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Leon Panetta and Bill McCollum on where the impeachment inquiry goes next

Let’s take a broader view of all the testimony in this week's public impeachment hearings. Leon Panetta was chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton and later served as director of the CIA and secretary of defense under former President Obama. Former Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., served as one of the House managers for Clinton’s impeachment trial. They join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's step back now and take a broader look at the testimony we have heard this week in these public impeachment hearings.

    We turn now to Leon Panetta. He was President Bill Clinton's chief of staff. Later, he served as director of the CIA and the secretary of defense for President Obama. And former Florida Congressman Representative Bill McCollum, who was a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee, he also served as one of the House managers for President Clinton's impeachment trial.

    Welcome to both of you.

    Leon Panetta, Secretary Panetta, I'm going to start with you.

    Taking everything we have heard so far in the last week-and-a-half, have the Democrats strengthened their case? Have they weakened it? Where do they stand?

  • Leon Panetta:

    Well, I don't think there's any question but that, when you look at all of the testimony that's been provided, a lot of it by people who are professional and civil service, who are committed to their jobs, but if you take all of the testimony, I don't think there's any question but that the weight of the evidence makes clear that the president, as president, tried to get a foreign president, the president of Ukraine, to conduct an investigation into a political opponent, Joe Biden, and, in exchange, would get a visit to the Oval Office and the $400 million in foreign aid and foreign — military assistance that was being held up.

    I think those points were emphasized today again by Fiona Hill, who I think made an excellent point, that what the president did is, rather than focusing on the broad — broad national security issues that are involved with the Ukraine, and what Russia is trying to do to the Ukraine, and the assistance that we need to provide in order to defend them, was involved in a domestic political errand, which was to try to get an investigation into a political opponent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman McCollum, setting aside the impeachment question, would you agree with Leon Panetta that the Democrats did build the case that the president, as he said, tried to get the president of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in exchange for what was just described?

  • Bill McCollum:

    Well, Secretary Panetta and I are old friends, but we have a different perspective on this particular matter.

    I believe that the president has been trying for a long time to find out what happened with regard to Ukraine and the 19 — or the 2016 presidential election.

    He was very concerned, as he should have been, with the corruption that was going on there, with the fact that there were people — clearly, evidence exists, although it wasn't brought forward in these hearings, because the Democrats denied Republicans — and Devin Nunes expressed what that was — the opportunity to bring forward witnesses that would have corroborated that.

    The fact is that the oligarch who controls the primary interest in Burisma was corrupt. I think everybody understands that. And Hunter Biden, according to Devin Nunes — we don't know — I don't know any more than that — may have made as much as $3 million on a side deal that went into some organization he had.

    We don't know the answers to that, but it's enough for me to believe — and I believe most Republicans think this way — that this whole process has been in search of an impeachment for quite a while, ever since the president got elected.

    And in this case, they have landed on this particular instance, and suggested that the whole investigation that the president was seeking, which I do believe he was seeking, was to get dirt on Vice President Biden, when, in fact, I don't believe that was his primary motive.

    At least it's certainly sufficiently in doubt that I don't think there's a chance in the world that anybody, objectively, would find bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors to convict this president and remove him from office. I just don't think this is at all that case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Leon Panetta, why don't some of the points that Bill McCollum made, that, hey, the president was — felt aggrieved, he felt Ukraine was out to get him, or that Ukrainian officials were out to get him, and that that undercuts the Democrats' case?

  • Leon Panetta:

    Well, I think you have to look at the fundamental charge that's involved here.

    And the charge is that the president of the United States was trying to get a foreign leader to get involved in an investigation of a political opponent. Whether it was Burisma, the main point, as all of the witnesses have pointed out, was to go after Joe Biden, and in order to ensure that they would get an Oval Office meeting and to get the military aid which was held up, that they would have to make that kind of announcement that they were going to conduct that kind of investigation.

    I mean, that is the abuse of power that I think everybody is focusing on.

    Bill McCollum would not want a Democratic president to engage with a foreign leader to investigate a political — a Republican political opponent. That just is not done. And it is an abuse of power. That's the bottom line.

    And it's confirmed, very frankly, by the transcript of the president himself that he released, in which he asked for the favor and makes very clear that what he wants the president to do is conduct an investigation of Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Bill McCollum, if it's proven — whether or not you agree the Democrats were able to prove it with these witnesses over the last week — is that grounds for impeaching, bringing an impeachment charge against a president?

    I mean, we don't — we can't think of another president who's done something exactly like this, can we?

  • Bill McCollum:

    Well, I first of all, believe that they will impeach the president. The Democrats will go forward with articles of impeachment.

    I, however, do not believe that it's sufficient grounds. I wouldn't find him to be somebody I'd want to remove for office from this, that I don't agree with all the policies of President Trump. In fact, I suspect Secretary Panetta, if we sat down, we would find a lot of areas where we agree on disagreeing with some of the foreign policies of this president.

    But where are you disagree with policy, where you don't agree with how he conducts himself or his temperament, or how he handled perhaps the question of Ambassador Yovanovitch, those are all things that go to temperament and questions that should be decided by the American public in the next election.

    They don't go to removing a president in the middle of his term, when 63 million Americans voted for him and like his style. At least a lot of them do.

    My conclusion to this is there was no quid pro quo. They got the aid at the end of the day. The 55-days delay was in some paperwork authorization. And we heard testimony yesterday from witnesses that weren't the president, who said, look, it didn't cost any of the military aid or anything else. It actually was being processed in the same fashion it would have been normally, a delay technically only in paperwork.

    So I think this has been blown way out of proportion. If it weren't for the president's — the viewpoint of a lot of people of the president, they don't like him for a lot of reasons, don't agree with his policy, don't like him personally, et cetera, liked — have always liked to see him out of office, we wouldn't be at this point today.

    When we did President Clinton's impeachment trial, it was just the — almost the flip side or the opposite of that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just about 20 seconds left for each one of you.

    Leon Panetta, does it — is this something the Democrats should go for with, if it's only the Democrats who favor it, if they don't have Republicans on board?

  • Leon Panetta:

    Well, I really think that the Democrats ought not to rush to judgment here.

    There are some issues that I think need to be looked at. What is — what is John Bolton's testimony? What is Mick Mulvaney's testimony here? What is Mike Pompeo's testimony.

    I think there is an urgent need to get this additional evidence presented before anybody comes to any kind of final conclusion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Bill McCollum, I guess the expectation now is that that won't be forthcoming.

  • Bill McCollum:

    Well, I don't know what's going to happen in this regard, because the president, assuming this goes to the Judiciary Committee, presumably is going to be given some opportunity to present something.

    Maybe the Democrats on that committee…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They will.

  • Bill McCollum:

    … will allow some testimony. And if that's the case, who knows what comes forth in that regard.

    My hypothesis to you about what the president might have been doing and what his motives were is equally valid to that of Secretary Panetta.

    And I think the problem is, all of these hearings have led to a wash at this point. We will see what happens in the future. I'm very open-minded, but I don't see this rising with the same type of thing with President Clinton, where we knew that he committed these crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice.

    But the public really didn't want to see him removed from office. And, at the end of the day, for whatever reason, I think that was the will.

    In this case, a lot of people would like to see him removed from office because they don't agree with him, but I don't think you have the actual crimes. And I don't think you have the abuse of power that's been demonstrated, to the degree that you should remove him or should even go forward with this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you're right. We are only part of the way into the process. The Intelligence Committee still has this matter. Then it goes to the Judiciary Committee, then to the House floor, before we even think about it going to the Senate.

    Gentlemen, thank you both. We do appreciate it.

    Bill McCollum, Leon Panetta, thank you.

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