Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Assessing The Legal Implications Of What Trump Said On The Call To Ukrainian Leader


Now let's get some analysis from Shan Wu. He's a former federal prosecutor. Mr. Wu, did I pronounce your name correctly?

SHAN WU: It's Shan, but that's fine (laughter).

INSKEEP: Shan - There we go. Thank you very much. I'm glad that I checked, and we're glad to be talking with you. What do you make of this document?

WU: I think it's quite incriminating. There are some potential criminal aspects, although it sounds to me like the Justice Department is already taking a pass on it. But the abuse of power really strikes at me. I mean, whether or not we ultimately develop a quid pro quo, which we may, as we've - just been pointed out by Greg, that we don't have the actual complaint yet.

It's quite obvious just from these words that the president's doing two things really wrong. One, he is asking a foreign power to do him a favor and look into a political opponent. And No. 2, he is putting his personal lawyer, who has absolutely no government official role whatsoever, into the role of being an agent for the United States, representing the United States' interests.

INSKEEP: Let's see if we can put some different motivation on this because I think it is reasonable to expect, based on previous controversies, that the president will look at these same facts and say they are something completely different. Can the president say, as I believe in fact he has said, he was just looking into corruption when he was asking about Joe Biden's son?

WU: He can certainly say that. I think here the facts are going to strongly undercut that, but he can certainly say that. The problem is that he is not generally saying, I support anti-corruption, which is a little bit ironic coming from this president. But he is specifically directing it to a very old allegation - I think it's some 10 years old - and specifically to Biden, who is a political opponent. So I think the facts are really going to undercut his notion that he is generically asking about, I want to support anti-corruption efforts.

INSKEEP: Is it even more devastating, damaging, because the president, in addition to saying why don't you look into Joe Biden's family - would you please talk to my personal lawyer, who happens to be publicly known to be looking for political dirt out of Ukrainians?

WU: Oh, absolutely. You know, there is something called the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from acting or intervening in government actions, and that's exactly what he's doing here. And it couldn't be more obvious that, when you're involving your personal lawyer, it's got to be for something personal on your part. Otherwise, you know, he may have some cover in asking Barr to be involved with it or some cover with the White House counsel's office, but Giuliani has no reason to be involved in it.

INSKEEP: And we should note, Rudy Giuliani on Fox News last night made an otherwise unexplained remark in which he held up his phone and said that he had proof on his phone from phone calls and emails or whatever that whatever he did was authorized by the State Department.

WU: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Would it be normal for the president's personal lawyer to be authorized by the State Department, to be looking for political dirt in another country?

WU: Absolutely not, and that certainly makes Rudy Giuliani's phone exhibit No. 1 that needs to be subpoenaed. And frankly, he has repeatedly over the last few years tried to transform himself, perhaps not intentionally, into a witness. And I think he is all over this transcript and absolutely needs to be interviewed and subpoenaed.

INSKEEP: OK, so we haven't even touched the cutoff of military aid. The White House has said there was no quid pro quo. The military aid isn't mentioned in this call, although there is a generic mention of how much the U.S. supports Ukraine. Do you have to prove a quid pro quo for something to be really wrong here?

WU: You do not. And while if you do prove a quid pro quo, it'll certainly add to the abuse of power and add to potential criminal charges, but it's very rare to have a straightforward, smoking gun quid pro quo. People just don't say that. But certainly, if evidence arises circumstantially, the timing of the withholding of the aid, the freezing of that aid I think will be very devastating, ultimately.

INSKEEP: OK, Shan Wu, thank you very much. We really appreciate it.

WU: Sure thing. Good to be here.

INSKEEP: He is a former federal prosecutor.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.