After visiting Ukraine in 2015 and becoming sympathetic to that country’s fight against Russia, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers joined a small group of members of Congress known as the Ukraine Caucus.
She remains a strong congressional supporter of that country on the cusp of Europe and Russia. But while she disagrees with the Trump administration’s decision earlier this year to delay military aid to Ukraine, she doesn’t yet see anything that would be impeachable.
In a recent interview after returning to Spokane for the Thanksgiving holiday, McMorris Rodgers called that suspension “unfortunate” but defended Trump’s actions overall as an improvement for relations between the two countries.
“It’s important to remember that the aid did get released,” she said. “It’s important to remember that the Trump administration has done more than the Obama administration. … In the previous administration, I believe we should have been doing more to aid Ukraine.”
When she visited in 2015, Russia had annexed Crimea and the two countries were battling for control of parts of eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin had shut off natural gas and oil to Ukraine in the winter and members of the bipartisan congressional delegation decided to push for American energy imports.
“I was really taken by the situation in Ukraine, where they were fighting for freedom and self-determination,” McMorris Rodgers said.
She joined the Ukraine Caucus, a bipartisan group of about three dozen House members that first formed in 1997 to push for better relations with that country. Two other Washington representatives, Democrats Suzan DelBene and Adam Smith, are members, as is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Before the whistleblower complaint surfaced in September, McMorris Rodgers said she wasn’t aware that military aid to Ukraine approved by Congress had been suspended for nearly two months earlier this year at the orders of the White House.
The suspension of that aid, which included Javelin missiles to help Ukrainian troops battle Russian tanks, is at the center of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry. Critics allege President Donald Trump decided to stop the aid until the country’s leaders announced they would investigate corruption at Burisma, a major Ukranian natural gas company that put the son of former Vice President Joe Biden on its board of directors, and possible Ukranian interference in the 2016 election.
The 2015 congressional visit was focused on energy issues in the European Union and Ukraine. Although she has heard rumors of corruption in Ukraine, McMorris Rodgers said she didn’t know anything specific about Burisma or Hunter Biden’s appointment to the board.
“There are two or three large companies that control energy” in Ukraine, she said.
She wasn’t familiar with the details of the efforts to fight corruption that involved Biden during the Obama administration.
McMorris Rodgers, who has been a critic of Putin and Russian propaganda efforts, said she’s not aware of any evidence of Ukrainian interference in U.S. elections in 2016.
She voted against the resolution to hold the impeachment inquiry, and hasn’t changed her mind after a week of public testimony.
“I have yet to see an impeachable offense,” she said. “I continue to have concerns that the Republicans have not been allowed to bring forth witnesses. I have concerns that we do not have any firsthand witnesses willing to come forward.”
Although staff with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have testified in closed-door and public sessions, high-ranking officials, including Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who would have broader knowledge, have not.
“They made a decision not to,” McMorris Rodgers said of Mulvaney and Bolton.
Although federal law offers protections for whistleblowers, McMorris Rodgers said she believes the person who initially reported the suspension of aid to Ukraine should testify to the committee because “impeaching a president is a very significant decision.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.