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Florida Lawmakers on Judiciary Committee Clash Over Impeachment

Dec 9, 2019
Originally published on December 9, 2019 8:57 am

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on Monday—the next stage in the Impeachment Inquiry against President Donald Trump. The date of the next hearing seems to be one of the few facts where there’s agreement between Democrats and Republicans.

Florida is represented on the House Judiciary Committee with three Democrats and two Republicans. Two of them, Rep. Greg Steube (R, FL-17) and Rep. Val Demings (D, FL-10) joined The Florida Roundup to discuss the evidence leading to the president’s impeachment and the current proceedings on Capitol Hill.

This transcript was lightly edited for clarity:

The Florida Roundup: Representative Steube, you've called this impeachment process a partisan attack by Democrats. Last night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this is not about partisanship, but rather in her view, upholding the rule of law and the Constitution. What do you say to the voters out there who believe it's important to hold President Trump accountable for his actions with Ukraine?

STEUBE: I would say how is this not a partisan exercise? The only thing that's been bipartisan about this has been the vote not to move forward with impeachment. There's not a single Republican that has been supporting this. Others quotes from Speaker Pelosi and other leaders in the Democratic Party, that if the evidence is not compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan and people from the opposite party are not going to force impeachment proceeding, and that's their quote, not mine, the we shouldn't move forward with impeachment and divide the country. And that's exactly what they're trying to do.

The Florida Has the president, in your opinion, committed any high crimes or misdemeanors?  

STEUBE:  No. If you look at what the Democrats are saying, there is something that is an impeachable offense, it wouldn't qualify as an impeachable offense.

I don't think there's anything in the transcript of that phone call and their own witnesses that were called in an open public hearing in the Intelligence Committee even stated that was a true and accurate reflection of the conversation between Ukrainian president and President Trump.

So if we know that that's an accurate representation and it's public for all Americans to refer themselves, please point to me and I have asked Democrats in open hearings to please point to me where, in that transcript and call, is a crime was being committed or a high crimes and misdemeanors. Other Republicans in the hearing have asked direct witnesses in the intelligence public hearings. Do you have any direct evidence that the president has committed an impeachable offense? And nobody spoke up. Nobody is offered any resolution to that.

Congressman, what about the initial findings of the whistleblower who has not yet identified him or herself, first alerting Congress that the president was attempting to blackmail Ukraine into helping him politically?

Other witnesses have come forward since then and fully confirmed that initial report made the case that the president essentially tried to solicit a bribe and invited foreign election interference in violation of U.S. law. Congressional testimony the other day from constitutional law experts said if that isn't an impeachable offense, we don't know what is. What's your response to that?

STEUBE: My response is not an opinion. There's there is nothing there is a bribery. And in fact, if you go back to that public hearing where we ask Mr. Turley, talk about the bribery issue, the way that Mr. Schiff has been trying to characterize the bribery issue, he stated and he's a Democrat, he didn't support the president, who is also a law professor that is not bribery as laid out in the Constitution, and there hasn't been any evidence to support an impeachable offense.

So what you heard in the last judiciary hearing is for Democratic law professors, three of which brought by the Democrats, and one was a Republican witness giving their opinion to the American people. They were, in fact, witnesses, in fact. Congressman Gaetz, who’s also from Florida, asked all of them, do you have any direct evidence as it relates to the president and nobody raised their hand. So you have a bunch of old professors giving their opinion. I like to focus on the fact the focus on the evidence. So read that transcript. There's nothing in that transcript that says there was a quid pro quo.

 The do us a favor language doesn't meet that definition in your estimation?

STEUBE: No. Even President Zelensky said there was no pressure to do any investigation and, in fact,  they didn't even know that the aide was being held up and the aide was released.

The lack of knowledge of a potential crime doesn’t mean there is no potential crime.

STEUBE: There is no crime.

Fair enough. In your opinion. Let me ask you this now. You're sitting in the Judiciary Committee next week, you will get the official report that was written or published this week from the House Intelligence Committee based upon its hearings, both that happened in private as well as the public hearings.

There have been witnesses from the White House that were called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. White House representatives chose not to appear in front of that committee. For instance, the chief of staff of President Trump, Nick Mulvaney, and John Bolton, the former national security adviser, as a member of the Judiciary Committee. As you're looking at evidence, should you would you support subpoenaing those members of the White House staff to appear before the Judiciary Committee in an impeachment inquiry?

STEUBE: I would support the more Republican witnesses that we have requested on multiple different occasions because we come before us and testify.

How about the chief of staff? Why not Mulvaney and Bolton? Because Republicans in the House have consistently said more fact witnesses should be called. Yet the White House has not allowed those fact witnesses to appear, which is why the president is now facing an impeachment charge of obstruction of Congress.

STEUBE: You have three different branches of government in our government system, each with constitutional rights and responsibilities. And if you listen to Mr. Turley who said this in the hearing in judiciary this week, that the executive branch has constitutional rights and privileges. And if they are exerting executive privilege and they don't want certain people to testify and the Democrats wants to bring them in. subpoena those witnesses. They haven't subpoenaed John Bolton by the way.  

Well, take it to court and let the third branch of government interpreting. Let them decide now if after the Democrats have subpoenaed John Bolton, John Bolton did that. That case goes before the United States Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court then said that John Bolton is required to testify. Then if the White House tells him not to appear, then they are obstructing the investigation.

We're pleased to welcome a House member, Val Demings, a Democrat. She sits on both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. Representative Demings, thanks for being with us. I’d like to get you to respond to your colleague Greg Steube’s comments in the first half of the show.

He says Democrats in the House are rushing to impeachment simply due to partisanship and dislike of this president, that they've settled on Ukraine because they were unable to impeach President Trump over the findings in the Mueller report and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. What's your response to that?  

DEMINGS: I know the Republicans have struggled for a while now to try to defend the indefensible. I do believe the president could help them out by not obstructing witnesses from coming before the committee. But nevertheless, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, I have been involved in the depositions of foreign service officers that have served in Republican and Democratic administrations.

These individuals have absolutely no political will to get involved in the politics of the day. They came forward because they care about this country and they were concerned about the president using his power to coerce a foreign power for political purposes.

And, you know, we've done the work of the Intelligence Committee. Now we're onto judiciary, I believe, in spite of what my Republican colleagues are saying, the evidence against the president is overwhelming and we're going to move forward, , in drafting articles of impeachment.

 What will those articles accuse President Trump of specifically?   

DEMINGS:  We're going to be working through the weekend and we'll, be involved in discussions and deliberations about what those articles will actually look like. But I believe and this is Val Demings from Florida talking, that the inference the evidence has been pretty overwhelming is clear and convincing that the president abused his power, that he obstructed Congress, that he obstructed justice.

And we'll see what else. I believe he'd jeopardize our national security, because this is a national security issue. Ukraine is a strategic partner to the United States, and they are actively involved in a war against Russia aggression when Ukraine fights against Russian aggression, they are fighting on behalf of America. It's America's fight against Russian aggression. So for the president to use the sacred trust of his office for personal political gain is just a disgrace. And I really hope that my Republican colleagues who serve on both committees—that my Republican colleagues who serve on the House—will at the end of the day, do the right thing.

The decisions that we are making now, as you all know, have the potential to live well beyond us and set the stage for future behavior. We can either hold the president accountable. This president. Or we can send a message that, yes, the president, Republican or Democrat, is above the law. And that is not a message that I am going to send.  

Congresswoman Demings. what about the G.W. University Law School, Professor the Republicans had testified the other day? He said that an extended impeachment investigation could eventually build a stronger case. But he criticized your party for not using the courts and the full extent of the law to force more testimony and more document production before drafting on these articles. What about that?

DEMINGS: I'm reminded of what about that, Robert Mueller said during his testimony before the Judiciary Committee several months ago. He said it so clearly and so plainly. And I hope everybody is listening. He said as we speak right this very minute Russia is trying to interfere in our election right now, this very minute.

Remember, this is about protecting the integrity of the 2020 election. We have reports today that Rudy Giuliani is in Ukraine. I wonder what he's doing there. The 2020 election is at stake, and I do believe that Americans should decide American elections, not any other foreign power.

The framers of the Constitution were so extremely concerned about a president abusing his power because this is the framers talking and allowing a foreign power to influence our election. We have a direct responsibility.  The sense of urgency is now to protect the 2020 election against foreign interference.

We’ve given the president and his counsel an opportunity to participate.  

We've asked for and subpoenaed documents from the State Department and others who might that the president has prevented them from speaking. We believe that if they submit those documents, it really shows a good faith effort that they are serious.

Will you allow your Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee to call witnesses?

DEMINGS: That is not my decision.  

But would you support that? Would you talk to the leadership about supporting that?

DEMINGS:  Let me say this. We're not going on a , to use one of the president's phrases, a witch hunt. We're not. I served as a law enforcement officer and we’re not calling  witnesses because somebody was trying to delay a process or just trying to cloud the water or turning it into a circus. We call witnesses who no one had direct knowledge, they had something to add. They had shown a good faith effort to want to participate.

So, look, leadership will, I'm sure, review the Republicans request. But let me circle back around, as I end this call and go back to the floor to vote, this is this is serious business. This is bigger than Republicans and Democrats, and we can play games with this. We want to let our children and our grandchildren and the future of our democracy is at stake. And doggone it, I care about that.

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