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Former Rep. Mike Rogers On Impeachment Hearing

NPR's David Greene speaks with former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee, about the impeachment inquiry.

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Transcript:

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Live on the radio, live on television, the cameras clicking away, the public phase of the impeachment inquiry began yesterday, and two veteran diplomats were at the center of it all. The theatrics, we expected. As for learning anything new, well, we did learn about a presidential phone call. I'm talking about another one. This call was between President Trump and his ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland. It was described by one of the witnesses, acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM TAYLOR: In the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Ambassador Sondland told President Trump the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.

GREENE: All right, so some sound from yesterday. There are many more hearings to come. Yesterday's hearing was chaired by Democrat Adam Schiff of California. He's the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. And let's talk to someone now who sat in that very seat. Mike Rogers is a former Republican member of Congress from Michigan who was Intelligence Committee chairman. Thanks for being here, Congressman.

MIKE ROGERS: Good morning, sir.

GREENE: So Chairman Schiff said the inquiry that he is overseeing was a chance for the American people to make their own judgments. Was that what it was yesterday?

ROGERS: Oh, you know what? Honestly, I'm a bit skeptical about the process. I mean, I have a couple of issues. One, I don't think an impeachment should be run through the intelligence community. That means all of that other work that really needs to be done behind closed doors in close proximity with the intelligence agents probably isn't getting done, No. 1.

But No. 2, I mean, these are political events. Remember; there are - this is not a court of law. There are no rules of evidence. This is about one team trying to convince the American people that the other party's president needs to be out of office, and the other team is trying to defend that purpose for keeping that president in office. And, really, that's what you saw the start of yesterday, and that's what this impeachment hearing, I think, is all about.

GREENE: Well, I want to ask you. I mean, I have a lot of other questions, but you brought up something very serious, suggesting this committee is not actually fulfilling its mandate, which is to provide oversight of the nation's intelligence agencies. Do you really feel that these lawmakers are distracted right now?

ROGERS: Oh, how could you not be distracted? I mean, this thing is sucking all the oxygen out of Congress, let alone the committee. And so I don't believe that the regular and important oversight work is happening and have on pretty good authority that it's just not happening. And so even the disconnect you saw with the raid when the - when we went and got Baghdadi - the United States went in and took care of Baghdadi in Syria, raided the terrorist leader of ISIS - that wasn't briefed back to the committee. And that tells me that those really important functions of oversight aren't happening, No. 1, and they're not happening on even the most serious of matters. And so that does concern me.

Again, it's just not the purpose of that committee. I would've preferred that they had moved that out of that committee to a more appropriate place, maybe the judiciary, maybe government oversight. But the Intelligence Committee is designed to meet behind closed doors and not be out in the public as much as it has been. And it's clearly not designed to try to set aside a legal framework and create the articles of impeachment, which is, as you can imagine, an intense process. All of that's happening. I'm just not sure the other is. As a matter of fact, I'm fairly confident it's not, and that worries me a little bit.

GREENE: But I suppose that the argument from some who are leading this impeachment inquiry, which would be that while, obviously, that oversight is important, so is exploring these accusations which suggest that the president of the United States might have dangled something as important as military aid to a U.S. ally for the benefit of trying to get a, you know, investigation done that could politically benefit him. The argument would be that those things are as important or more important than some of the normal oversight.

ROGERS: Yeah. I mean, I think you can do both. Honestly, I just - I'm not a big fan of doing it on the Intel Committee. And what was interesting yesterday to me, David, as both an FBI - former FBI agent and chairman of that committee, I don't know if any new facts were out other than, I think, with the clip that you played when we started, which was that phone call that an ambassador would make from a restaurant to the president of the United States from a foreign country. I certainly hope it was encrypted. But when you think of that, that was a little bit shocking to me. And I think that his testimony is going to be really important, Ambassador Sondland, who is testifying next week, because he seems to be the linchpin in the middle of all of that, at least from the government side.

GREENE: What would you do differently if you're Adam Schiff in this political climate? I mean, is there any way to make this process less partisan? Is there any way for this committee to - I don't know - I mean, do two things at once like you say they can?

ROGERS: You know, again, I - here's what I worry about, candidly. This is going to tear America apart, and it's already, you know, causing, you know, hardship in canceling of holiday plans for Thanksgiving because families are torn up over it, and you can hardly have a conversation in politics anymore that doesn't end up in somebody getting their feelings hurt. And I worry a lot about that.

I just look at this process and the way it's happened, and I think, boy, is this the right thing to do for the country at the right time? I mean, no other business is getting done. Is that the right decision? Do I think that - I mean, obviously, I think it was highly inappropriate for the president to have a conversation the way he did, even though I think he obviously doesn't think it was a problem because he laid it out there. And yesterday, none of those facts were in dispute.

I think this is going to come down to the point of if you're a Democrat, you probably think, impeach him and get him out. If you're a Republican, you're probably thinking, hey, this - you know, we've got to defend the president through the end of it. And the rest of America, which is the great, you know, center-left, center-right, is left, you know, scratching their heads, wondering if this town isn't broken beyond recognition.

GREENE: Mike Rogers, former congressman from Michigan, former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, thanks so much for your time.

ROGERS: Thank you very much. Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.