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Rep. Mike Johnson on Vindman’s reputation, witness credibility and Trump’s frustration

The House Judiciary Committee is ultimately responsible for deciding if impeachment charges will be brought against President Trump. Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana is a member of that committee, and he joins Amna Nawaz to discuss why he is frustrated with the impeachment inquiry proceedings so far and whether he thinks the president should answer questions about his Ukraine dealings.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The Judiciary Committee is ultimately responsible for deciding if impeachment charges will be brought against the president.

    And we turn now to two members of that committee.

    First up, Republican Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana.

    Congressman, thank you so much for being with me today.

    I wanted to ask you, over three days of testimony, has anything that you have heard or anything you have seen in any of the transcripts that have been released moved the needle for you on the decision to bring charges or not?

  • Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La.:

    It hasn't yet.

    And I can tell you that there is a high degree of frustration amongst members of the House Judiciary Committee. As you mention, we're the committee that has the appropriate jurisdiction over the impeachment proceeding, but that jurisdiction was effectively taken away from us and yielded to these other committees.

    To this date, even though I am the ranking member of the Constitution Subcommittee and I serve on the House Judiciary, I have not had the opportunity to review all of the evidence that's been gathered in the secret hearings they were having in the basement and everything we have heard so much about.

    What we have seen publicly and the transcripts that have been released, I think, right now, what we're having is an endless debate about individuals' opinions who didn't speak directly with the president, who have — involved a lot of hearsay and who are talking about a transcript that every single American has the option to read for themselves.

    No one has said the transcript is inaccurate. And, to date, I just haven't seen anything that rises to the level of impeachable conduct.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Congressman, we will be hearing from some people who had direct contact and conversations with the president as the inquiry moves on.

    But I want to ask you about testimony today, which was from Ambassador Kurt Volker. He is, of course, a witness called by your Republican colleagues on the committee. And he defended Vice President Biden. He said that he didn't believe he was corrupt in his dealings with Ukraine.

    What did you make of this testimony?

  • Rep. Mike Johnson:

    Well, I didn't hear all of it because some of us are still trying to work on Capitol Hill while they're doing all the rest of this. We had other committee hearings today and other things going on.

    I heard a snapshot, a summary of what he said. And, look, his opinion, his personal opinion about Joe Biden, is not really relevant to what's going on here today.

    I mean, that is interesting, but it doesn't have much to do with impeaching the president of the United States. The thing that concerns us is that this was — is a predetermined political outcome. I think everybody can look at that and acknowledge it.

    There was a vote back in December of 2017, where 58 House Democrats went on record to say they wanted to begin impeaching the president. They have changed the narrative many times since then until now. Now we're talking about a phone call with Zelensky.

    But there's been different reason, different narratives, different theories. They're all trying to get to the same end. And this is to get rid of Donald Trump.

    This should be a very serious thing to the American people. It's why the founders had impeachment listed as something that would be an exceedingly rare event.

    I think that what they're doing right now is frustrating the American people. And I think you're beginning to hear that out across the land.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you about something we did hear about, which was during the testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman today.

    You and your representatives — your Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee have sent a letter to Chairman Nadler yesterday expressing concerns about his credibility.

    And it seems like a good portion of Republicans' questioning of him today actually focused on that.

    Why spend so much time attacking the credibility of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman?

  • Rep. Mike Johnson:

    I don't know what the idea of the theory was behind the investment of time on that.

    But I do think the credibility of witnesses is important, that what Republicans are frustrated about is the lopsided nature of all of these hearings. We're not able to call all the witnesses that we want. We're not, as has been said so many times, allowed a proper cross-examination.

    Witnesses have been instructed by Chairman Schiff not to answer certain questions. And that — that's problematic for us.

    So there's a lot of — a lot of members are venting their frustration. They're trying to make sure that the rule of law is complied with here. And I think that process and that procedure is really, really important.

    It's important to know where a witness is coming from, what their background is, and all of that.

    I'm personally fine with the credibility of this witness. It's not that is my chief concern. My concern is that he's talking about these notions and ideas, and he never spoke with the president himself.

    To date, the only person who's testified is Ambassador Sondland, who had a direct conversation with the president. And he said he asked the president expressly, what do you want from Ukraine, and he said, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want them to do the right thing.

    That's pretty clear to me. And that's why the president has so much confidence in the transcript.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we will hear from Ambassador Sondland tomorrow, I should point out.

    You spoke about potential witnesses. And I'd like to ask you about the president, who has said that he would strongly consider providing written answers to impeachment investigators.

    Would you recommend that he do that?

  • Rep. Mike Johnson:

    Look, I'm not his counsel. I used to be a lawyer, but I'm not anymore. I'm just a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

    I — look, the president is anxious, I think, to share the truth. He has been, in his view, doing that over and over. He released the transcript. He didn't have to do that. And he says it's accurate, as does everyone else.

    So, if he wants to elaborate upon that, I mean, that's his choice. I know his frustration. I have spoken with him about it myself in recent days. And he shares that openly with others, because he's really tired of the way this has all developed.

    And I don't blame him.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What many have testified to, though, so far is that the president sought help from a foreign nation to investigate a domestic political rival.

    Does any part of that concern you?

  • Rep. Mike Johnson:

    Look, the context is important. The real facts are still coming out. We don't know exactly how that went down.

    But if the president was seeking to root out corruption, and it was a an effort at anti-corruption, to have Ukraine, who is listed on everyone's list as one of the most corrupt nations, to get down to the bottom of this, to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not misspent overseas, I think that's a commendable thing.

    I think he has a fiduciary obligation, as the commander in chief of this nation, to do nothing less than that. And I think that's why a lot of the American people applaud it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Congressman Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, thank you so much for your time.

  • Rep. Mike Johnson:

    Thank you. Appreciate it.

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