Transcript: Former Rep. Bill McCollum's interview on 'The Investigation' podcast

A transcript of McCollum's interview as it appears in the latest episode.

ABC NEWS' JOHN SANTUCCI: Welcome back to "The Investigation." I'm John Santucci in Washington. We are gearing up for a House impeachment vote later this week, potentially on two articles of impeachment against President Trump and after it leaves the House of Representatives. It's going to cross the hall and head over to the United States Senate, where a trial is most likely to begin as we start a new year with 2020. And part of that process is that there are actually individuals as part of the House team that head over and are a part of the Senate trial. They're called House managers. So we thought, why not bring a House manager from the last impeachment that the United States watched - in for a conversation. So we're joined right now on the phone by Bill McCollum. He is a former congressman from Florida, also served as the Florida state attorney general. And, of course, as I mentioned, was a House impeachment manager during Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. Thank you so much for joining us today, Congressman.

BILL McCOLLUM: I'm glad to be with you, John, my pleasure.

SANTUCCI: So let me start with you first, because I as you know, we've all been sort of re-educating ourselves. A lot of people watching us on TV are doing the same. That role of a house manager, what exactly does that person do in a Senate trial?

McCOLLUM: Depends upon the assignment. There were 13 of us and my role was to do two things. One, preliminarily, I was in charge of preparing the witnesses, arranging for when we did have them at least, by videoconference. An opportunity to interview them to get the person who is going to take their deposition. I did not take the depositions in, in with them and with their attorney and so forth. But the main thing I did during the impeachment trial was to present a 30 minute summary of the facts after the first day, the beginning of the second day of the presentations by the House managers. And we were presenting the case, if you will, in front of the Senate, orderly and with whatever evidence we were permitted to submit. So I spent time doing that. And then later on, I made a 15 minute, I think actually a little more than that, argument for witnesses live on the floor, which ultimately was denied. But I felt very passionately about that and I still do. And then I had a role at the end. Most of us were given about five minutes or so by Henry Hyde to present our own thoughts in closing at the very concluding day on the 8th of January of 1999.

SANTUCCI: So you mentioned there witnesses, it’s interesting you say that because over the last several days we've been watching in media reports conversations between the White House and the Republican Senate majority leaders just about that. It sounds like Mitch McConnell does not want witnesses. President Trump is waffling a bit, saying that, you know, be great to have witnesses, expose what he is often referred to as a witch hunt. And other times he has said, well, the Senate can do what it wants. If you were involved in this process, it sounds like you would be calling for witnesses to show up.

McCOLLUM: I probably would. The key issue that's different between the Clinton impeachment and this one is whether you believe in this case that even if all the facts were better now known, proved to be true. There is a truly impeachable offense that was committed, the Democrats in the House, obviously are thinking so. And I think it's highly likely they'll send that to the Senate in that fashion. In the case of the Clinton impeachment, we had a number of felony crimes, perjury that's lying under oath in front of a court. Both at the grand jury level and in the deposition in the Paula Jones case, but also obstruction of justice in a very interesting fashion, very, several times involved in this. In this case, it's really a question of the Democrats and the House apparently saying, look, the president of the United States, President Trump did something that was trying to dig up dirt on one of his opponents by holding back aid that otherwise would have gone earlier to Ukraine. And maybe in exchange for a meeting in the White House, et cetera. Very stretched, very thin, very different. But if there is a case to go forward, I certainly believe that witnesses are appropriate. I think. Both sides should be able to select a certain number and that those key witnesses should be subpoenaed and come forward and testify.

SANTUCCI: Just because you mentioned a little bit there about the facts of the president's impeachment, I want to get back to just the overall structure of an impeachment trial in a minute. But just because you mentioned there, the president and his and his conversations with the president of Ukraine Zelinsky, let's just talk about that for a second. In your opinion, the July 25th phone call, the infamous call between the two. Do you believe that call was appropriate?

McCOLLUM: No, I don't think it was appropriate. Well, I shouldn't say the whole call wasn't appropriate. I don't think was appropriate for the president to refer to the vise president or suggest that perhaps that he should be investigated in the ways that was suggested. But I don't think that it's a crime that he committed. I don't think it's something he should be impeached for. I look for other things that have not been brought out during the course of the investigation. And I would say this is a decision, if you think it's that grave a nature that ought to be determined by the voters next year, the election. It's just not that same level. It's politically insulting. I know I was on with a former colleague of mine on one of these shows recently, and he thought this was certainly something that Republicans would be upset if it happened to one of their candidates for president by a sitting Democrat president and absolutely would be. But that does not mean that it rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor. The history, of course, can be highly debated. They had witnesses about this in front of the House Judiciary Committee recently. But I buy into the one of the four that says the history about when George Mason was promoting the idea that there should be a maladministration or should be something besides treason and bribery. That that he had several other proposals that were all rejected before high crimes and misdemeanors decided upon. They were things like corruption, using the word corruption, perfidy, which means not being honest. Things of that nature which we would think were pretty, pretty extreme. But they chose not to do any of that.

SANTUCCI: Well and bribery. But to your point, also, bribery was something that we saw several members of these committees mentioned throughout the course of the public hearings. Then interestingly, that was not one of the articles that they ended up including that in one of the articles, rather.

McCOLLUM: Well, I didn't think bribery was there. I'm sure that some did. Obviously, Chairman Schiff did. But I just didn't see it. I've been chairman of the crime subcommittee in the House and attorney general. And the elements criminally of bribery are simply not there. The actual - goods, if you will, the armaments and the aid were delivered. And it's very hard, very difficult circumstantial evidence to suggest that they were in fact, there was, in fact, what they called a quid pro quo that's required. Now, the argument was being made by the chairman Schiff that bribery for the purposes of impeachment did not require the proof that it would in a criminal case. And of course, you can make whatever you want in that regard. But it seems to me that the history is pretty clear about the general idea of what a high crime and misdemeanor is. It's got to be high. It's a very high standard because the founding fathers really weren't interested in going there. And there is all kinds of contextual history that you could go into about it, which some of us who are impeachment trial managers once did go into. But it's obviously a dispute, a difference of opinion. But my opinion is very strongly that there was no bribery. And I don't think what's been shown so far is a high crime or misdemeanor. But that's to be determined, of course, by the House and ultimately by the Senate.

SANTUCCI: So let's talk about the Senate trial again for a second, if we can, because, you know, in reading a little more about you and your role and as I mentioned, you've obviously been giving interviews about this because we haven't done this in 20 years. So a lot of people are interested in what it was like then and where it is now. There has been some questions raised about what appears to be the coordination, if you will, between the White House and the Senate Republicans. And as you well know, the senators they’re the jurors, they're the ones that are have to hear this case and then make a decision whether or not they believe the president should be removed from office. Do you find anything concerning, in your opinion about the level of conversations right now between the president Trump's White House and Senate Republicans?

McCOLLUM: I'm not really concerned about it. At the end of the day, this is a very political process. It's interesting to think back on the description. I think even during the deciding about putting this into the Constitution, the founders recognized that fact. It's not a trial in the sense of a criminal trial. The rules that are made by the Senate are the rules that apply, not some rules of court. I know the chief justice presided over this, was very concerned at the beginning that he could - Wanted to develop these rules, and the senators told him in the Clinton case, you know, we're not going to do that. We're going to do what we want to do. And that's what's going to happen here. So you can't completely take the so-called politics out of this. It's not a it's not going to be where the jury, if you will, or the judges, they’re more like judges, I think are going to be cordoned off and isolated from hearing the outside world. I mean, these senators do they they already been following this. They've already had that opportunity. And many of them avail themselves of it. I'm sure to watch portions, if not all of the various hearings that are going on and the various arguments that have been made. So this is very different from a courtroom, albeit it is a trial. It's a different kind of trial and it's a unique type of trial.

SANTUCCI: You know, they have not named the house managers yet for either party that will handle this as it moves its way over to the Senate. Interestingly, though, one name we saw floated over the weekend, potentially House Democrats are looking at Justin Amash. A Michigan representative who was a member of the Republican Party and ultimately defected in the course of impeachment, now an independent. What would you think of a move like that to your point about this is a political process? That's definitely not a subtle political move by the Democrats if they do that.

McCOLLUM: Well, I think the Democrats are looking at this and have been for some time as a major political event in terms of the election next year. I've said that from the beginning when I was first asked about this, it just struck me that they had no real anticipation that they would get or could get a conviction in the Senate or removal from office. And they therefore are using this platform to try to present the American public that that President Trump is not fit to have another term. I just think that whatever they do, they're setting things up in that fashion. It's all playing to the general public. And by the way, there's not necessarily anything wrong with that except that it seems to me to be a real stretch in this case. What they're calling, you know, the abuse of power and what they're saying are is obstruction of justice in the sense of what they say he has not answered or didn't produce witnesses. But having said that, it's still their prerogative to, as the managers as the ones who are going to bring this to pick who they want to make the arguments as the managers. And they they will get an opportunity, whoever is picked, I'm sure, to talk and speak to the Senate. That would be highly unusual if that didn't occur. And so I don't begrudge them their choice of whomever they wish.

SANTUCCI: And Congressman, before I let you go, you know, you're someone that obviously knows this process was ingratiated in it 20 years ago as people are going to be watching this right after the holidays. What do you what would you advise someone to be watching for? What are those subtle nuances that you think the average eye might miss? That is someone who knows his pretty damn well would say, you know, you may wanna pay attention to that.

McCOLLUM: Well, I think the summaries of the facts and the rebuttals of the arguments that will be made by the key managers and the president's attorneys or whomever presents on the defense side will be the primary thing to be looking for. I don't think you can judge looking at the faces of the senators, particularly how they're going to vote, although you may have a preconceived notion about that. And if there are witnesses and they may be by deposition or they may be live, I always thought live was better. I'd be looking for that. If it gets to that point, I always thought that Monica Lewinsky should have been brought live and that if you are judging somebody’s truth and veracity and that's important to you in a fact finding part of this, you need to look at them their, their demeanor, how they present themselves. I've been in many regular trials as well as this is important. So if you're watching at home and have the opportunity for a live witness, look and try to judge that witness. Are they telling the truth? Are they being honest? Are they being stretching something? Do they have a point of view, et cetera? But I think the main thing you're going to hear in this, as we had an hour's impeachment trial, is there are the arguments and you can perhaps judge for yourself better after you listen to both sides. So, don't just listen to one and be open minded. I think that's the most important thing. I think that I would stress that with anyone here, it's hard, harder here in this case because you've already had so much out in the public. It’s again, not like a regular jury trial. But I think for those at home, it's probably for many it would be a case of first impression. So I would hope that people would go into this regardless of their perspective with an open mind and think about the law. Think about whether these are impeachable offenses. Are they really what the founding fathers intended to remove from office, which is a very high standard, as opposed to a points to be made about whether you think the President Trump should be reelected and then decide also what you think about the witnesses and the facts. There are some real differences of facts in this case. It seems to me if you get down into that, begin a different kind of conflicts between witnesses.

SANTUCCI: A lot of things to watch for. It's going to be a busy January. Congressman Bill McCollum, thank you very much for taking time to speak with us.

McCOLLUM: You're welcome. Certainly.