WASHINGTON — Rep. Maxine Waters, one of the six Democratic committee chairs leading the House’s impeachment investigation, told BuzzFeed News’ AM to DM on Friday that she believes both Attorney General Bill Barr and Vice President Mike Pence were involved in President Donald Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine for information on former vice president Joe Biden.
Waters, a longtime critic of President Donald Trump and an advocate for impeachment, chairs the House Financial Services Committee, which has been looking into Trump’s finances and will have a say on what articles of impeachment the House pursues against the president, should the investigation move forward.
Both Barr and Pence are named in a whistleblower complaint alleging Trump abused his office in a conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump repeatedly asked the Ukrainian leader to help investigate Biden ahead of the 2020 election. But the involvement of Barr and Pence is less clear.
Waters was asked about Trump’s statement Wednesday that reporters should also look at Pence’s communications with Ukraine; Trump had said the vice president had “a couple of conversations also. They’re all perfect.” (The Washington Post reported that Trump’s statements were not viewed inside the White House as trying to undermine Pence.)
“They’re all involved. ... First of all, we have seen that no matter what the president does, they come up with a kind of messaging to defend him. No matter what it is, none of them have had the courage, the patriotism, or the guts to stand up for what is right for our country. So I expect that Pence is part of this conspiracy to try to get Ukraine to do something in a fake investigation and come out with some dirt on Biden,” Waters said. “So I’m looking forward to that coming out in the hearings that will be done by the Judiciary Committee as they take up the impeachment resolution.”
Pence comes up just once in the whistleblower’s complaint and was not involved or mentioned in the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. According to the whistleblower, Trump instructed Pence to cancel his trip to Zelensky’s inauguration in May and sent Energy Secretary Rick Perry instead. The whistleblower added that at the same time, White House officials said it was “made clear” to them that Trump did not want to meet with Zelensky until he saw how the Ukrainian leader “chose to act” in office, though it was unclear to the whistleblower whether that was in reference to requests for help investigating Biden.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Barr, however, was named during the July 25 phone call. At first, Trump appeared to reference Barr, telling Zelensky, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” according to a record of the call. He later explicitly told Zelensky he would tell Barr and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, to call him.
Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement earlier this week that Barr never had a conversation with Ukrainian officials about Biden or “any other subject,” that Trump did not ask him to help investigate Biden, and that he did not know about the call until weeks after it happened.
But Waters told AM to DM on Friday morning that she believes that Barr is “not a credible human being” and that he is “willing to do whatever it takes to protect the president.”
“I know given what he’s done in the past that he’s guilty of being involved in either assisting Giuliani or doing other kinds of things to try and get the Ukraine and the president to come out with dirt on Biden,” she said, adding that Congress will “find out more information about him as the Judiciary Committee takes up the impeachment resolution” against Trump.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Waters’ specific allegations Friday.
Waters said that Democrats have agreed that they need to “move very quickly” on impeachment while the public is focused on the Ukraine story, adding that she and other committee chairs believe they can finish their work “before the year is out.”
Waters also responded to Trump saying Thursday that the whistleblower and their sources are “spies” and his allusion to treason: “They’re not spies, they’re patriots. And he is not a patriot. He is exactly who he is — he’s a con man, he’s a dishonorable human being, he’s a flawed character, and he talks like a thug,” she said.
Waters was among the first Democrats to call for impeachment. Asked if she wanted to say “I told you so” when Pelosi and other Democrats finally got on board with her impeachment push, Waters was ebullient.
“Yeah! Yeah, yeah! Yeah, a lot of me wanted to do it, and I have to be subtle about it because it is not considered acceptable to just put it in somebody’s face after you have, you know, really made the argument and you have won. So I am being subtle about it, but it sure felt like that,” she said, adding that she “absolutely” feels vindicated.
Several Democrats agreed Friday that Congress needs to look into Barr’s involvement in the Ukraine issue, though a few of them suggested that they already believe he is directly involved.
“I think that Barr needs to answer some very serious questions, perhaps before Congress,” Rep. André Carson said. “I think that if we are going to uphold the Founding Fathers’ vision of three separate but equal branches of government, I think that Barr should represent that objective.”
Echoing Waters, Rep. Jesús García said that Barr has “appeared to be Trump’s defense lawyer over the past several weeks in particular” and called his conduct “troubling.”
“I think it’s certainly legitimate to take a hard look at whether he has compromised his position, whether he has acted irresponsibly as the attorney general,” García said.
Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief, went further. “I am so disappointed in William Barr and how he has stained and tainted the Department of Justice as its top cop. I know he has said that he didn't know anything about the conversation between President Zelensky and President Trump, but I question that because President Trump was quite — he was very comfortable — calling the attorney general’s name several times during that conversation,” she said. “So Attorney Barr will have to answer for himself. I think he should have absolutely zero to do with this process.”
Demings wasn’t the only Democrat to say that Barr should recuse himself from any further investigation on Ukraine.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney also said Barr should “absolutely” recuse himself. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who has previously called for Barr to be impeached, agreed. “He cannot be a part of this,” she said.
Asked if Barr should be impeached, Rep. Jim McGovern said, “I’d vote for it.”
But some Democrats cautioned that while the House should look into Barr, the focus of impeachment needs to stay on Trump. “I think we need to continue to investigate the president. I think the focus needs to be on the commander in chief,” Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said.
Jayapal said that while she respects Waters and that “she's right, absolutely," she added, "Right now the focus is on Trump and we should keep the focus on Trump.”
“The whole administration is bowing to a lawless president. There is culpability for all of them, just like there is for the Republicans in the House and Senate,” Jayapal said. “But we need to keep the focus, right now, on the president on the president and what he has done and not shift the focus.”
Rep. Jesús García said that it was "legitimate" to take a look at whether Barr "compromised his position." An earlier version of this story misattributed his comment.
This story was updated with comment from several Democratic lawmakers in response to Waters' appearance on AM to DM.