Republican Rep. Scott Perry On Ukraine Testimony
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We have much to follow in the impeachment inquiry - news from yesterday, news from today, news tomorrow. Yesterday, House investigators heard testimony from an American military veteran. Alexander Vindman is now a specialist on Ukraine inside the White House. He listened in to President Trump's phone call that's at the center of an impeachment inquiry. He found that call to Ukraine's president so concerning that Vindman discussed it with a lawyer, according to his testimony. Today, more witnesses testify, one of them Catherine Croft, who served in a key position concerning Ukraine. In testimony obtained by NPR, she tells impeachment investigators she knew of no reason why President Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine. Investigators are asking if the president held up that assistance to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden.
There's also news coming tomorrow. That's when the full House votes on the impeachment inquiry with a measure that sets up a process for public hearings and a public report, among other things. Let's discuss all of this with Scott Perry. He is a Pennsylvania Republican congressman who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Good morning, sir.
SCOTT PERRY: Good morning. Thank you.
INSKEEP: Thanks for joining us. I have many questions about the process, as I know you do too, but I want to start with some substance here because Alexander Vindman heard the call. We have all seen a record of at least some of what was said, so we know that ourselves. The president asked for an investigation of Joe Biden on that call. Vindman says, quote, "I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen." Do you think it was proper, Congressman?
PERRY: Well, unfortunately, other governments, other countries who are sovereign states and if you commit crimes in their states or in their countries, they investigate whoever you are no matter where you're from. And so...
INSKEEP: Do you think it was proper for the president in this context in a phone call with Ukraine's president to ask for the Bidens to be investigated?
PERRY: So in the context, it goes back to 2016 and the 2016 election, and that's all the references in the call. And, of course, the transcript is available for every American to see, so it's very clear that that's what the president is interested in. And then I think in that context where we have a reciprocal agreement regarding corruption, particularly with Ukraine, I think that it is appropriate. And so it's unfortunate that Vice President Biden is also running for president in 2020 or at least he is currently. However, there are questions regarding his son and some of his actions as vice president regarding a very corrupt company known as Burisma that is centered and headquartered in Ukraine.
INSKEEP: Let me just stop for a second just to note just to make sure I'm clear on your position here, Congressman. There are certainly lots of stories about corruption in Ukraine. There have been many concerns over the years. But you think it's totally a coincidence that the only individuals that were of interest to the president of the United States - the only ones happened to be a candidate challenging him for the presidency and his son. That is totally appropriate in your view.
PERRY: Well, I don't think that those are the only individuals by far. A lot of what was...
INSKEEP: Only individuals named in the call, sir, unless there's more of the call that we don't know about.
PERRY: No, those are the individuals named, and there is even some conjecture or some disagreement about that. There's no doubt that the name Biden or Bidens were named, but there are multiple individuals in connection with Ukraine and the Steele dossier and that the origins of that are centered in Ukraine, which is why it is a point of interest for the president, particularly. He sees Ukraine - and I think this has been proven or at least substantiated to great extent - that he is concerned about the corruption in Ukraine, has been concerned about it and how it affected the 2016 election. And he knows it very particularly and personally.
INSKEEP: We will note - since you said it's been proven, we have to note that our reporting finds that those conspiracy theories have been largely discredited. But I do want to move on because we were just mentioning the phone call. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal report on Vindman's testimony that he testified that there were portions of the phone call that did not make the official record that we've all seen. And there are ellipses in that record - dot, dot, dot - which suggest that text is missing. Did Vindman testify that some parts of the call are missing?
PERRY: Yeah. He testified that in two occasions the ellipsis - the dot, dot, dot should have been some words. We annotated those on our copies of the call. I will tell you that some people may see them as significant. I don't see them as significant. The words, generally speaking, that were replaced have already been kind of noted elsewhere, either in the call or in conjecture. So it might be significant in some people's mind. It might be just an artful and just a clerical discrepancy because the calls are not recorded. They are transcribed.
INSKEEP: Well, sure because - yeah, honest people could disagree about what was in there or not. According to Vindman's recollection, though, did the president talk about tapes of Joe Biden?
PERRY: Well, I've got to be careful here. I'm not allowed to divulge what was said in these hearings for - because of a potential ethics violation. So while unfortunately these transcripts get leaked by the majority party, it seems, or somebody every single day, we're not allowed to discuss it. And I don't think that that part was part of his opening statement. So I got to be careful what I talk about, the particulars there, so I just can't get into that.
INSKEEP: So you affirm that Vindman says there was some missing text, but you're not able to affirm what exactly it was - appreciate that. I want to ask about one other thing about Vindman and then move on. President Trump described Mr. Vindman as a - Colonel Vindman as a Never Trumper. Some personalities on Fox News appeared to question his patriotism, talked about his potential loyalty to Ukraine, which is where he was born. We had a former colleague, retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack, on the program, and he had a message for the president about smearing Vindman that way. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
PETER ZWACK: I would tell him to apologize to the young officer who's trying to do his best. Imagine you were in a place like this with a pretty consequential portfolio and you see something that just doesn't seem right. Do you sit on it?
INSKEEP: Congressman, is Vindman owed an apology?
PERRY: I will tell you this. As far as I can tell, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's service is honorable. And I don't think that we need to get into characterizing his service either way in that regard. I think that he did see something that he had - you know, he had some concerns about, but I would also say he's looking at it purely from a national security perspective. And there are other perspectives dealing with foreign countries, whether that's economic or whether it's diplomatic.
And I think it is right that, you know, if he has concerns to raise them to other levels. But I would also say it has become clear to me that there are other people that were on the call in his presence, so to speak, that did not share similar concerns. And even some of the people that the concerns were taken to didn't see these as issues that were concerning. So it does become a matter of opinion. And I just think that all of us can do what we can to kind of dial down the temperature and just have a discussion about the facts as opposed to getting into characterizations about people's service or what have you.
INSKEEP: You mention...
PERRY: He seems to me to have served honorably. He's a lieutenant colonel who seems to be moving up in his career. And I think that's great and we applaud that, anybody in uniform that's willing to serve their country.
INSKEEP: I want to leave a little time to ask about the process here because the House votes tomorrow. You mentioned that these proceedings have been in private and so certain things are leaked and certain things perhaps are not. But the House in this vote on the impeachment process will allow for public hearings and a public report. Does that answer your concerns?
PERRY: No. It, unfortunately, does not. As I understand it now - I will tell you I spent all day about till 8 or 9 last night in the skiff (ph) so I'm not sure if the language is out. But as of yesterday, I hadn't seen the language, but I do hear that it will even narrow further the individuals, the committees that are going to have the public hearing. It's my understanding that will be the Intel Committee. And so that takes it down to about two dozen people in Congress that will be able to hear these things in public, so to speak.
So the rest of Congress and the American people - any other hearing, say, like, in foreign affairs or in oversight, all those will still be conducted behind closed doors. And most of members of Congress and most of the American people won't be able to see that and make assessments for themselves. And you can imagine that reading a transcript is one thing but seeing the witness deliver the transcript and, you know, just viewing that, you know, you can make different opinions. And so I think it's critically important that both sides be able to call witnesses, both sides be able to subpoena their witnesses, both sides be able to have counsel present and all of this to be public. And until that's the case, it seems to me that the process is lacking pretty greatly on something so impactful.
INSKEEP: We are told that the minority will have some ability to call witnesses, assuming they get the majority to approve and that there will be some allowance for counsel. Although many of these details have yet to be worked out. Congressman, thanks very much. I really appreciate your insights.
PERRY: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: Scott Perry is a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been listening in. What did you hear there?
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Well, it's interesting seeing Republicans shifting their arguments against the process. Looking at his comments from Vindman's testimony to the process itself, he's noting, yes, he served our country. That's not an area we should be looking at. But at the same time, there's a difference of opinion when we look at the details that Vindman shared yesterday. And there's just some disagreement. I also noticed that they're shifting arguments from focusing on the process so much and defending Trump and his actions in that call and putting the demands to investigate the Bidens into contacts with looking into corruption.
INSKEEP: I guess we should note, also, we have confirmation of some news there because Scott Perry affirmed that Vindman testified the record that we see of the president's phone call is incomplete. In his recollection, there were at least two other passages in there.
GRISALES: Right. He confirms that detail, which leads us to believe that, yes, in fact, perhaps, there was mention of these recordings of his political opponent, Joe Biden, former vice president, and other comments that perhaps weren't considered favorable.
INSKEEP: And also a mention of Burisma by the Ukrainian president. Although, we should be clear, that's The New York Times reporting that, and the congressman was unable to confirm that part. Claudia, thank you very much.
GRISALES: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Claudia Grisales. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.