we’ve had is to not do the inquiry. That’s the only bipartisan vote.
A basic question: should the president be allowed to defy the will of Congress?
He’s not. Neither is Congress to defy the will of a presidency.
He’s not participating in a process that this House, which has been duly elected by the American people, has voted to engage in.
Well, I wish you and I could’ve had this conversation when I was sitting in the OGR Committee [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform] and the Judiciary Committee early on when President Obama would continually not participate, not give information. This is the part that’s overrun here: when it’s to your advantage, we like to talk about it. When it’s not to our advantage, we don’t like to talk about. There’s a constant tug of war between Congress and the administrative branch. To gloss over that now, is something that the president needs to overcome and just come to Congress, is not fair.
I’m as big an Article I person as you’re ever going to find. I believe in robust oversight. But I also believe that the administration has a role to play as well. And as was pointed out yesterday, the court is the arbiter of those three.
But that’s, I guess, this is my question: do you have no concern that the White House blockading a congressional investigation sets a precedent that weakens the branch of government in which you serve?
I don’t see it as a giant precedence that’s a new precedent. I think what we’re seeing here is something that’s went on before, and I don’t see it, you know, defining. I think you have to take everything in the contextual terms in which it is. This is not something new. This is a president who has had to deal with this since literally hours out.
You can’t overstate it. You can you can look past it. You can be frustrated by it. But it would be just like me, if I was accusing you of something every day, most of which has never been proven true, there becomes a part of you that just simply says, “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of the things that have not been proven true and been false.” So there is that part of that that you can’t, to think a president — who is a singular body, in and of himself, that overruns the executive — to a congressional body, which is many, many members.
Do you believe the president did anything wrong?
No, I do not.
You have no issue with the way he’s conducted himself in regards to Ukraine.
No. I do not.
Why is it OK to ask a foreign government to investigate your domestic political rival if you’re the president of the United States?
Well, number one, I take exception to that as being the reason for it. He said, “Would you help us an investigation?” But I do have a question back.
It’s in the White House readout of the call. He asked for an investigation of the Bidens: “Can you look into it?”
So if you want to run for president, you’re exempt from being investigated? I mean, just an honest question. If legitimately overseas, there were some problems that goes back to — remember, to the 2016 election, not the 2020 — is that a legitimate ask, a legitimate question, that if you run for president, you’re exempt from being asked those questions?
Of course not.
OK. Then we’re done.
Let me … are we? Say it’s not Joe Biden. The president asked for an investigation of an American, of a U.S. citizen —
Now you’re changing the question.
Yes you are.
If the president of the United States is concerned about a U.S. citizen being corrupt or committing a crime, why not ask the Justice Department? Why call the president of Ukraine?
Well remember, he also said when that same thing is, to deal with Bill Barr and others that we’re investigating. OK. That’s our investigators. That’s our attorney general.
He’s on the phone with the president of Ukraine saying, “can you look into this.”
But he — but he also said to work with those folks as well. The problem is, it’s interesting in this in this conversation, you changed from one scenario where “yeah, I agree” to change to another scenario that doesn’t fit your narrative. This is the part that I think: look, I enjoy conversations like this. I think it’s the real reason why we should have more robust debate in the Judiciary Committee.
There are different perspectives and we can rightfully have those different perspectives. But without the Judiciary Committee, I guess it comes down to —
But it’s not a perspective. It is a fact that the president asked a foreign government to investigate Joe Biden.
OK. The issue, I guess, the transcript —
For the record, that doesn’t bother you?
The transcript says what the transcript says. And he said we need to fix this because — remember, there’s also a contextual thing that came out yesterday that was really interesting. This call happened the day after the Mueller hearing. When which, you know, this national nightmare of the Mueller hearing actually came to an end with a very frustrating result for the Democrats, and also showed the split that was going on and the frustration of almost two years of investigations. And when he says help us, you know, in our countries, because we’ve been through a lot, that’s what he’s ta lking about. And so, again, we can debate this ad nauseum. And I think this is the point that we’re getting at.
But it brings me to my point: with these questions out there, you either do it one way or the other. You let Adam Schiff do his run and run everything and then bring the articles of impeachment. They technically don’t have to come from Judiciary Committee. Why would you bring it back to Judiciary Committee? Why would you put in special rules to where you’re, quote, “looking at least the appearance of giving the president some input,” but not go through those rules? That’s just a valid question, whether you you want to impeach him today or not. And that’s what we’re struggling with my chairman right now to get an answer on what does he actually intend to do? I can’t tell you sitting in this room in my office right now, the day after a hearing in which — typically that hearing is done, by the way, under Clinton was two and a half weeks notice on that hearing — when it is defining how you’re going to do articles. This was, should have been probably held later. I wouldn’t — I don’t disagree that it’s a hearing that you don’t have. It’s just when you had it. And I think what happened yesterday was —
But you’re focused on process. And I get that, because there are questions to be raised —
I will never not argue. Let’s get this out of the way. He did nothing wrong. The call did not show anything wrong. The facts have done that. The only fact witnesses named in Adam Schiff’s re —
Even your own witness, the witness that Republicans called yesterday, Jonathan Turley, said it was not a perfect call. It was far from a perfect call.
OK. Are we defining “call” as far as perfect tone, style — no.
Well the president says it was perfect. Do you think it was perfect?
I mean, the president describes a lot of things a lot of different ways. But also Jonathan Turley said there’s nothing impeachable in the call. There’s nothing wrong with the call. So which one do you wanna stop at? It was not, you want to take —
He said there was plenty wrong with the call. But that a case needs to be built.
But it was not built. And I think that’s your issue here. So I think as we look forward in this, my question would be, is: are we going to at least have this, you know, very robust discussion for the American people, or has it already been decided? Many of us believe it’s already been decided. Why waste our time? Because, number one, it’s not going anywhere in the United States Senate. There’s nothing here that would indicate that that would happen. And that’s fine. Look, most knew that that would not happen in Clinton as well. But it’s an exercise that has to happen.
I think this goes back to somebody that somebody in Pennsylvania told me about a month and a half ago. It was a Republican operative in Pennsylvania. And we’re sitting there talking about this and —
Can you say who?
It was a gentleman. In a meeting I was having. And I was doing a speech later that evening. And we’re just talking about it in general. And he made this comment. He said, look. And it really hit me because I sort of thought of it in different ways. And this is probably the best way to sum it up. He said, “I’ve been thinking about this, Doug.” And I said, “What? What do you think?” He said, “I think at the end of the day, they just need to have him impeached because they need the 30 second ad next year to say, ‘We had to impeach him. How can you give him four more years?’ ” So at the end of the day, it’s not about holding anything accountable. It’s not about holding anything — and how many times my chairman yesterday talked about the future elections — told me exactly what this is about. It’s about next year’s election for them. To make sure that he is damaged going into an election cycle. Right or wrong. I just happen to believe the American people, if they want to get rid of President Trump, they’ll find a Democratic candidate that they like, they’ll get behind them and do it the way we always do it.
That’s fascinating, because as you know, Democrats argue this the exact opposite way. We had Adam Schiff on NPR this week. He said no House GOP members are going to support the impeachment process. And the reason, he said, is because there is, quote, “a tremendous fear of antagonizing the Trump base.” He said House Republicans aren’t gonna do what’s necessary to defend our democracy.
Adam Schiff has a unique way of words and also a unique way of the truth. I mean, he’s also, all — he said he had collusion in plain sight in the Mueller report. Wow, that went away pretty quick.
So, look, we’re all going to have difference of opinions.
Mueller report may be coming back. We shall see.
Yeah. Because the Judiciary Committee says, “Oh, my gosh, we can’t be left out of this altogether.”
So I think this is where I’m at. And I think, you know, for our conversation here and for the listeners out there, all I’ll say is this: everything in America operates off the premise of fairness and due process. All we’re asking for and all we’re saying here is — I’ll argue the substance all day long, for those anybody, any Democrat or reporter who thinks that I won’t argue substance is just factually wrong. We don’t see the problem here, we don’t see the issue and we don’t think he did anything wrong. I’ll get that out of the way clearly. But if I’m a Democrat trying to prove that to the American people, and I don’t give the possibility of that, then at the end of the day, we have a problem.
You’re a minister.
You have a master’s in divinity?
You’ve served as an Air Force Reserve chaplain.
You have spent a portion of your life thinking deeply about right and wrong.
Went to war as well.
Do you believe the president has exercised good moral character in his leadership?
I think that exercise is character is all that he is acted out in his way. And I also believe that moral character is shown in how we deal with individuals each day. I have what I believe, you have what you believe. You know.
My question is about Donald Trump.
Are there things that I agree or disagree with the president? Sure. Are there things that I would handle differently? Sure. But I’m sure I would have handled this interview differently if I’d had been on the other side of this mic. So we all have difference of opinion as we go forward. So I think as we move forward, we go from our own convictions and we say, “Look, we’re an imperfect world that’s ruled by imperfect people.” The greatest thing about it that we get from our faith perspective, since you brought it in, is the gift of Christ that give us forgiveness for our sins, that give us eternal life. That is what drives us in our life. So, you know, if I cannot give forgiveness or I cannot give mercy to others, how can I expect to receive it myself?
Very last question. Changing gears, are you going to run for Senate from Georgia next year, in 2020, in a special election?
Well, given the fact that my room is crowded right now with people talking about impeachment, I have no time to think about anything else except impeachment up here. The government —
Are you ruling it out?
I don’t think, again, putting words in my mouth. I said the governor, I was gonna say the governor did — I congratulated Miss [Kelly] Loeffler for being picked. You know, again, as I have said many times before: I’m dealing with impeachment right now. And we’ll make a statement or we’ll deal with that after the fact. I’m not ruling in , ruling it out. I’m just simply stating a fact of where we’re at right now because I do not — for my constituents, the state of Georgia and the country, I’m in a position right now that has historical lights on it. I cannot be distracted from whatever I have to do up here to anything else. Thanks.
Congressman Collins, thank you.