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Republican Rep. Michael Waltz Discusses Ongoing Impeachment Inquiry

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

At the beginning of this week, President Trump expressed frustration with Republicans' handling of the impeachment inquiry.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Republicans have to get tougher and fight. We have some that are great fighters, but they have to get tougher and fight because the Democrats have tried to hurt the Republican Party for the election.

SHAPIRO: And yesterday, Republicans staged a made-for-TV event. Dozens of GOP House members barged into a secure suite, delaying an interview between a defense official and lawmakers of both parties.

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MATT GAETZ: We're going to go and see if we can get inside. So...

MARK WALKER: Let's do it. Let's do it.

GAETZ: Let's see if we can get in.

SHAPIRO: The standoff lasted about five hours, and one of the Republicans who participated joins us now - Mike Waltz of Florida, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

Welcome. Thanks for taking the time.

MIKE WALTZ: Sure, happy to.

SHAPIRO: Did your group decide to do this in response to President Trump's urging Republicans to get tougher and fight?

WALTZ: Actually, I wasn't even aware of the president's comments.

SHAPIRO: Oh.

WALTZ: I went down to the press conference out of my own (inaudible). I've been asking for three weeks now, to no success, to have access to Kurt Volker, the Ukraine envoy's, testimony. So I find that incredibly frustrating - frankly, infuriating. In the meantime, I'm reading about and hearing about on your show and others other testimony that is being leaked, real-time, to folks that seem to be less favorable - or I should say favorable to the narrative that Schiff and Speaker Pelosi want out there. So...

SHAPIRO: You're mentioning Schiff and Pelosi, but as many Republicans as sit on the committee are in these hearings as Democrats.

WALTZ: Yeah, let me take that - no, let me take that head-on. So they're in the hearing. Imagine a courtroom where the prosecution can call witnesses. The defense can cross-examine those witnesses, but the defense is not allowed to call their own witnesses.

SHAPIRO: But it's the Senate's role...

WALTZ: And the accused...

SHAPIRO: ...To do a trial. This is more analogous to a grand jury.

WALTZ: No - and the accused cannot have counsel present. And, Ari, I'm sorry. That's just incorrect.

SHAPIRO: Now, the leadership says that these private hearings will be followed by public hearings and the transcripts will be released but that they want these hearings to be private so that one witness's testimony doesn't influence another's. What's your complaint about that?

WALTZ: Yeah. I'm curious that you're not asking why certain witnesses are being squashed and I can't even...

SHAPIRO: What do you mean by squashed?

WALTZ: ...As a sitting member...

SHAPIRO: I'm not sure what that means.

WALTZ: Well, I still can't get - well, I'm sorry - that the transcripts and the opening statements aren't being released. I can't get access to...

SHAPIRO: Well, they say they will be released eventually.

WALTZ: But they haven't been released for three weeks when it's Volker, but yet you see Bill Taylor's almost in real time and on the front page of papers. Why, if every hearing is unclassified - why does it need to be closed, at least to members who want access? So...

SHAPIRO: Let me read you a tweet from Gregg Nunziata, who is a Republican...

WALTZ: Sure.

SHAPIRO: ...Lawyer and former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer. He writes, closed-door bipartisan depositions and interviews are routine features of congressional investigations, particularly ones with national security implications. How do you respond to that?

WALTZ: I would respond that you're mixing apples and oranges. We regularly conduct oversight hearings. Benghazi was an oversight hearing. We're talking about the impeachment of the president of the United States, which you rightly say the rules are not spelled out in the Constitution. The rules are decided on by members, and we vote on those rules. That's what's happened historically. That's what happened with Nixon with a Democratic speaker. That's what happened with Clinton with a Republican speaker.

So of course, things should be closed for national security reasons if classified information's being discussed. But why is every hearing started with, the information today is unclassified? If that's the case, then why is it in a SCIF? Why isn't it open? I mean, I think that's a very reasonable question.

SHAPIRO: You referred to a SCIF. I want to clarify that's a sensitive...

WALTZ: Yeah, it's a...

SHAPIRO: ...Compartmented information facility...

WALTZ: That's right.

SHAPIRO: ...Which is designed to hold classified information.

WALTZ: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Electronic devices are not allowed in there to protect national security. We've been told that this facility had many classified documents unrelated to the impeachment inquiry. Do you worry that by going into the room with phones, members of your group risked compromising the national security of the United States?

WALTZ: Well, I think that, again, if you have unclassified hearings there...

SHAPIRO: Well, but there was a lot of...

WALTZ: ...Why are they being held in a SCIF and...

SHAPIRO: ...Classified information there.

WALTZ: And you're absolutely right. You shouldn't have phones in a classified space. I didn't have mine.

SHAPIRO: So you think that was a mistake by members of your party.

WALTZ: Yeah, I think that was simply an oversight.

SHAPIRO: The White House has given a lot of different explanations for what happened with Ukraine's president. They've said there was no quid pro quo, that it was normal for there to be a quid pro quo. At one point, they said there couldn't have been a quid pro quo 'cause Ukraine didn't know about a delay in defense aid. Then we learned Ukraine did know about the delay in defense aid. Do these inconsistencies explain why your criticism has focused largely on the process of inquiry rather than the substance of the allegations?

WALTZ: Well, I think the process of impeaching the president of the United States and doing it fairly and doing it in keeping with how it's been done in the past is actually an incredibly important issue, right? I - again, I can't get a fair explanation of why I can't get access.

SHAPIRO: But Republicans have been remarkably silent on the substance of the allegations.

WALTZ: I think if you have - I mean, let's speak to the substance of it. I think the president has been very clear and consistent. I actually disagree with him on this point. I have personally been consistent that we should provide lethal aid to the Ukrainians, and I haven't seen any evidence. I am trying as a voting member of Congress to get access to the evidence. So I hope you're asking these same difficult questions of Schiff - of why he's not allowing me and others access to the information.

SHAPIRO: When this is aired publicly, you're going to need to make a concise and effective argument on the merits for what the White House did, or at least you'll have the opportunity to do that. What is that argument? I still haven't really heard it from congressional Republicans.

WALTZ: I don't know how else to be - or how to be more clear that I am trying to get access to that information. I want to hear all of the witnesses, and I think we should be allowed to call witnesses.

SHAPIRO: So are you keeping an open mind on whether or not the president did anything wrong here?

WALTZ: From what I have seen thus far - and we've seen the actual transcripts - I do not see anything that rises to the level of bribery, treason or a high crime and misdemeanor.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Mike Waltz, thank you for speaking with us today.

WALTZ: All right. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: He's a Republican from Florida who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And in a previous version of this interview, we mistakenly stated that Ambassador William Taylor released his opening statement of his closed-door congressional testimony himself. Actually, Taylor did not release the statement himself. And we have edited this interview for accuracy. Also, yesterday, in our coverage of the Republican protest in which lawmakers interrupted impeachment inquiry proceedings, we said that none of those Republicans were members of the committees leading the inquiry. We should have said some of those Republican lawmakers are, in fact, members of those committees. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.