Former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel Says White House Officials Defying Subpoenas Are Obstructing Justice

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Chuck Hagel gives a press conference during a defence ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on February 5, 2015. (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)
Chuck Hagel gives a press conference during a defence ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on February 5, 2015. (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

In an expected move, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney defied a House Intelligence Committee subpoena in the impeachment inquiry Friday.

Chuck Hagel, former Obama administration Defense Secretary and former Republican senator to Nebraska, says White House officials who don’t show up to testify are obstructing justice.

“We are a nation of laws. We are all answerable to a constitution,” he says. “I don't see any other way to read that than obstruction of justice.”

He adds it’s “pretty clear” President Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani were attempting a “specific quid pro quo.”

The core of the impeachment case so far against Trump is that Democrats say he held up military aid for a political purpose. But in October, Mulvaney told reporters this isn’t an uncommon practice.

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said.

Hagel says while in office, he never saw an official hold up the levers of government for help.

But he says the question of whether or not Trump should be impeached is “premature.”

“Let's get all the information. Let's hear from all the witnesses,” he says. “The witnesses will become a part of the public record next week, which is I think is good. And we needed it. It’s an absolute in our society.”

In 1999, Hagel voted to convict former President Bill Clinton in his impeachment trial, saying in his closed-door impeachment statement, “Perjury and obstruction of justice are not just federal crimes. When committed by an elected official they are abuses of power. When committed by a president they constitute an abuse of the highest power.”

He said those words are “universal” and still ring true today.

“I think a lot of lying or abuse of power do constitute violations of the trust and confidence that America has to have in its leaders,” he says.

Interview Highlights

On the case of obstruction of justice against Trump

"I think when the founders wrote our Constitution and wrote in the impeachment process, they did it for a reason. And it was very clearly the intended point and the intention of the impeachment dimensions. And what they wrote clearly in the Constitution, that has to hold any leader accountable, especially the president of the United States.”

On whether Trump should be impeached

"That’s really up to the impeachment inquiry, that’s why there is an inquiry — to see if there is evidence to take it further. The House of Representatives acts as a grand jury in the impeachment process. If they find that there is evidence that the president should be impeached, then they vote to impeach him and send it to the Senate, where the Senate acts as the jury. So I think it’s premature to make any determination whether the president’s guilty or not guilty or should be impeached.”

On a potential quid pro quo

“Well, everyone should be opposed to corruption at any level, in any government, in any country. That's pretty clear. But specifically single out a potential political opponent who may well be a presidential opponent in the next election, that's pretty clear. And that's not just saying, well, you got to clean up corruption in your country. No, no. It's pretty clear to me that there was a specific quid pro quo that they were attempting as Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani running a State Department alongside our official State Department.”

On White House dismissals of the Ukraine affair because military aid did eventually go through

"To dismiss what we now know and we’ll probably know more about what happened in the conversation and conversations and literally threats to Ukraine about holding up aid unless they would undertake an investigation of Biden’s son. You’re saying that that didn’t exist and didn’t count? That we won’t worry about that because eventually the aid went through, but don’t worry about all the other threats that we made or what we intended and why we held the aid up in the first place. Well, I don’t know any court in the land that would take that as an argument."

On whether Senate Republicans are keeping an open mind about whether to remove Trump

"I wouldn’t prejudge any of my former colleagues' actions or the senators who have come to the Senate since I left. But I think, for example, Senator Mitt Romney is approaching this the right way. He’s saying that the charges are serious, and he’s right — they are serious. And we should listen to the evidence and weigh it carefully and then every Senator will have to decide what to do, at least how to vote … Sen. Romney is doing it the right way. Others who’ve already seemed to have made up their minds — I don’t think that’s what the Constitution requires of a member of Congress. We each take an oath of office when we enter the Senate or the House of Representatives or any office of responsibility in this government and that oath of office is to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to a political philosophy, but to the Constitution. And I would suggest that all my colleagues use that as their North Star, and former colleagues."

Chris Bentley produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Serena McMahon adapted for the web. 

This segment aired on November 8, 2019.


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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.


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Serena McMahon was a digital producer for Here & Now.



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