Transcript: ABC News' George Stephanopoulos' exclusive interview with Speaker Pelosi

ByABC News
October 04, 2019, 2:36 PM

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that President Donald Trump had "surprise in his voice" when the two leaders jousted over the president’s phone call with the new president of Ukraine, which is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry.

Pelosi's comments were made during an interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, which aired Thursday morning on "Good Morning America."

The two leaders spoke on Sept. 24, before Pelosi, D-Calif., said that she would launch an impeachment inquiry centered on a whistleblower complaint alleging Trump pressured Ukraine to help investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

“I saw the surprise in his voice that he didn’t understand that I thought what he did was wrong,” Pelosi told Stephanopoulos, referring to Trump's call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “That he was undermining our national security, that he was undermining our Constitution by his actions and he was undermining the integrity of our elections. He just didn’t see it.”The president has denied wrongdoing.

The president has denied wrongdoing.

The transcript of the ABC News interview is below:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Madame Speaker, thank you for doing this.

NANCY PELOSI: My pleasure, thank you.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: It may not surprise you. The president was watching your press conference. He says he heard you talk about wanting to do prescription drugs, wanting to do the U.S. Mexico, Canada agreement. But now he's calling you the do-nothing Democrats. Says you can't do it.

NANCY PELOSI: We can't we do it? It's up to him. That was our pledge during the campaign. For the people, we would lower the cost of prescription drugs. I think that the president wants to do that. So I hope that he would cooperate. He does want the U.S. Mexico Canada free trade agreement. So do we, when we have assurances that there will be enforceability for America's workers and America's farmers, and we're close. We're on a path to yes. So I think the president knows the argument that can be made against him. And he's scared. And so he's trying to divert attention from that to-- we're standing in the way of legislation.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You say he's scared. You know, he had another tweet right after the one I just talked to you about where he used a word I'm not going to repeat right here. Did you hear the fear in his voice when you spoke with him on the phone last week?

NANCY PELOSI: I hear-- I saw the surprise in his voice that he didn't understand-- that I thought what he did was wrong-- that he was undermining our national security, that he was undermining our Constitution by his actions, and he was undermining the integrity of our elections. He just didn't see it. But-- again, he confirmed that that is what transpi-- that the conversation was as had been reported in the public domain. And that when I actually saw it in writing, I'd be so pleased.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Did he-- it's also been reported that he said on this phone call, "Can we figure this out?" What did he mean--

NANCY PELOSI: I don't remember--


NANCY PELOSI: --that. I-- I don't remember that. I may have been talking when he said that. Because we were talking at the same time at some point when I-- just-- you know, don't go down that path. Or you're in my wheelhouse Mr. President, because I have 25 years of experience on the Intelligence Committee. And-- you-- you can't go after whistleblowers. And I know why-- the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was established in 2004, its purpose and its relationship to whistleblowers.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Since you launched the formal inquiry, the number of Democrats supporting-- impeachment-- or at least an impeachment inquiry has risen. You've had strong words about the phone call itself saying it undermines the Constitution, undermines our national security. What more do you need then to draft an article of impeachment?

NANCY PELOSI: We want to get more of the facts-- that are involved here. And it is an inquiry. We didn't launch impeachment, we launched an inquiry of impeachment. And it is a national security and intelligence issue. So it lands in the Intelligence Committee. And it is-- again it relates to how important our national security and how important intelligence is to that. So we want to-- give the president a fair chance to make his case to be exculpatory. We've tried to give him that in-- in some of the--

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you imagine that case? What would it be?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, just tell the truth. Just tell the truth. We-- that's all we're seeking are the facts. I have said all along this is a difficult decision for our nation. We have to be solemn, we have to be prayerful, we have to be worthy of the Constitution as we proceed. But we-- when we-- and I was not going to-- weighing the equities, I want to have more facts. When we had the fact of the call and-- and-- what transpired in it and the days leading up to it-- we-- we had no choice.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The suspension of the aid was days before the call. But one of the things you've heard from some of the president's defenders is there's no explicit quid pro quo in the call. Is that necessary--


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: --for impeachment?

NANCY PELOSI: First of all it's not necessary. But second of all, there is a quo-- quid pro quo if you're only a couple days apart and granting or withholding and then asking for a favor to create-- dirt on your political opponent. So it is-- no quid pro quo directly is required.But there is. The president did engage in using the leverage of our national security, legislation that was passed by the House and the Senate in the interest of our national security to give military assistance to Ukraine. He singularly on his own-- and we're trying to find out-- what else went into that decision. That’s part of an inquiry-- reverse that and then use the leverage of withholding to ask for a favor. As he says, "A favor. Do me a favor." So it-- again-- fair, prayerful, true to the Constitution which is the oath of office that we take and that he takes. It's just so sad.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And in both the Nixon and the Clinton cases, the House passed a formal resolution to set up the inquiry. Why not take that step right--



NANCY PELOSI: We don't have to. But we could.


NANCY PELOSI: But you know who is most afraid of that vote coming up? The Republicans. 'Cause they're going to have to decide. And-- they-- they're talking big bravado. "Why don't we take a vote?" But yet they're the ones who are most afraid because some of their vulnerable people will have to either side with the Constitu-- be loyal to the Constitution, or be loyal to--


NANCY PELOSI: --Donald Trump.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: --make the process even more airtight? You're seeing--

NANCY PELOSI: No, this isn't-- it's not necessarily. We-- we're-- we feel that we're on very firm ground as we go forward. And we may go to that place as we go-- just because it's a t-- Republican talking point. But it's not necessary.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But we-- one of the points that Leader McCarthy is making is that he wants to assure the minority has the same kind of protections they had during the Clinton impeachment, that they have the subpoena power as well, that they have the right to have attorneys on their side.

NANCY PELOSI: They have that.


NANCY PELOSI: That's all-- that's there. That's there. As I said, this is again worthy of the Constitution. And-- in any event-- the very day that the story broke was the day-- was Constitution Day. What do we have, Doctor Franklin? What do we have, a monarchy or a republic? A republic if we can keep it. We think we have an obligation to keep it. Our founders said at the time, Thomas Paine, "The times have found us." We think the times have found us now to keep the republic.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You were so clearly reluctant to take this step earlier in the process, all through the Mueller inquiry. The two conditions you talked about was you'd want to have Republicans on board and the public on board. If this is-- ends up being a party-line impeachment, is that something that is good for the country?

NANCY PELOSI: But let me just say this. I never said it would be required that we have Republicans. I just hoped for-- that they would-- follow the facts and see the truth. We don't have a choice. We'll either support and defend the Constitution of the United States or we won't. And that's where we are. So it doesn't matter what impact it has on the election or this or that. But again I think the dignity with which we handle it, the fairness, the calmness, the seriousness--will help the public understand why we had to come to this place. And I think my-- holding back on it only argues further for how drastic this change was with this additional set of facts.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You talk about the dignity with which you handle this. You've seen the president's tweets. You've heard Republican's-- Leader McCarthy wants to censure Adam Schiff. I know you support Chairman Schiff. But-- was it-- was it right for him to have that dramatic-- reading of the president's-- interpretation of the president's-- transcript of the phone call at the hearing last week? Did that follow the kind of process you want?

NANCY PELOSI: I want the American people to know what that phone call was about. I want them to hear it on their-- on their iPhone or whatever. I want them to see it visually. Because this was an absolute betrayal of the American people, this phone call. It was a betrayal of our national security, it was a betrayal of the integrity of elections, it was a betrayal of our Constitution. So yeah, it's fair. It's sad. But it's using the president's own words. So if he's--

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, those weren't the president's words. It was an interpretation of the president's words.

NANCY PELOSI: Well, it was a-- you mean, the-- the note? The notes from the call, is that what you're telling me?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, when Adam Schiff went before the committee and said, "This is what the president was saying in essence." And it was-- basically a dramatic reading. They're saying he made this up.

NANCY PELOSI: He did not make it up. And-- and-- look, I want to tell you something. When I took the oath of office to support and defend the Constitution, as my colleagues have done as well, I did not say, "I will do this as long as the Republicans can understand the Constitution." So the fact that their loyalty is to Trump and not to the Constitution is not going to slow down-- or impair our ability to keep the republic-- keep the republic. And again as I've said, all those things that the president's about are for the election. That he's a coward when it comes to gun safety for our children, that he's cruel when it comes to Dreamers, when he's in denial when it comes to the climate crisis and the rest. When he-- the list goes on and on. Save that for the election. That's where you have that debate. That has nothing to do with this discussion. This discussion is about the facts of what happened and the Constitution and how it violates it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So has this process passed the point of no return? Is an impeachment vote inevitable in the House?

NANCY PELOSI: I don't think so. No. I think that we just go forward and-- follow the facts. I don't-- I don't think that. There are some people said, "Why are you calling for an inquiry? You should call to impeach." I don't think that would be fair. And it isn't-- it isn't worthy of the Constitution. We should collect the facts. Now at the same time-- the president's withholding the facts become just another impeachable offense. You-- Article III of, you mentioned Nixon, Article III of the Nixon-- impeachment which-- articles of impeachment was never voted on because it was so self-evident that he lost-- left office. But Article III was that he did not honor the subpoenas of Congress.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So if the White House does not respond to the subpoenas, does not send over documents, delays, takes it to court, is that a possible article of impeachment?

NANCY PELOSI: It's-- possible. I'm not saying it is. It has to be reviewed by the committees of --committees of jurisdiction and the rest. But it was in the case of Richard Nixon.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the president's public statements about the whistleblower and others suggesting perhaps that either the whistleblower or those talking to him, the whistleblower, are spies?

NANCY PELOSI: That's so inappropriate, so dangerous. Whistleblowers are very important to honest functioning of our government and the intelligence which I know something about. Their value is very recognized. And what you must do with a whistleblower is provide protection. If he--as it has, as he had--he-- I-- yes. The-- inspector general is a he. The inspector general, I don't know who-- who the--


NANCY PELOSI: --whistleblower.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: --who the whistleblower is.

NANCY PELOSI: I have no idea. But as the inspector general has stated, this is a credible complaint of urgent concern. The inspector general, appointed by Donald Trump to that whistleblower -- excuse me, that-- inspector general. A whistleblower brought something to the inspector general. The inspector general said it was credible and of urgent concern. The whistleblower now will come to Congress and we'll see. But the whistleblower must be protected.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the issues in the complaint talked about the locking down of the transcript of the phone call with the Ukrainians. I know you're going to investigate that. You talk about the Intelligence Committee being in your wheelhouse. It appears that there's-- people are going to want to know if this happened with other phone calls. Perhaps the phone calls with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman. Perhaps the phone calls or meetings with Vladimir Putin. Do you need to see those as well?

NANCY PELOSI: What I need-- what I think the American people need to see is the phone call that the president had. All the rest is ancillary to that and gives further concern that, yes, this must have been something that they don't want anyone to-- they don't want anyone to see.But let's just keep the focus where it should be. What the president said, "Do me a favor," at the same time, in the same conversation when the president of Ukraine is asking for assistance. And again that's really where the fo-- let's not take it too far afield. That-- that's a matter of the committee to pursue. But for now, just stay focused on what the president did and how does that support our national security, honor his oath of office, and not undermine our electoral--

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you respond--

NANCY PELOSI: --integrity.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: --to the arguments that some make that it's too streamlined. That there's evidence-- many of your fellow Democrats believe that there's evidence of impeachable offenses dealing with the emoluments clause, dealing with the obstruction of justice, evidence laid out-- by Robert Mueller. And that by focusing too much, you actually weaken the case, you don't strengthen it.

NANCY PELOSI: I don't agree with that. There-- let me just say this. If this never existed, if we didn't know about this on September 17th, Constitution Day, the president's violation of the Constitution on that very day, if we didn't know about that, there certainly is enough to proceed with-- perhaps to proceed with an impeachment inquiry of what went before.If that never existed, there'd be enough on the basis of this to proceed. So what is determined by the six chairmen following this investigation, this inquiry, by Mr. Schiff's committee, Intelligence Committee? We'll see. But that determination will not be made in the public domain. It won't be made as to how do we protect the Constitution of the United States.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How fast does this drag? Can you get a vote by Thanksgiving?

NANCY PELOSI: That will be up to the committee. I don't think that we should drag it out. On the other hand, we don't want to proceed in haste, as some of have said--no, we don't go in haste. It's expeditiously. And again as long as the facts are proceeding we have to follow them. But at some point, we will have to make a decision to go forward or not.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And if this proceeds, I wonder if one-- if this condition could prevent you from going forward. Some have talked about if Senator McConnell can get 35 senators to sign a letter say, "Even if you send this over here, we're not going to vote to convict," would that be enough to convince you not to go forward?

NANCY PELOSI: Abs-- positively not. The weakness of Mitch McConnell is not even respecting the institution that he's the leader in, by not even taking up gun safety and the other things. We don't consider his value system one that determines how we honor the Constitution, even if he doesn't want to.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Back in 19-- during the Clinton impeachment, you called impeachment a trauma for the country.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it still a trauma?

NANCY PELOSI: I do. I agree. And that's why-- well, you know, when I first became Speaker in-- '07, people wanted me to impeach President Bush for the war in Iraq. What could be worse than that? You know, I very much opposed the war in Iraq as a top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee at the time because the intelligence did not support the threat that they were contending.They said, "Are you calling the president a liar?" I said, "No, I'm just stating a fact. The intelligence does not support the threat." So then when we won, people said to me, "Well, you've got to impeach President Bush." I said, "Well-- if somebody wants to develop their case, that's up to them. But that's not what our focus will be." Because you can't go-- I thought it was wrong to impeach President Clinton for a personal indiscretion. It was stupid. But that's not undermining the Constitution of the United States.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You thought censure was a good alternative. Could that be an alternative here?



NANCY PELOSI: Because the president has admitted to what he has done. Now it's a question of where we go from here. But this is an inquiry on impeachment. It's not an inquiry on censure.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You say that if this goes forward the president and his team should just tell the truth. But it sounds to me that if they do, if they tell the truth, in your mind that will only strengthen the case for impeachment.

NANCY PELOSI: But who knows? I said to the president on my phone call, "We've tried to give you every opportunity to prove innocence whether it was show us your tax return, show us your bank records. Show Deutsche Bank-- Mazur, your accounting, emoluments, all of that. Show us your side of the story."Instead, we've had to go to court. And when we go to court and win in court on three of those four, one of them we haven't heard from yet, then you appeal it. So if there's nothing to hide, just show us your story.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned the president's tax returns. There's a second whistleblower complaint that has not yet been made public. Coming out of the Treasury Department suggesting that in some way the president's audit was not dealt with in an appropriate way. I know the chairman-- Chairman Neal is considering whether or not to release that to the public. Do you think it should be released?

NANCY PELOSI: I'm not familiar with the details of that. But I do know that Chairman Neal has been as discrete and as clear. The law is clear. When the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee or the chairman of the Finance Committee request the president's tax returns, they should get-- they get them. And then they take a vote as to whether they should show them to the world. But the law is clear. And that is in court now. I don't know what the course of action will be-- within the committee. It's up to the committee.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You have about another week or so left in the recess. When the recess is over and Congress comes back, your members come back and want to get to work on prescription drugs, want to get to work on the trade agreement. I'm trying to imagine that next phone call between you and President Trump. Can you really work with him?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, he says he cares about lowering the cost of prescription drugs. We'll see. The-- what we put together is something that-- the administration has not advocated for, but seemed compatible with. So it wasn't as-- we're not going to the-- you know, my wish list. We're going to a place that can be signed into law that is transformative, that will lower the cost of prescription drugs for America's working families. Not just Medicare, but all families. It will also end the disparity of cost between what U.S. consumers pay, and what people pay overseas. It will reverse inflation by giving a rebate as we go forward. It is-- it's-- it's really quite excellent. However, it always can be improved. And members are listening to their constituents. That's one of their priorities during this district work period.And so when we come back, we will be advancing that and hoping to work in a bipartisan way. The Senate has a bill, Senator Grassley's bill. We think our bill is better, but at least there's a recognition that this has to be done. It's the big--it's about the health of America, but it's also about the financial health of America's families.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You said that you have no ch-- you feel you had no choice but going forward on the impeachment inquiry. And I know no one has a crystal ball. But, you know, some Democrats had been concerned that if you go forward with impeachment, the president gets acquitted in the Senate, that will actually strengthen him in the 2020 election. If impeachment helped President Trump win in 2020, would it be worth it?

NANCY PELOSI: Let me just say this. If the-- just because the Senate may not have the courage to recognize the president's violation of the Constitution doesn't mean that they're off Scott-free. We have to have a very compelling case as we go forward for the American people and for the Senate. So again, outcomes in elections have nothing—“I solemnly swear to uphold the Constitution as long as it doesn't make a difference in the election.” That's not the oath we take. We're there to keep the republic, or we're there to politics with impeachment--and that's not what we're doing. That's not what we're doing. People say to me, "Oh, you're going to hurt some of the marginal this or that." That's not w-- the facts are there. And we are proceeding to get further evidence as we go forward. And that will det-- the facts will determine. It's not about elections. It's not about, “I don't like him or I-- I don't like his policies.” It's about the facts and the Constitution of the United States. That's the oath we take. That's the responsibility we have. And it doesn't hinge on whether Mitch McConnell has the guts to really do what the Constitution requires or what the impact is in the election.But I will say this. Having said all of that, separate from that, the re-election of Donald Trump would do irreparable damage to the United States. This-- we have some serious repair and healing to do in our country for what he's done so far. I don't-- I'm not sure that two terms, it might be irreparable.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Madame Speaker, thanks for your time today.

NANCY PELOSI: My pleasure. Thank you.

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