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Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy Discusses Developments In The Impeachment Inquiry


There was a vote in the House of Representatives today. It was a procedural vote all about process. But that mundane description belies the significance of what happened, which was that lawmakers approved what will be the ground rules for the impeachment inquiry as it goes forward. And forward, it goes if the House passes articles of impeachment - a more likely outcome. After today, the Senate will have to hold an impeachment trial.

One person who would serve as a juror in such a trial is Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BILL CASSIDY: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I want to start with a quick process question or two, and then we will turn to substance. But let's start with this vote today because you have argued that the impeachment process is illegitimate without a formal vote authorizing it. The House has now held a formal vote authorizing it. Are you satisfied?

CASSIDY: Well, of course they should have the - have the formal vote. But it almost has a sense of window dressing or a fait accompli that it was initiated when the president was sworn in. There was a headline on the day the president was inaugurated, which said, the process to impeach the president has begun - or to impeach Trump has begun - or the push to impeach Trump has begun. And so I just kind of shake my head looking at this.

And yes, I'm glad they had the process vote. That's what they should have done initially. They've done it, and now we're going to go on. And again, it just seems a fait accompli that they were going to issue articles of impeachment no matter whatever. So we'll see. I - so I'm - just kind of shake my head a little bit.

KELLY: A broad question, which is - is there any impeachment process, any impeachment rules that you would support or be open to? Is there...

CASSIDY: Well, I certainly wish that they had given...

KELLY: ...Any way Democrats could structure this that you would find legitimate?

CASSIDY: You know, what - from what I've read so far - and I've not read extensively - but what I've read so far, there is limitations upon witnesses that the minority can bring. So obviously, I'd rather there not be such limitations. So you know, I would add that.

KELLY: The ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee will be able to issue subpoenas. We should just note that.

CASSIDY: Yeah. But I - don't I know, as well, that there can be - some of those can be squashed, if you will, that - no, we're not going to allow that to happen. I remember it didn't seem quite - oh, equal in terms of the ability to both call witnesses and to explore certain avenues between the two parties.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, I'll just note the House has never, in modern times, granted the minority party - in this case, Republicans - unilateral subpoena authority in an investigation. So there wouldn't be precedent for that. But I mean, you and I could discuss process all day. And I'm really curious to some of the substance questions and focusing you on the president's actions as they have been publicly documented through testimony and texts and so on thus far. Does anything that you have learned about the president's actions give you pause?

CASSIDY: Well, you're asking me two different questions kind of wrapped up into one. Does it give pause? Yes. Is it a high crime and misdemeanor? Well, so far, I've not seen anything that is. Now, I have to say - I will be a juror, so I'm not going to go into depth about that which has only been selectively leaked so far. We've not heard both sides. We've not had a defense. We've only had a - if you will, a prosecution. And so as a juror, I have to wait until we actually hear a defense. On the other hand, there's a difference between lapsed judgment and a high crime and misdemeanor.

KELLY: Between something that gives you pause and something that might be impeachable is the case you're...

CASSIDY: Correct.

KELLY: ...Making.

A central question throughout this proceeding is this one. Is it acceptable to ask a foreign government to investigate your domestic political rival?

CASSIDY: Well, again, that's obviously what they've focused on. And I guess the ancillary question, or the related question, is - is that a high crime and misdemeanor if you do? So if they're able to establish, yes, indeed - and apparently, there's disagreement over that - but if they are able to establish, yes, indeed it was, then is that a high crime and misdemeanor, an impeachable offense? And by the way...

KELLY: I mean, there's been testimony under oath to that effect. Colonel Vindman, the - Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who serves on the president's National Security Council, a decorated Army officer - he has said, I do not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen. He reported it to the National Security Council attorney.

CASSIDY: So Mary Louise, you - Mary Louise...

KELLY: But do you take those concerns seriously?

CASSIDY: Of course you take them seriously. Now again, I'll be a juror. There'll be those that dispute that interpretation. Again, that is two sides of an argument. As a juror, I'll expect to hear both sides. And then the other question, as we mentioned earlier - is that a high crime or a misdemeanor?

And again, if you have folks who are cross-examining - and maybe there is a different take than the one that the colonel, who as far as I understand is a great American - I'm not casting any aspersions upon him...

KELLY: Sure.

CASSIDY: But again, does it rise to high crime and misdemeanor? And by the way, in all this, let's just also be clear; there's an opportunity cost being exacted on getting other things done. And so if we want to focus on lowering the cost of health care - surprise medical billing, drug costs, etc...

KELLY: All of the other things that would be on Congress's plate - absolutely.

CASSIDY: Exactly...

KELLY: Just one thing to put to you...

CASSIDY: ...Things that I am personally engaged with.

KELLY: One last thing to put to you, if I may, in the moments we have left - would it rise, in your view, to the category of high crimes and misdemeanors if it were proven that 400 million - nearly $400 million in security aid had been withheld for the purpose of advancing a personal political agenda?

CASSIDY: So you're asking me a theoretical. And the answer...

KELLY: I'm asking - if that were proven, would that be an impeachable offense as you see it?

CASSIDY: Yeah. But you're asking me as a juror - if this set of circumstances were given, absent of any context or anything else. And I'm frankly not going to answer that. I will have a chance to answer that, if that is the hypothetical that - that then becomes reality, when I become a juror.

KELLY: There is testimony on the record to that effect thus far that you'll be weighing.

CASSIDY: But there's also going to be people that dispute it. And so you're asking me to say - OK, let's see what has already been leaked and make a decision based upon that without hearing anything else. And so why don't we just wait, Mary Louise? I know it makes better radio - and I'm not attacking you. I'm just saying it makes better radio to actually ask the hypothetical. But as someone who's going to be a juror, I'm going to refrain from addressing that.

KELLY: Well - and I appreciate your being on the record here and saying you're keeping an open mind. Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican from Louisiana, thanks very much for your time.

CASSIDY: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Good to speak with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.