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American People Need To Know Who Whistleblower Is, Rep. Harris Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We are rapidly approaching public hearings, part of a House impeachment inquiry into President Trump. House leaders have indicated they want to move quickly. They are focused on the president's effort to persuade Ukraine to investigate a political rival. The House Intelligence Committee wants to hear from a whistleblower who first called attention to the president's phone call to the president of Ukraine. On "ABC News" yesterday, Committee Chairman Adam Schiff was asked how soon that could happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ABC NEWS")

ADAM SCHIFF: Very soon. I - you know, it will depend probably more on how quickly the director of national intelligence can complete the security clearance process for the whistleblower's lawyers. But we are ready to hear from the whistleblower as soon as that is done.

INSKEEP: President Trump spent the weekend focused on impeachment. His personal Twitter account sent more than 80 messages denouncing his critics and sharing videos of his supporters. Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland has been closely following all of this. He is co-chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus. And he's on the line - from Tunisia, by the way. Congressman, welcome to the program.

ANDY HARRIS: It's good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And thanks for joining us.

Now, the president said over the weekend - among many, many other things - I deserve to meet my accuser, by which he seems to mean the whistleblower. Does he?

HARRIS: Look. I think we're going to have to find the whistleblower's identity sooner or later. You know, the rumor is - and I think the inspector general hinted - that, you know, there could be political bias there. I think the American people need to know who it is and what potential motivations they might have had.

INSKEEP: Although it is very interesting - isn't it? - even if there were some political bias on the part of the whistleblower, he makes these - or he or she makes these allegations, then we have to go check them out. And so far as I know, they have checked out. For example, there was a description of a phone call, and now we have the rough transcript - the rough notes of the phone call. And it was accurately described, wasn't it?

HARRIS: Well, I think it depends. I mean, you know, if a quid pro quo - if the allegation was that there was a quid pro quo for Ukrainian aid, clearly that didn't occur on the phone call. The phone call really didn't focus on the Bidens. It really focused on investigation of CrowdStrike.

So again, I urge the American people just, you know, read the transcripts for themselves because, again, the whistleblower may have - may have brought about the complaint from a biased viewpoint. That being said...

INSKEEP: I just wonder - if I can, I mean, you're talking about the details of this transcript. Let's get back to the essence of this, though. The largest single thing in the transcript is the president, a number of times, saying he is interested in Joe Biden. He would like that to be investigated. Something horrible happened; please talk to my personal lawyer.

Tom Bossert, the president's own former homeland security adviser has said, quote, "I'm deeply disturbed by this phone call." I just want to make sure that I'm clear. I understand saying that there might be bias. I understand saying it's not so bad. But are you taking the position that utterly nothing whatsoever was wrong with this phone call - that it was a perfect phone call, as the president has said?

HARRIS: Look. Look. We'll have to get to the bottom of that. But you know, Mr. Biden was only mentioned - the Bidens were mentioned once on Page 4 of the transcript. Again, I urge all your listeners look at the transcript themselves. A very, very small period of time was spent on the Bidens. And in fact, you know, there's been linkage to the fact that the president said, you know, do me a favor. But in fact, he didn't say that about the Bidens. He said that about an investigation of CrowdStrike. So you know, we should just air everything out. I fully believe everything should be aired out. The American people will figure it out. I give them credit for that.

INSKEEP: But I am curious. I mean, people are listening to you right now, Congressman. And the question was - is anything at all inappropriate here? Do you have an answer to that?

HARRIS: Look. We don't have all the information. I mean, the bottom line is that if, in fact, you know, the president had - if there was a quid pro quo, that would be wrong. I don't see evidence of it now. I think we're way too early in this to draw conclusions.

INSKEEP: Should any president of the United States be making official phone calls to other heads of state and be asking for an investigation of a political rival? Is that ever correct?

HARRIS: You know, again, if this - if this didn't involve Mr. Biden, who bragged about the fact that - that he got a prosecutor fired, I would - I would agree. But the bottom line is it didn't sound right to me when I heard that Mr. Biden did that. So we need to get to the bottom of that, as well.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember that Joe Biden did say that he got a prosecutor fired who was widely - not just by Biden - but widely considered to be ineffective against corruption. And the effort was to replace him with someone who was going to be more effective against corruption. It's a bit mysterious as to why that is such a focus of the president of the United States, the current president.

HARRIS: And that's exactly why the president has asked for more explanation. You know, the fact that Hunter Biden was receiving up to $50,000 a month for a job he wasn't qualified to do from a - from a corrupt oligarch in the Ukraine, I mean, this raises a lot of questions. Those should be answered, as well. And I honestly hope that Adam Schiff investigates those, as well, but I don't think he will.

INSKEEP: Well, why do you think that the president was only focused on Hunter Biden or Joe Biden - that and - as well as this debunked conspiracy theory involving CrowdStrike? Why do you think those were the things that occupied the president's time of all the things he could ask the president of Ukraine about?

HARRIS: Sure - because you have to remember that the previous impeachment allegation made against him was that somehow there was this collusion that went on in the 2016 elections. And you know, the Ukranians had come up; this CrowdStrike had come up. I don't know more specifics about it. So on the president's mind, you know, this is related to the last impeachment inquiry du jour that the Democrats wanted, which was the Mueller investigation.

INSKEEP: OK. I understand the president's concern with that. But as someone who is co-chair of the Ukrainian Caucus, when you read the transcript of that phone call, was the president focusing on the most important issues that the president ought to be worried about in Ukraine?

HARRIS: Look. I think - and again, urge your listeners to read for (ph) - read the transcript themselves. This was a congratulatory phone call. It was wide-ranging. It covered many issues. It included, you know, military issues. It included other issues. This - the Biden part was a very minor part.

And those who understand how the president talks - and you know, he speaks his mind - this shouldn't be unusual. I think the American people appreciate him for speaking his mind, and I'd urge the American people to make up their minds for themselves. Clearly, Speaker Pelosi and Adam Schiff have made up their mind; Jerry Nadler made up his mind. I don't think the American people are going to going to come down on the same side as they do.

INSKEEP: And as the co-chair of the Ukrainian Caucus, were you able to learn in the last few months why it was that the White House held up military aid to Ukraine for a number of months?

HARRIS: We - we hadn't. What we knew - we knew that Congress had passed the aid without question (ph). We knew that there were - there were issues with corruption in the process - the procurement process in Ukraine, especially military procurement. And I agree with the president that, you know, our European allies should have - should have been participating to a greater extent, as well. And that - one of the ways this president does that is by, you know, again, holding up the aid to see if he can convince our European allies that they should play a bigger role, as well. And that (unintelligible)...

INSKEEP: But I want to be certain about this, Congressman, because you just mentioned corruption. The president himself also mentioned corruption when his holding up of the aid was questioned. But our own David Welna has found a Pentagon document certifying that Ukraine had made substantial progress against corruption in recent months. This was not about corruption. What do you think it was about?

HARRIS: Yeah. That's why I say - the president, in the phone call - again, I urge your listeners, read the transcript - brought up the fact that I think he was disappointed that our European partners were not playing a bigger role in providing military aid to a country that is - you know, sits on the edge of their continent, not ours.

INSKEEP: Congressman Andy Harris, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us while traveling around. I really appreciate it.

HARRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.