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Rep. Eric Swalwell Discusses Inspector General's Testimony On Whistleblower Complaint

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Another day, another dive into the churning Washington drama known as the impeachment inquiry. Congressional Democrats from several House committees are investigating the Trump administration's interactions with Ukraine and whether President Trump held back military aid to pressure Ukraine's government to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, along with his son. And now three committees have sent a subpoena to the White House for documents related to the inquiry.

Yesterday on Capitol Hill, Kurt Volker, the special envoy for Ukraine who resigned a week ago testified behind closed doors for more than nine hours. He provided text messages between himself and other diplomats debating the propriety of the White House's intentions towards Ukraine.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today it was the turn of the inspector general. He first fielded the whistleblower's complaint that triggered this investigation. Congressman Eric Swalwell is a California Democrat, member of the House intelligence committee hearing that testimony, standing in the hallways now. Congressman, can you hear me?

ERIC SWALWELL: I can hear you. Good afternoon.

CORNISH: Good afternoon. So you've been hearing from Michael Atkinson. He's the inspector general for the intelligence community, their watchdog - very talked about over the last week or two. Did you hear anything today that altered your understanding or gave you new context to the situation?

SWALWELL: I would describe today as a reinforcing of his concern that there was a credible and urgent complaint from the whistleblower. So just to take you back, a few weeks ago, he came to Congress, said that a whistleblower in the intelligence community essentially went to a tip line and said that he had an urgent and credible complaint about the president's call with the president of Ukraine.

Now, we then learned that the inspector general found that complaint to be urgent and credible through the investigation he launched. Today we learned what he did in that investigation to sign off and say it was urgent and credible. And I have even higher confidence now. And also, it matches up entirely with the call record that the president put out.

CORNISH: So no change there for Democrats. I want to ask about the text messages that were released late last night between State Department officials because Republicans say that they are exculpatory, that the administration wasn't using military aid to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden specifically because at one point in this text exchange with the ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, he says, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions and that - says the president was crystal clear on there being no quid pro quo. How do you see this?

SWALWELL: The text messages are quite damning, actually - exculpatory for Bill Taylor, the charge in Ukraine who said it would be crazy if the administration intended to hold security assistance back in exchange for help in a political campaign but not exculpatory for anyone else. And what we learned from...

CORNISH: Now, why do you say that? I think if you have other Republicans or if you have other lawmakers who say, look; you've got to look at the full exchange. And in that full exchange, you have someone saying this is not what the president wanted - I mean, I realize this is something where everyone can cherry pick. Does the committee plan to release full text message exchange or a full transcript of Volker's testimony?

SWALWELL: So we released a number of text message exchanges, and you saw Mr. Taylor for months expressing concern about Rudy Giuliani's role. He called it the Giuliani-Biden thing. There were a number of references that the only way for the president of Ukraine to get a meeting with the president of the United States was if he were to go back and look at the 2016 election but also to investigate the Bidens.

But to put into context what Ambassador Sondland said, he said that on September 9, the White House had already known for weeks about the whistleblower complaint. It looks like, if you believe the whistleblower complaint, that White House lawyers went into action immediately after that call to clean up what the president had said, that there was an effort to try and clean up and that ambassador...

CORNISH: And you can find out more because Gordon Sondland is supposed to do testify, right?

SWALWELL: He's coming in.

CORNISH: Is that still going to happen?

SWALWELL: Well, he's under subpoena. We hope to hear from him very soon.

CORNISH: Similarly, Bill Taylor - you brought up his name. Will your committee ask him to testify?

SWALWELL: He, again, is someone we now have a high interest in. And I'll let the chair, you know, release the order of witnesses. But again, it does look like, you know, the EU ambassadors - it was a very self-serving statement. A number of times, he wanted to go off text message and would say, call me, which I think goes to a consciousness of guilt.

CORNISH: Finally, in our 30 seconds, the president says that the speaker should have a vote in the House formalizing this impeachment inquiry. Why not do that?

SWALWELL: I don't understand why the president is daring the speaker to have a vote like this. The speaker is, you know, running a very serious inquiry. We're hearing from witnesses. Giving the president a fair process and perhaps a vote on his impeachment will take place. But that's going to be on our timetable and at our direction not the president's.

CORNISH: That's Eric Swalwell, California Democrat.

Thanks so much for speaking with us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thank you.

CORNISH: We want to note that NPR has requested interviews with every Republican member of the intelligence committee. So far, none has granted our request. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.