Republican lawmakers took on NBC News reporter Heidi Przybyla when she denied rampant corruption in Ukraine during a press conference Tuesday about the Senate impeachment trial.
The tense exchange took place while Republican Reps. Lee Zeldin (NY), Elise Stefanik (NY), and Mike Johnson (LA) were briefing reporters about impeachment.
Przybyla first asked a question premised on the idea that Trump’s concern about corruption in Ukraine was illegitimate. “Congressman [Zeldin], so, DOD certified this money [military aid to Ukraine] in May,” she began. They said that Ukraine met all anti-corruption standards. So what specifically happened that made the president all of a sudden concerned about corruption? What specific corruption was he chasing at that point?”
Zeldin indicated Trump was interested in corruption allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden, his son, Hunter, and their connection to the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Moreover, Trump wanted to learn more about potential 2016 presidential election interference on behalf of Democrats stemming from Ukraine.
Seemingly, the NBC News reporter did not like the response and repeatedly interrupted the lawmakers. “You have to let me answer your questions,” Zeldin vented at one point — his second request for her to stop interrupting him. In response, Przybyla patted his arm, saying, “go ahead.”
“Listen, if I give a good answer, that doesn’t mean that you have to cut me off,” Zeldin continued. “I know that if you let me — if I give a bad answer, you’d probably let me go all day.”
He explained that Ukraine’s parliamentary elections and newly-created corruption initiatives happened within the timeframe designated by Przybyla.
After finishing that answer, the NBC reporter mocked his response: “Biden, CrowdStrike, and what is the other specific corruption?” she asked, leading to a protracted exchange of crosstalk. “I know it’s a hard question. It’s a hard question, ’cause the president’s not on the record mentioning anything other than Biden, CrowdStrike. That’s it. And you haven’t mentioned anything else.”
Zeldin zeroed in on the topic of Hunter Biden, recounting Senate arguments which established the legitimacy of corruption allegations against his work at Burisma. When several reporters chimed in to offer excuses for former VP Biden’s $1 billion threat to get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired, Zeldin shot back: “Media… You’re doing a great job as Schiff’s shills.” Przybyla replied, “We’re not insulting you, don’t insult us.”
Soon after, Reps. Johnson and Stefanik took the podium, arguing that Przybyla’s dismissal of “CrowdStrike,” or allegations of 2016 election interference, is not supported by the facts. “Zelensky ran on a platform, not unlike Donald Trump, as a reformer,” Johnson said. “The president wanted to make sure that that was legitimate… He was convinced of that fact, and that’s when the aid was released.”
Stefanik recounted the House witness testimony — “which you should know,” she snarked at Przybyla — affirmed “corruption was widespread” in Ukraine. The reporter, undeterred, repeated her objection: “There must be something some kind of answer to what changed after the [DOD] certification.” Stefanik, exasperated, repeated herself: “To form a government that ran on anti-corruption efforts, Zelensky had to form a cabinet. There had to be parliamentary elections. They had to put the high court in place. That wasn’t done until early September, and then the aid was released before the end of the fiscal year.”
“So the premise of your question is wrong,” she continued, “because there are ample examples of corruption. Do you ignore the testimony of ambassadors?” she challenged Przybyla.
The NBC reporter continued interrupting and objecting to Stefanik’s response, leading Johnson to call for the next question.
“This is ridiculous,” Stefanik said. “You need to go back and listen to the testimony. Every single witness has testified–”
“I heard the testimony,” Przybyla said.
“Well, what did the witnesses say about corruption in Ukraine?” Stefanik asked.
“Corruption is a problem and it has been throughout its history,” Przybyla admitted.
NBC News posted edited video footage of the exchange on social media, conspicuously cutting out the lawmakers’ responses. Rep. Zeldin called out the outlet for the deceptive edit and for Przybyla’s “25+ interruptions,” and the reporter insinuated without evidence that Trump only released the aid because “Congress started investigating him” in her reply.
You mentioned new, non-specific parliamentary laws and never answered what other “corruption” cases Trump was tracking that happened to get resolved days after Congress started investigating him. (other then Burisma/Bidens).
— Heidi Przybyla (@HeidiNBC) January 29, 2020