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Former DOJ official calls Trump’s Ukraine phone call ‘fundamentally wrong’

John Carlin, who previously served as the top national security official at the Justice Department, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why he finds the details of President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy so disturbing, and what it would mean if White House officials tried to suppress that information.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to some of the ongoing questions of national security and law that are raised by the whistle-blower complaint and the Trump administration's handling of it.

    John Carlin served as the top national security official in the U.S. Justice Department from 2013 to 2016. He also served as chief of staff to Robert Mueller when he was director of the FBI.

    John Carlin, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    You listened, I believe, to much of what the whistle-blower comment — or the head of — the director of national intelligence, acting director, had to say today about what the whistle-blower did and how this complaint was handled.

    Was it handled in the proper way?

  • John Carlin:

    Well, I think that really the important issue is that the complaint did reach Congress.

    And so — and only because of that we are now aware of what the president of the United States said to a foreign leader.

    And what he actually said is quite troubling. As one of the Republican congressmen said today, this is not OK.

    And you can see why a career member of the intelligence community was so shocked, because what you saw is the president of the United States in his official capacity talking to a foreign leader, asked us — quote — "to do us a favor."

    And the favor that he asked for, purportedly on behalf of the United States, was a personal favor. It was something to help his own political interests, because he only asked for two things, both of which he connected to his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

    Number one, he asked that they help him look into the 2016 election in order really to contradict the Mueller report that Russia was responsible for it.

    And then, number two, he asked him to look into the son of one of his political rivals. That's all he asked for with the favor. So that's, to use a prosecutor's word, corrupt. His intent in the call wasn't on behalf of the United States, but was to further his personal interests.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And once that conversation took place, I mean, to get to what happened to this after it happened, the memorandum that was put together describing what was said on the phone call — and I just asked Kellyanne Conway about this — was put into a completely different electronic system, a more secure system at the White House.

    And then you had others in the administration moving to defy Congress access to this. What does this tell you?

  • John Carlin:

    If that is true, then what that would say is that there were multiple people who knew that there was something wrong about this conversation and were trying to take acts, some of which may be illegitimate or unlawful, to hide that conversation from Congress or from proper oversight.

    But, again, Judy, let's not lose track of the fact that it didn't work, because we do have access to the conversation. And we can't get so distracted by all the other atmospherics to forget that what happened in this conversation is fundamentally wrong.

    The president of the United States shouldn't be using a foreign country's prosecutive services to go after a rival. They should not invoke the attorney general of the United States as part of that plan. And they shouldn't be putting someone in touch with their personal attorney in order to make that plan going forward when they're in their official capacity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I believe you just heard Kellyanne Conway, though, say that there's no — there was no quid pro quo in the conversation, that the president never mentioned the 2020 election.

    She's saying that people who are listening to this from the outside are reading something into it that doesn't exist.

  • John Carlin:

    I go back to why the Republican congressman at the hearing today said correctly that this is not OK.

    They're not reading anything into it. It's in — in the conversation, he only asks for two things from this foreign leader, and they both benefit him personally. And then he asks them to talk to his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

    The ethics of attorney defending the president are that he can only take into account the president's personal interests, not the interests of the United States, not the interests of the American people, not the interests of the Ukrainian people, you know, a country of 40 million people that's been invaded by Russia and has lost — over 10,000 people, according to the U.N. estimates, have been killed.

    They're asking for military assistance. The president says, in response, you need reciprocity, you need to do us a favor. And then the favors that he asks for are personal.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • John Carlin:

    That shouldn't be OK, no matter what your party is and no matter which president does it. And there's no way to police that conduct other than Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John Carlin, thank you very much.

  • John Carlin:

    Thank you.

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