Rep. Jordan On Giuliani's Role In Ukraine Strategy: Trump Can 'Have Who He Wants'

Nov 14, 2019
Originally published on November 14, 2019 9:17 pm

Updated at 8:29 p.m. ET

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is doubling down on his defense of President Trump as well as Rudy Giuliani's role in the Ukraine controversy amid the impeachment inquiry.

In an interview with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish, Jordan argued, "The president is allowed to have who he wants involved in diplomatic concerns." Jordan said this in reference to Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer and former New York City mayor, who has become a central figure in the inquiry. At one point, Jordan claimed that Giuliani's role was akin to prior presidents having people like U2 lead singer Bono "do diplomatic missions."

Jordan's defense of Giuliani's role comes a day after longtime U.S. diplomats William Taylor and George Kent raised questions about the "irregular" diplomatic channel that they say Giuliani directed. Taylor and Kent say they were left out of that loop as Giuliani sought to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

On the question of military aid being withheld from Ukraine — which impeachment witnesses have said was tied to the ask for investigations — Jordan said the White House needed to vet the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

"You know what — this new guy, Zelenskiy, this former media star" needed to be approached, Jordan said. Once Vice President Pence, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and others who attended his inauguration returned saying, " 'This guy is the real deal. He's worth the risk. He's worth the investment, ' " the money was then released, Jordan argued. He also noted that the congressionally approved aid was released "in spite of the fact that Ukraine's one of the most corrupt countries on the planet."

The money was released without explanation of what had changed on Sept. 11, as lawmakers' pressure began to mount about the aid holdup.

Echoing a common argument from GOP lawmakers, Jordan said that the aid was ultimately delivered and that the investigations into the Bidens never materialized, so the whole issue is moot.

He dismissed the allegation that Trump acted in his own interest rather than the country's. He said that the president has tried to fight foreign corruption and scale back U.S. aid abroad across the board.

"The national interest is this president, who is not a big fan of foreign aid, who understands how corrupt Ukraine is and wants European countries to do more. This president actually released the aid" in addition to military weapons.

NPR's David Welna has reported, however, that back in May the Defense Department had already certified that Ukraine had taken "substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption [and] increasing accountability."

Jordan was appointed just last week to the House Intelligence Committee by GOP leadership, adding another fierce ally and defender of Trump to the panel. The former wrestling coach has proved pugnacious in the past, something House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy alluded to in his statement announcing Jordan's addition, saying that the Ohioan "has been on the front lines in the fight for fairness and truth. His addition will ensure more accountability and transparency in this sham process."

Jordan has already had a visible role in the impeachment inquiry, as the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee.

In his inaugural outing during Wednesday's hearing — the first public hearing of the inquiry — Jordan didn't disappoint Republicans. He grilled both Kent and Taylor, dismissing their testimony as irrelevant and convoluted, secondhand information.

"You're [Democrats'] star witness. I've seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this," Jordan told Taylor.

: 11/14/19

A previous version of this story mischaracterized a remark by Rep. Jim Jordan. He did not say foreign policy is the sole purview of the White House. Instead, he said, "The president is allowed to have who he wants involved in diplomatic concerns."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump have hit pause today. Tomorrow, ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch goes before the cameras. Yesterday, we heard from her successor, William Taylor, and the State Department's top Ukraine official, George Kent. One of the people questioning the two longtime diplomats was Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, and he joins us now.

Welcome back to the program.

JIM JORDAN: Good to be with you guys.

CORNISH: Now, you had the speaker of the House today, Nancy Pelosi, saying that the president's actions as described so far amount to bribery, and she pointed to the Constitution. Can you talk about your reaction to that?

JORDAN: It's ridiculous. I mean, just - it's just ridiculous. There are four fundamental facts. Those facts will never change. Those facts are, look; the - we have the call transcript. The individuals - we've looked at the call transcript. Even Democrats have said there was no linkage, no conditionality, no quid pro quo in that transcript.

We have the two members - the two individuals on the call, President Trump, President Zelenskiy, who said there was no pressure, no pushing, no linkage of any type of security assistance being linked to an investigation of Burisma, the company that hired Hunter Biden, or the Bidens themselves. We have the fact that the Ukrainians never even knew that the aid had been held at the time of the call. And most importantly, we know that the Ukrainians took no action to get the aid released. So...

CORNISH: All right. Let's break...

JORDAN: ...Those facts are fundamental.

CORNISH: Yeah. Let's break those down one by one, then - first, this idea about the aid going through. Now, one thing that should be noted is that it seems like the aid went through after it was revealed, in part because of the whistleblower, that it was being held up in the first place, despite some people within the Pentagon and other departments saying that it didn't need to be. So...

JORDAN: Yeah...

CORNISH: ...Did it just happen, essentially, because the White House got caught holding it?

JORDAN: No. Look. The aid's held on July 18. It's released on September 11. Between those two dates, those 55 days, you had four interactions - actually, five interactions. You had the phone call that we just talked about, the now-famous July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelenskiy.

But you had four other face-to-face meetings with - President Zelenskiy had with senior U.S. officials. You had U.S. senators. You had Ambassador Bolton. You had Vice President Pence. And in none of those interactions - none - was there any linkage to security assistance dollars and an investigation of Burisma or the Bidens.

But what did happen in those 55 days is people like Vice President Pence, Ambassador Bolton, Senator Johnson and others in our government all became convinced, you know what? This new guy Zelenskiy, this former media star, this young guy who just got elected to - as president - his party just won a majority in the Parliament. This guy is the real deal. He's worth the risk. He's worth the investment. Let's release the money. And they all advised President Trump to do that. And guess what? On September 11, that's exactly what the president did.

CORNISH: So why...

JORDAN: And that's how it worked out.

CORNISH: ...Was Rudy Giuliani or other people - why did the president invite Giuliani or other people to speak with Zelenskiy? Why did the president demand that Zelenskiy go to the microphones, so to speak, to announce...

JORDAN: The president was...

CORNISH: ...A politically damaging investigation into one of his rivals? If the president was seeking a bona fide investigation in exchange for the release of aid to Ukraine, why did he require that the - Zelenskiy go to the cameras to do it?

JORDAN: The president was not - what the president wanted was - he wanted to know what happened in 2016.

CORNISH: And then he said...

JORDAN: Remember, you got...

CORNISH: ...Go talk to my guy Rudy.

JORDAN: You got...

CORNISH: Why wouldn't he go through regular diplomatic channels to do that - asking for a formal investigation?

JORDAN: The president's allowed to have who he wants involved in diplomatic concerns. We've had past...

CORNISH: So you think it's fine for the president to basically get one of his - his personal attorney to encourage the investigation of a U.S. citizen...

JORDAN: No, all I'm saying is...

CORNISH: ...And to demand that of a foreign government.

JORDAN: All I'm saying is presidents have had Bono do diplomatic missions. They've had all kinds of different...

CORNISH: Has Bono investigated a political...

JORDAN: ...All kinds of people...

CORNISH: ...Rival of a president that I don't know about? This seems like a stretch.

JORDAN: No, that's not what happened here. But the president was rightly concerned about what happened in 2016. You got the...

CORNISH: What was he concerned about?

JORDAN: You got the ambassador - Ambassador Chaly, the ambassador from Ukraine to the United States, who wrote an op-ed critical of the president on August 4, 2016, right in the heart of the campaign. You've got Minister Avakov, the minister of interior, who is in charge of the police. You know, we're talking about Ukraine.

CORNISH: But right now...

JORDAN: Ernst & Young said one of the third most corrupt...

CORNISH: ...Other than publicly questioning Trump's fitness for office, there's no evidence discussion went beyond conversations between those individuals.

JORDAN: Mr. Leshchenko said...

CORNISH: And in the meantime...

JORDAN: ...The vast majority of Ukrainian politicians...

CORNISH: ...The U.S. Intelligence Committee has said - the U.S. intelligence community has specifically said that Russia was behind interference of the 2016 election. So help us understand why this...

JORDAN: All I'm saying is President Trump had a justified concern.

CORNISH: ...Issue of Ukraine keeps coming up.

JORDAN: All I'm saying is President Trump had a justified concern that there were - that the Ukrainians were supportive of his opponent, not supportive of him, as evidenced by the op-ed written by the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, as evidenced by the statements made by Mr. Avakov...

CORNISH: So is that...

JORDAN: ...And Mr. Leshchenko...

CORNISH: The other question, I think, is...

JORDAN: ...A member of Parliament, and...

CORNISH: ...Is that the national interest?

JORDAN: ...Statements made by the former prime minister.

CORNISH: Is the national interest about Russia and Ukraine being a bulwark to Russia, or is the national interest President Trump's personal concerns about the 2016 election, which he had already won?

JORDAN: The national interest is this president who has - not a - who's not a big fan of foreign aid, who understands that Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries on the planet. In fact, the witness we're going to have tomorrow, former Ambassador Yovanovitch, said, in Ukraine, corruption is not just prevalent; it's the system. So...

CORNISH: And yet the president helped oust her.

JORDAN: No, no. Let me finish. Let me finish.

CORNISH: So why not support someone if he agrees with that stance?

JORDAN: This president who's reluctant - who's not a big fan of foreign aid, who understand how corrupt Ukraine is and wants European countries to do more - this president actually released the aid. And oh, by the way, this president actually gave Ukraine something that previous administration didn't.

CORNISH: This is not what the State Department...

JORDAN: He gave them javelin tank-busting missiles.

CORNISH: ...Official George Kent testified to yesterday. Here he was talking to Democrat Jim Himes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM HIMES: In your opinion, was this a comprehensive and whole-of-government effort to end corruption in Ukraine?

GEORGE KENT: Referring to the request in July?

HIMES: Exactly.

KENT: I would not say so. No, sir.

CORNISH: No is the answer there. These two officials testified to the idea that they believe that this was about the president's personal interest, not about overall corruption in Ukraine.

JORDAN: There was only one problem, Audie. It didn't happen.

CORNISH: Meaning...

JORDAN: Didn't happen. When did President Zelenskiy pledge, promise or start an investigation into Burisma or the Bidens? Tell me when that happened.

CORNISH: Well, probably not after the whistleblower revealed what was happening.

JORDAN: No, no, no. Tell me when it happened. You said probably not. I don't know when - you tell me when it happened. When did that date - when did that occur?

CORNISH: It sounds like you're saying because the president wasn't successful...

JORDAN: No, I'm asking you a question.

CORNISH: ...In getting this answer, that somehow he didn't do something improper. And isn't that the question that Democrats are trying to figure out right now?

JORDAN: It didn't happen. That's the whole point. The aid was released in spite of a justified concern about what happened in 2016 when so many high-government officials in Ukraine were against the president and for Hillary Clinton...

CORNISH: I want to move on, then.

JORDAN: ...In spite of the fact the president doesn't like foreign aid, in spite of the fact that he wants European countries to do more, in spite of the fact that Ukraine's one of the most corrupt countries on the planet. In spite of all that, this president gave him javelins, which President Obama didn't do. And this president released aid after Vice President Pence met with Zelenskiy and said, you know what? He's the real deal, after Ambassador Bolton...

CORNISH: Yeah, though we want to make it clear...

JORDAN: ...Met with Zelenskiy, said he's the real deal...

CORNISH: ...That President Obama did release security aid.

JORDAN: ...After Senator Johnson met with senator - President Zelenskiy, said he's the real deal. That's what happened.

CORNISH: Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, thank you so much for speaking with us. We much appreciate it. Thank you.

JORDAN: You bet. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.