Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani Speaks Out About Whistleblower Complaint
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It was already a complicated story of presidential power, a foreign government and a whistleblower. Then the president's attorney went on CNN late last night. We're going to play you a key moment from Rudy Giuliani's interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo. But first, I'm going to set the stage a little. Earlier this week, we learned about a whistleblower complaint from the intelligence community initiated because of President Trump's communications with a foreign leader.
Late yesterday, several news agencies began reporting that the foreign country in question is Ukraine. Congressional Democrats were already looking into whether Rudy Giuliani had pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
OK. Now, cue Cuomo's question to Giuliani.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHRIS CUOMO: Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?
RUDY GIULIANI: No. Actually, I didn't. I asked the Ukraine to investigate the allegations that there was interference in the election of 2016 by the Ukrainians for the benefit of Hillary Clinton, for which there already is a core finding...
CUOMO: You never asked anything about Hunter Biden? You never asked anything about Joe Biden and his role with the prosecutor?
GIULIANI: The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko, who was appointed...
GIULIANI: ...Dismissed the case against AntAC...
CUOMO: So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?
GIULIANI: Of course I did.
MARTIN: OK. Jonathan Turley is a constitutional law expert who joins us now. Thanks for being with us, Jonathan. Before we start, we should just clarify that was Rudy Giuliani. That is a question as to whether or not he was pressuring the Ukrainian government. The whistleblower complaint is - it has to do with President Trump himself.
And after that interview with Chris Cuomo, Giuliani tweeted that the president is doing his job, that telling a foreign leader that he, quote, "better investigate corruption that affects the US" is what a president should do. So my question to you, Jonathan, is it? I mean, is there a legal basis for that kind of request or demand?
JONATHAN TURLEY: (Laughter) Well, that argument might resonate better in the Ukraine than the United States because what the allegation - if it is true - suggests is self-dealing with a $250 million package of military aid to the Ukraine, because that was the aid that was being held back during this period. So the allegation is quite serious. Self-dealing is a form of abuse of power. That type of allegation was folded in Article II of the Nixon impeachment.
MARTIN: So to be clear, a conversation like the one in question - even between two heads of state - this is not exempt from a whistleblower complaint, right? You can't just say, oh, this is just two leaders engaged in diplomacy.
TURLEY: Well, it gets a little more complicated once you deal with a conflict between Congress and the executive branch in getting the details of that conversation. This is a classic privileged context, but it's hardly a classic privileged conversation. You know, so the conversations between two heads of state have been viewed as privileged since George Washington. He made the first privileged argument and it dealt with the Jay Treaty.
And so there is good grounds for the White House to say, you know, you can't do this. On the other hand, this could be an impeachable offense if these allegations are borne out. And Congress has oversight authority to look into it.
MARTIN: So just real briefly - the Trump administration is refusing to disclose the actual substance of the whistleblower complaint to Congress? Is that legal, to deny Congress that?
TURLEY: I think that, actually, that could end up in a court fight. And there's good arguments on both sides. But Congress clearly has legitimate interest in finding greater details as to what was said to this Ukrainian figure.
MARTIN: Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School. We appreciate it, Jonathan. Thank you.
TURLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.