Gowdy says Trump's demand for Ukraine's cooperation in 2016 probe "can't be" impeachable

Gowdy leaves door open to joining Trump legal team

Former Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, who the White House recently sought to enlist to join President Trump's legal defense team to counter the impeachment inquiry, said lawmakers shouldn't impeach the president for conditioning U.S. military aid to Ukraine on that country's cooperation in a probe to look into a debunked theory about the 2016 presidential election.

"Is it an impeachable offense to condition aid on cooperating with the 2016 election investigation? I mean, are we going to remove a president from office if he conditioned aid on figuring out who tried to interfere in our 2016 election?" Gowdy asked on "Face the Nation" Sunday before answering his own question.

"I don't think so," he said.

In recent weeks, congressional testimony from several current and former administration officials, including the top U.S. envoy in Ukraine last week, outlined a shadow diplomatic campaign by allies of the president who made concerted efforts to show a newly elected Ukrainian government that a White House meeting and a multimillion-dollar military aid package were contingent on Ukraine launching and publicly announcing several investigations.

These included a probe into the involvement of Ukrainians in the U.S. counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and an investigation into the Ukrainian oil company that once employed Hunter Biden, the youngest son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

House Democrats have said the details revealed in the depositions have strengthened their case for impeaching the president, but Gowdy on Sunday seemed to suggest that Mr. Trump did nothing wrong by conditioning military aid if it was to designed to unearth information about election meddling efforts by foreign actors.

"Well, you know, that means something for something," he said of the supposed "quid pro quo" at the center of the impeachment probe. "I need to know what both of those somethings is."

"If the something is, 'We're not going to give you aid until you help us figure out who tried to interfere with the levers of democracy in 2016' — Margaret, I can tell you if a Democrat did that we'd be adding something to Mt. Rushmore," he said.

If it was the case that Mr. Trump and his allies inside and outside the administration pressured the government of Ukraine to help the U.S. determine who else, other than Russians, might have attempted to meddle in the 2016 election, Gowdy said the actions would not amount to "high crimes and misdemeanors" — the constitutional standard for impeachment.

"I mean, we spent two years as a country trying to figure out who tried to interfere with our elections. So clearly, it can't be an impeachable offense," he added.

  • Camilo Montoya-Galvez
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    Camilo Montoya-Galvez is the immigration reporter at CBS News. Based in Washington, he covers immigration policy and politics. Twitter: @camiloreports