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Former Chief Counsel For House Intel Committee Weighs In On Blocked Testimonies


The Trump administration is making it clear that it will not cooperate with the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry. This morning, the State Department canceled the testimony of a central witness to the Trump administration's affairs in Ukraine. They pulled the plug just before Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland was scheduled to appear before Congress. He's become a key figure in the impeachment inquiry since text messages appear to show him defending the president and urging other diplomats to move conversations to phone. California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, denounced the cancellation.


ADAM SCHIFF: The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a coequal branch of government.

SHAPIRO: Now Democrats say they plan to issue a subpoena to compel Sondland to testify.

Joining us now is Jeremy Bash. Among other positions, he served as Democratic chief counsel for the House Intelligence Committee from 2004 to 2008. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.


SHAPIRO: The Trump administration has ignored a lot of subpoenas from House Democrats. Do you think this case will be any different?

BASH: Well, I think the Trump administration will fight, but let's just zoom back the lens a bit and analyze where we are. Under the Constitution, Congress has the right to undertake an inquiry to determine whether or not the president should be charged - impeached - with high crimes and misdemeanors, and this is clearly laid out in our Constitution. It's obviously very rare in our history. But I think it's also important to note that this is the most serious impeachment allegation ever leveled at a president - at a U.S. president. After all...

SHAPIRO: But if the White House says, we're not going to play ball, we're not going to comply with your subpoenas, what can the Democrats do?

BASH: Well, ultimately, the Democrats can go to court and try to perfect or enforce that subpoena, and it'll be up to the judicial branch to require the administration to cooperate. And we...

SHAPIRO: And is that how you see this playing out?

BASH: I do, but I don't think, necessarily, Congress will wait. I think Congress will try to get the evidence through other means, through other witnesses. At the end of the day, if the administration indicates it is clearly trying to hide something by not providing this evidence, then it's possible that one of the issues that will come to the House floor for a decision on impeachment is obstruction.

But I think the more important issue is that the House of Representatives is looking at the most serious allegation ever against a U.S. president, which is that a president invited foreign interference in a U.S. election. We didn't have that in the Clinton administration. We didn't have that in the Nixon administration. We didn't even have that in the Andrew Johnson administration.

SHAPIRO: The White House says its refusal to cooperate is at least in part because the House has not voted on a full impeachment inquiry. Is there a requirement that the House do that and have such a vote?

BASH: I'm not aware of any such requirement. I think the House committees of jurisdiction are analyzing the evidence. They're gathering documents. They're talking to witnesses. They're trying to be in a careful hurry. They're trying to proceed expeditiously. But I'm not aware of any requirement that the House have a vote. And by the way, even if the House did have a vote, there are more than a majority of members who have indicated that they would support the inquiry at this stage.

SHAPIRO: I also want to ask you about the dynamic of the House Intelligence Committee itself because when you worked there, it was a relatively bipartisan place. Today, there is so much mistrust. The Democrats are afraid Republicans might reveal the identity of the whistleblower at the heart of the Ukraine complaint. How does that complicate an investigation like this?

BASH: Well, obviously, revealing the identity of a whistleblower violates the very purpose of the whistleblower law, Ari. The purpose of the law is to protect the whistleblower's ability to anonymously call out waste, fraud and abuse. So if the - if some members of Congress want to violate the law, you know, I think, obviously, that's shameful and inappropriate, especially since Congress passed the law.

SHAPIRO: Well, whether they do or not, Democrats are taking steps to, you know, potentially obscure the person's voice, have them testify wearing a mask from an undisclosed location. How different is that from when you were on the committee?

BASH: Oh, I mean, we've never - we never had to engage in those tactics 'cause no members at the time wanted to do some - engaged in such lawbreaking. As you described a reference - look. I think there have been times when the committees have operated on a more bipartisan basis on certain issues. And obviously, there were times when there was partisan strife. But look. I think if - everyone can kind of just take a deep breath, try to get the facts and the evidence before the committee. Then the committees can analyze whether or not, in fact, there's a reason and a rationale to proceed.

SHAPIRO: Does it discourage others from testifying? Does it discourage other whistleblowers when you have that kind of a full-throated partisan assault?

BASH: Oh, I think the whole thrust of the way the administration has approached this whistleblowing matter dissuades whistleblowers, and that's a terrible result already because we need whistleblowers in our system to come forward to call out the waste, fraud and wrongful conduct that sometimes may occur.

SHAPIRO: That's Jeremy Bash, who served as Democratic counsel for the House Intelligence Committee from 2004 to 2008. He was later chief of staff of the CIA and at the Pentagon.

Thank you very much.

BASH: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.