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House Democrats Announce Focus Of Impeachment Inquiry

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

House Democrats have been investigating President Trump for months, but the revelations stemming from a whistleblower complaint alleging the president solicited interference from a foreign country ahead of the 2020 election is forcing Democrats to change course. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today says the impeachment inquiry now underway will be narrowly focused on this matter.

NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Welcome back.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So this week, the speaker moved from opposing an impeachment inquiry to now, essentially, directing the scope of it. Talk about the reasoning behind this decision.

DAVIS: There has been a growing consensus about this among Democrats that the allegations in this specific complaint not only meet a clearer standard for possible impeachment but are also much more easily understood by the public. I think it's clear that the speaker shares that view. She's been advocating for this approach privately. Today she came out publicly, and this is what she told reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: This is the focus of the moment because is the charge. All of the other work that relates to abuse of power, ignoring subpoenas of government, of Congress, abuse - contempt of Congress by him - those things will be considered later, but right now we're the inquiry stage.

DAVIS: She said that intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff will lead on that impeachment inquiry.

CORNISH: Now, what does this mean for the work of the Judiciary Committee that's led by New York Congressman Jerry Nadler? He's been investigating the Mueller report and, essentially, any number of alleged abuses of power.

DAVIS: Well, Pelosi says the work on the judiciary will continue, but she's also making clear that the - those other lines of inquiry are, essentially, being put on the back burner for now. And I think this is a major shift. I mean, we should note that. You know, Democrats have come a long way from where they started this year, especially when you consider all the speculation that had existed around the Mueller report and the impact that that would have. Democrats are essentially conceding they're moving on from that point of view.

The Judiciary Committee also, however, does have a couple of important court cases. They're waiting for rulings on things, including the bounds of presidential authority to claim executive privilege; also whether the Congress has a right to obtain the president's taxes. That's important oversight work, but it becomes increasingly clear that it will not likely be part of impeachment work.

CORNISH: I want to ask about something else - the timing of this - because the House has agreed to do this impeachment inquiry, and then they're going to adjourn for a two-week break. So what's the deal with that?

DAVIS: Well, the chairman, after the hearing today - Chairman Schiff - he laid out a couple of the next steps. The committee's working with the acting DNI to get the whistleblower to come speak directly to Congress; unclear if that would be in public or in private. Schiff says the complaint is essentially his roadmap now. Democrats are going to want to talk to these White House officials.

They are also going to want to do more investigation on an allegation in the complaint that says White House officials were moving the transcript from official channels to a separate electronic system normally used for information of the highest national security purposes. It is that allegation that also led the speaker today to accuse the president of a, quote, "cover-up."

CORNISH: Did the whistleblower complaint revealed this morning impact the unity among the Republicans who have been defending the president?

DAVIS: No, and I think you can hear this from Kevin McCarthy. He's the minority leader. That same thing - that same act the speaker is calling a cover-up, the minority leader defended this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: Now, could I see why you would want to put it on a more secure server, knowing that earlier in his administration, a conversation with another leader from Australia was put forward, where I watched a New York Times anonymous editorial working within the White House want to do anything to undercut him? I think in the world of technology today, yeah. People should secure what's going forward.

DAVIS: The leader essentially is saying the president has reason. He has cause to want to keep his communications private. He's echoing what a lot of Republicans have said - is that the president is the victim here and has cause to protect himself.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional correspondent Sue Davis.

Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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