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Of Trump’s potentially impeachable conduct, ‘the facts are in dispute,’ says Collins

The House Judiciary Committee held its first impeachment hearing Wednesday, receiving testimony from four legal scholars on the constitutional basis for impeachment. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., ranking Republican on the committee, is leading his party’s effort to defend President Trump in the impeachment inquiry. Rep. Collins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss disagreeing with Democrats on basic facts.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the span of two-and-a-half months, the impeachment inquiry in the Congress has taken testimony, produced a report, and examined the legal grounds for impeaching a president.

    Now, as the House of Representatives works toward drafting charges against President Trump, we get two more perspectives tonight on what to expect next.

    First, I spoke with Representative Doug Collins of Georgia. He's the House Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican.

    Congressman Doug Collins, thank you very much for joining us.

    Now that we know that Democrats in the House of Representatives are going to draft articles of impeachment — they're in the majority — do the Republicans have a plan for stopping this?

  • Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.:

    Well, I don't think we have plan for stopping it.

    I think this is a culmination today. And I'm not sure why there was such a production of it by Speaker Pelosi to say that now they're going to write articles of impeachment. Anybody that has been following this knows that this has been the plan all along.

    I think the big question comes now is, how do they do it in the Judiciary Committee? Do they speed it up? Do they just bypass a lot of the rules even they passed a couple of months ago?

    And, frankly, just sad to say, Judy, I'm standing here on this night telling you I don't really know where the path forward is. We know that there's going to be a couple of presentations of reports on Monday, but past that, we really don't know.

    So it's a concerning process for us to be prepared. But this has not been a surprise.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, they say that this is going to be about presenting the evidence.

    But what I want to ask you is, do you dispute the facts that the Democrats have laid out? And I'm asking you because, yesterday, the law professor the Republicans called on the Judiciary Committee, Jonathan Turley, said that President Trump's call to the Ukrainian president — and I'm quoting — "was anything but perfect, and that Congress had a legitimate reason to scrutinize it."

  • Rep. Doug Collins:

    Well, that's Jonathan Turley's interpretation.

    And, of course, he was our actual witness. I find it different. I don't think there was anything wrong with the call. And I think that was what brought out in the hearing yesterday over and over and over again, is that, at best, Mr. Turley said that it was a paucity of errors.

    There was very much there. It's wafer-thin was the word, I think. But what we're seeing is, it was nothing wrong with what went on and how it went about.

    So I think the problem is, is, we don't have a problem talking about the substance of the issue and how it went about. And I think that's going to be the problem for the Democrats going forward, because, remember, Judy, they can do what they want to in the House of Representatives. They have the votes to manipulate this.

    But when it goes to the Senate, or, better yet, when it goes to the American people, they have to convince the American people that there's a crime, that there was something actually committed, tangible, in real world terms, not in philosophical terms of academics in a meeting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But isn't an impeachment of a president about how Congress sees the oath of office, whether there's been abuse of power, what the framers, what the founders put in the Constitution?

  • Rep. Doug Collins:

    Well, it is.

    And what was interesting is, is, yesterday, again, this shows you how disputed — the facts are in dispute. They're not — and this will be the first impeachment in which there's actually, if they go forward with this, where the — there wasn't agreement at least on basic facts.

    In Nixon and in Clinton, among Democrats and Republicans, there was a commitment on basic facts that came from the reports that were issued on these different facts. We don't have agreement on facts.

    In fact, we have a very much a dispute, when they say that there was actual quid pro quo. There was actual witnesses says, no, there wasn't. They have witnesses who say, well, we believe or presume that the information given to us, because I heard it secondhand, was that he was holding back because of a meeting.

    But yet we have others with direct knowledge who said no. We also have five direct meetings after the aid was put on hold, five meetings in which Zelensky was present, one with a phone call, three with ambassadors, and one — one with a senator and one with Vice President Pence, in which two of which, those last two meetings, with the senators and with Vice President Pence, were after they found out money was being held.

    And there was never a connection between aid and doing something. So I think what we have got here is very much a disputed fact. And I think, in the past, Congresses have relied on actual crimes.

    Clinton lied. Nixon committed the crime of a conspiracy for break-in. There's nothing there that actually they can put their hands on. And that was part of the problem yesterday in the hearing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But when all — when there as many dots as there are, if you want to use that analogy, isn't the conclusion going to be that, if there was discussion about withholding aid, and aid was withheld for several months, and there had been conversation, which the president himself acknowledges, saying to the Ukrainian leader, I want you to investigate the Bidens, what are you left with?

  • Rep. Doug Collins:

    Well, what did he say that was — again, we go back to this — was helping us?

    And this was the day after. Remember, this telephone call happened the day after the Mueller report here on the Hill. And about the time, you and I actually spoke about that whole report. And there was very much of a frustration then.

    And the conversation was, can you help us investigate this, what just happened, and what had tore our country up for so long? I think you got to be very careful, Judy. And I appreciate what you're saying about trying to connect dots to become.

    But then, if you do, you become like one of the law professors yesterday that says, well, if you see all these facts, and you infer there's a problem or you infer a crime was committed, then you go forward on impeachment like that.

    That's a very slippery, wrong slope to stand on, because this country, the average American outside of D.C. understands due process. They understand fairness. They do not understand that I can infer that you may have done something wrong, so, that way, we're going to convict you of it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask you about something else.

    We heard from the Democrats yesterday that they are considering widening this impeachment inquiry to include the article — the second part of the Mueller report having to do with obstruction of justice.

    In that, we saw 10 minutes episodes they laid out where the president may have, could have obstructed justice. And, again, the report doesn't exonerate the president. It says the decision is up to Congress.

    Does that strengthen what the Democrats are trying to do or not?

  • Rep. Doug Collins:

    No, there's two parts to that.

    One, I believe that most Democrats are ready to move on from the Mueller report. It was a very painful experience for them because they put everything into it. And it didn't turn out conclusive as they wanted to.

    But I also think it's very interesting. Go back to the Mueller hearing that day, and the Democrats tried to walk through each of these points that they showed of obstruction that they saw in the part two.

    And at the end of it, Mr. Mueller would agree with various parts, but at the end of it, he would say, I don't agree with your conclusion. I don't agree with your outcome.

    He made that statement over and over and over again. So it's going to be very hard to walk back Mueller's own words, when he said he disagreed with the — at the end the conclusion of obstruction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia, thank you very much.

  • Rep. Doug Collins:

    We're glad to be here, Judy. It's always good to be with you.

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