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Closed-door impeachment inquiry to conclude within a couple of weeks, says Rep. Speier

Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California sits on the House Intelligence and House Oversight Committees, both of which are involved at this phase of the impeachment inquiry. She joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why congressional interviews so far have been private, how the process compares to that of investigations of Benghazi and President Clinton and what she thinks of Republican criticism.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We had planned to have a conversation with Vice President Mike Pence tonight, but that has been moved to Monday.

    Now we want to hear from lawmakers who have access to that secure room for the interviews at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

    We reached out to all the Republican members on the three committees involved. None of them were able to join us.

    We turn to Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat from California. She sits on the Intelligence Committee and on the Oversight Committee, both involved in this phase of the impeachment inquiry.

    Congresswoman Speier, thank you for joining us again.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We appreciate it.

    I want to ask you first about the pushback from Republicans, who are focusing, as we have heard, not so much in defending the president and what he did, although some of them say they're sure it doesn't amount to anything, but on the process. They're saying it's unfair, that it damages the presidency.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    Well, first of all, when you can't speak to the merits of an issue, you then direct yourself to something less, and that's why they're looking at process.

    The interesting thing is that, during the Benghazi committee meetings, there were over 107 interviews that were held privately before there was any public hearings. The committee was created and operational for four months before there was the first public hearing.

    So if you're comparing the two efforts, we are far and away going to see open hearings happen much sooner than four months and much fewer than 107 private interviews.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the most vocal opponents today or critics was Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

    I want to play for our audience and for you just part of what he said at a news conference this afternoon. This is Senator Graham of South Carolina.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:

    What they're doing is selectively leaking information to drive the president's poll numbers down and to drive the momentum for impeachment up.

    Everything coming out of this Star Chamber process is being leaked by Democrats. They said, you heard Bill Taylor, I was breathless.

    Well, I — the point is, you don't know what Bill Taylor was asked. We don't know if he was cross-examined and what unfolded.

    So what you have here is a hearing, a process that is, to me, not sufficient for due process. It's being used in a politically dangerous fashion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Congresswoman Speier, he's calling it a Star Chamber. He's saying it is not due process.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    Well, I would say, first of all, that that's a reckless description.

    He has not ventured into those committee rooms, but I can tell you and tell him that those interviews that take place are very fair. The Democrats have one hour to ask questions, the Republicans have one hour to ask questions, and then we alternate back and forth for the duration of the interview.

    Secondly, the — most of the transcripts will become public. Third, the statements that have been released for the most part have been released by the individuals who were being interviewed.

    So I don't quite understand why Mr. Graham is — or Senator Graham is suggesting such vitriolic language.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why are the hearings being held in private now?

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    So, they're not really hearings. They're interviews. And it's fact-finding.

    So when you're trying to develop your facts, you don't necessarily want persons to corroborate their testimony before coming in. So if we did, in fact, make them public at the outset, we wouldn't find the inconsistencies that, frankly, we have already found.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because that is an essential point Republicans keep making, that this is so critical, we're talking about the survival of the president, the president himself, and the public needs to know what is going on in this room.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    So, they do need to know, and they will get to know that. The transcripts are going to be made public, and there are going to be a series of public hearings as well, where many of these witnesses will come back and testify before an open committee, so that everyone can hear their testimony.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How does the public have confidence, Congresswoman Speier, that the questions — that what these individuals who come before the committee are telling the truth?

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    Well, they swear under oath.

    So, by doing so, if they perjure themselves, they would be subject to a criminal trial.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what would happen? I mean, how would you…

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    I mean, that's how Michael Cohen is spending time in prison. He swore under oath, and he was lying. And so he's now in prison.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when — so, for example, when Senator Graham and other Republicans compare this to the process leading up to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, and even recalling what happened under President Nixon, and saying this doesn't follow the process back then, how does it compare?

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    So, there aren't any specific rules.

    But in those case, there was a special prosecutor who was identified. In this situation, the Department of Justice under Attorney General Barr declined to pursue the whistle-blower complaint, because they didn't think that there was any evidence there.

    So we have to do the evidence collection at this point, because the Department of Justice declined to do so.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the other criticisms we're hearing from Republicans is that you didn't have a special prosecutor who was — and maybe it's connected to the point you just made, but they're saying, wait a minute, Robert Mueller spent all that time investigating Russia connections. He ended up not finding anything, and Democrats are disappointed they couldn't impeach the president over that, so they're turning to this, but, in this case, there has been no special prosecutor.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    Well, I guess I would beg to differ with the conclusion.

    In the Mueller report, there were 10 incidents of obstruction of justice, but Robert Mueller believed he could not file any because there is this Department of Justice rule that you cannot charge a seated president.

    And I would argue, even in volume one, where they looked at the intervention by the Russians and to what extent the campaign of Donald Trump was engaged with them, there were over 250 contacts by the Trump campaign and Russian operatives and 32 in-person meetings.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Look ahead for us, if you will, Congresswoman. Where do you see this process moving?

    How long is it going to take to interview all the people you want to interview? And we're now hearing that there will be public hearings next month. When do you see that beginning, and what will it look like?

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    So, I can't give you a specific date when those hearings will begin. But I would be confident that we will be having public hearings within a month.

    And I think they will be run like any other hearing, where the Democrats will ask questions and the Republicans will ask questions. It will be very fair, much like all of the depositions that we have taken.

    And let me underscore once again that the Benghazi committee had over 107 behind-closed-door interviews before they completed their work and four months before they went to their first public hearing. So we're way ahead of their schedule.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And do you know finally, at this point, how many more witnesses you're going to be hearing from?

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    I can't tell you a specific number, but I think we probably have another two weeks or so of interviews to undertake.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, who serves both on the Intelligence Committee and the Oversight Committee, thank you very much.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    Thank you for having me.

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