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Reince Priebus: "Presidents don't get impeached because they acted inappropriately"

Reince Priebus on impeachment inquiry

Former Trump White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Wednesday that "presidents don't get impeached because they acted inappropriately." He made the remark during CBS News coverage of the public impeachment hearings. Priebus, who served in his post in the Trump administration for seven months, made the remarks to "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell and CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett. 

Priebus was asked during a break in the hearing whether President Trump acted inappropriately during his now-famous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. On the call, Mr. Trump asked for "a favor" and urged Zelensky to "look into" former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Priebus came out in his defense of his former boss.

"Presidents don't get impeached because they acted inappropriately," he told CBS News. "Presidents get impeached because they conducted themselves in such a way that they committed a high crime or misdemeanor as outlined under the Constitution."

He added, "Right now, we have hearsay evidence that the president committed a quid quo pro illegally or at least so far above the line that he should be impeached."

The first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry kicked off Wednesday with testimony from Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a top State Department official. Both raised concerns about an apparent effort by Mr. Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and other Trump allies to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into the president's political rivals while the administration held up much-needed foreign aid.

Priebus said that in the rough transcript of Mr. Trump's phone call with Zelensky, the president suggested Zelensky talk to Attorney General William Barr, not Giuliani, because Barr was investigating foreign interference in the 2016 election. "No, he didn't say Giuliani. Read it: He said talk to the attorney general."

But in fact, Mr. Trump did mention Giuliani by name. In the summary of the call released by the White House, he told Zelensky:

Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.

Priebus continued, "It's the president's state of mind that's on trial. That's all this is, is what was in the president's mind. And I don't think so far anything has changed today as far as the facts as we know them before today."

The impeachment inquiry was launched after a whistleblower in the U.S. intelligence community filed a complaint regarding the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Zelensky. 

The current impeachment inquiry marks the fourth time in U.S. history that Congress has considered removing a president from office. The last time was in 1998, when the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton, but he was acquitted in the Senate.

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