DeLauro: Our democracy hangs in the balance
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro would rather talk about e-cigarettes, women’s wages, and health care. But first there’s this impeachment business — a topic she now feels Congress can no longer ignore, but must tackle quickly.
DeLauro called for a swift impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, during an extended conversation last week on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.
“We have in real time using the power of his office to get others in a foreign government to interfere in our elections. … We cannot tolerate that,” said the 15-term congresswoman, who represents New Haven.
“Democracy is fragile. Our elections are critical. The sovereignty of those elections, the sacredness of elections, is so important to us as a nation. That is where we derive our strength from. We have to preserve that effort.”
In the conversation, she also spoke of the need not to dawdle — lest the Democrats allow the national conversation in the 2020 election veer away from the issues that propelled the party to a “blue wave” of nationwide victories in 2018. And she spoke of how William Barr “has turned his back on his role as attorney general of the United States” to become “a shill for the president.”
In the interview, DeLauro did also speak about some of the other issues she’s tackling in Washington, including “paycheck fairness,” a hearing she’ll oversee on Oct. 16 into the increasing public-health risks of e-cigarettes (which she has called for banning) and negotiations in which she’s participating on changes to NAFTA. (You can watch the full interview in this video.)
But as she acknowledged, impeachment is the subject of the day.
WNHH: Until recently, most of the Democrats in Congress, including yourself, felt that despite serious allegations that Donald Trump has broken laws like the emoluments law and had other conduct that rises to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment, that it was not wise to proceed with impeachment.
All of a sudden the past few weeks that has turned around fast. You are among those who say it now makes sense to go ahead with impeachment. What changed your mind?
DeLauro: Go ahead with an impeachment inquiry.
Right. You’re not saying the final result.
I was very reluctant to move forward with an impeachment inquiry. I’ll tell you why. One, I thought it was going to continue to divide this country. We are already a divided country.
Secondly, I believe this would then re-litigate the 2016 election.
The third reason for me was the Senate, despite any of the evidence, would not vote to impeach. They would vote to acquit. That was my real reluctance in moving forward.
However, the president of the United States using the power of his office to pick up the phone, talk to the president of Ukraine and use the force of that office of the presidency to get the Ukraine government to interfere in U.S. elections — that is illegal.
And it matters [because] …?
I’ll tell you why it matters. Democracy is fragile. We take it for granted in this country that the institutions and the pillars of democracy are so strong that nothing can break it down. But we’re looking at a president who now would undermine our electoral system. He has turned his back on the overwhelming evidence from our intelligence community that Russia hacked into the 2016 elections. And if you want to believe what he says, that that was not the case — and again the evidence is overwhelming that it is the case — we now have in real time the president calling and saying: “I need you to investigate my political opponent, dig up this information.”
And then to hold hostage desperately needed aid to Ukraine …Even if that were not there, you cannot ask a foreign government to interfere in our elections. We have this in real time. He has admitted it. We have the transcript of the phone call. We have his own people, Ambassador [Kurt] Volker and others, corroborating what he did. And setting it up. There’s a second whistleblower.
We have a very substantial Ukrainian community in our area. I had been supportive of offensive weapons for Ukraine. I thought they were trying to fight a battle with Russia with hands behind their back.
So we didn’t know why the aid was being held up. People made inquiries of our office. We were trying to look into it. We had no idea. This is a country that has been invaded — Russia invaded Ukraine. And they continue to fight. You have a newly elected head of state who is concerned about his country, who hears from the powerful nation in the world, the most powerful political individual in the world: “Yeah, we want to help you. But can you do this investigation about my political opponent?”
I love reading that transcript because Zelensky, before he became the premier, played the head of Ukraine on a popular TV comedy.
He has a very good sense of humor. When I read that transcript, I felt like he was talking to somebody who watches TV a lot: President Trump. The guy’s whole career has been playing to a TV audience. And I felt that conversation was on two levels. One that Donald Trump can understand: “Yes, you’re the greatest. I’m flattering you in 1,000 ways. We’ll do anything you ask. Please give me the money.” And I felt there was a Borat aspect to that conversation, when he was kind of winking and making fun of the guy, too.
I’ll quote my colleague Adam Schiff: This incident for me has really crossed a Rubicon.
‘It’s the office’
Why did this cross the Rubicon and others didn’t?
Because we have [President Trump] in real time using the power of his office to get others in a foreign government to interfere in our elections. That is the simple case of it. That is wrong. We cannot tolerate that. Democracy is fragile. Our elections are critical. The sovereignty of those elections, the sacredness of elections, is so important to us as a nation. That is where we derive our strength from. We have to preserve that effort.
You’ve got the president who has admitted to this and gone further: He has called on China [to do the same]!
In 2016 in the campaign on national TV in a debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump asked Russia to hack her emails. Russia did, a few hours later, and waited to release embarrassing information until promptly after the Billy Bush tape with Trump saying embarrassing things about women. Is the difference that he wasn’t president then, and that is why this has crossed the Rubicon?
Right. Being despicable as he was during that election, he was not the president of the United States. It’s the office. It’s the office!
This morning a story in The New York Times reported that in 1992, advisors told [President George Bush]: “You could ask the British government to find files of Bill Clinton’s activities in Oxford that could hurt him in this election. Because you’re losing the election.” But George Bush said no. What a different time we’re living in. …
It’s about how you view the office, how you view yourself. There are a lot of decisions that we make as members of Congress. I vote on all kinds of issues — roads, parks, bridges, helicopters. But there are some issues that rise to issues of conscience. You try to explain what your position is and you hope that people will understand even if they don’t support it, understand that you did not come to this in a knee-jerk way or based on frivolity or frivolous information coming forward. But based on substance, based on fact, and what I believe in my conscience was the right thing to do.
[Listener] Bob asks if there’s enough support in the House to impeach President Trump.
In the House, I believe there is. I think maybe some of my Republican colleagues would vote as well. I don’t believe they are lawless in the way that this administration is. There are very, very good smart people. I think this will carry in the House. I do not believe there would be any movement in the Senate.
Where were you during the Watergate hearings [in 1973]?
I was with the Community Action Institute. It was part of CPI, Community Progress Incorporated [a New Haven anti-poverty agency]. The Community Action Institute did the training along the Eastern Seaboard of outreach workers to deal with community organizations to connect people with resources.
Do you remember the hearings?
I remember a new revelation every day. In many respects, this is very, very similar. Every day!
So that’s similar to Watergate. Since then, people always said that the cover up is either worse than the crime or it gets you in trouble. President Trump has said things out loud that the rest of us think would get him in trouble — comments about women; he did pay off people he had sex with, illegally with campaign funds … Did he get in more trouble with this case because it was discovered and then there was a drip-drip [of information? Might there not have been an impeachment process if he had said: “Hey everybody, now I’m asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden”?
As I said to you, all along I had real reluctance to moving forward. On this, the intelligence committee is taking the lead, which is what should happen.
The cover up — given that this was a phone call that then the transcript of the phone call didn’t go through a normal procedure …
Have you guys subpoenaed the actual audio? Because we didn’t get the whole transcript [of the Trump-Zelensky conversation].
Not that we know of.
So how do we know what was really said on that phone call?
They released …
… a transcript that had ellipses. Then they said it wasn’t the whole phone call.
We’ve got him admittedly asking a foreign government to interfere with our elections and hold them hostage to foreign aid and covering it up … I’ll use the word “potentially” covering up. I want to be clear.
A need to move fast
I want to pivot to strategy. The dilemma a lot of Democrats have talked about is that when you look at the issues facing the country — whether it is health care, whether it is taxing the wealthy, whether it is preserving the safety net — Democrats consistently rate far ahead of Republicans, far ahead of President Trump. You ran on those issues in 2018, and you won big. Now, before people decided to go ahead with impeachment, the word was that will help Donald Trump get reelected. Because he’ll make it about him. He’ll divide the country and stop people from hearing the discussion the Democrats are so far ahead on.
Now the question has become: Do you move fast? Do you try to get an impeachment vote before Thanksgiving? So that the 2020 campaign will be focused back on the issues?
Or as Elizabeth Drew, who covered the Nixon Watergate hearings, wrote recently, you’ve got to keep it open so other issues come out? For instance it just came out that President Trump’s top aides allegedly told the IRS to deal differently with his tax return audit from the way the law says to.
Her point was: Drip, drip drip. Credible stuff comes out once you start investigating. It would be a mistake to cut it off.
We need to move quickly on this. The intelligence committee is doing that. They’re working this week. There are depositions this week. Full steam ahead. Because the issue is to try to move quickly. Not for this to linger on and on and on.
Before there was this inquiry for impeachment, it was difficult to get the word out. The public knows very little about what this administration is doing in terms of hollowing out the federal agencies that provide services to people. What is happening with the appropriations process. We have not finished with the appropriations process. I sit on the appropriations committee. That has real repercussions in terms of the government staying open or not.
Now that we have moved to an inquiry, it is morning, noon and night about impeachment. We are trying. I don’t spend my time every day when I’m talking to constituents, they don’t spend their time talking to me only about impeachment. They are talking about student loan debt. They talk about the cost of health care. They talk about the fact that they are working in jobs and their wages do not meet the rising costs that they have. Those are the issues. We did run on health care and prescription drugs and ethics reform and campaign finance reform and jobs.
I take it very very personally to try to get the word out about what we have in the House of Representatives passed in the last several months. It really is pretty extraordinary.
Why don’t you give me a hit list?
I’m going to tell you: Getting big money and dark money out of elections. Protecting elections from foreign meddling — For The People Act, HR 1. We passed the Equality Act, anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQ Americans. The American Dream and Promise Act, about Dreamers. My bill: Paycheck Fairness. Men and women working in the same job deserve the same pay. We passed that with Republican support. We hear about none of these [in the news]!
I think we need to move quickly, particularly on this foreign meddling in our elections and whatever other documents say. We have got to do what the American public asked us to do last November. You know what? Democrats won overwhelmingly [despite] all the president’s talk about the invasion, of people coming across the border, and all of the garbage that they threw at the election. Democrats not just prevailed — there was a blue wave nationwide. We have got to connect with people who said, “Take care of me and my family.”
Will President Trump abide by the results if he doesn’t win?
I cannot answer that. He will not win reelection.
A side story to the impeachment that has people like me really riveted is the role of Attorney General William Barr. Getting involved in reviews of his own behavior. And now traveling to Italy with someone who was appointed — John Durham, our own U.S. attorney here in Connecticut — to carry out an errand for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, which is to investigate a discredited conspiracy theory to show that Russia didn’t help Trump win the election but Hillary Clinton did get help [in Ukraine]. They’ve taken Durham away from Connecticut, where he oversees important prosecutions, to investigate the FBI and the CIA to see if they engaged in a “Deep State” conspiracy to stop Donald Trump from becoming president. William Barr is traveling with him abroad rather than leaving him alone to conduct the investigation.
What is going on with that? And what happened with John Durham? He’s the most respected law enforcement person in our state …
I think William Barr has turned his back on his role as attorney general of the United States. I think he’s there as a shill for the president of the United States.
I said to you earlier that their entire effort is to dismantle the institutions that are the pillars of our society and our democracy. Justice, our intelligence agencies, discrediting them, our election process — all this adds up to flagrantly trying to dismantle a democratic country. That is something we need to fight every single day. It is who we are, the strength of this nation. William Barr, in my view should not be the attorney general of the United States. He has discredited his office. And more importantly, he has discredited himself.
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