A Preview Of President Trump's Impeachment Trial In The Senate

Jan 20, 2020
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Senate impeachment trial of President Trump is set to start this week, and both sides have been making a last-ditch effort to appeal to the court of public opinion. The Democrats who've been appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as House impeachment managers hit the Sunday talk shows.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

ADAM SCHIFF: Abuse of power is at the center of what the framers intended an impeachable offense to be.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Our case is simple. The facts are uncontested. And the evidence is overwhelming.

GREENE: Representatives Adam Schiff and Hakeem Jeffries there. We also heard over the weekend from the president's legal defense team, including Robert Ray speaking with NPR's Weekend Edition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROBERT RAY: This is an impeachment that is a partisan effort. It does not enjoy bipartisan support, and for that reason, it is illegitimate.

GREENE: Both sides also submitted their first legal filings to the Senate as this process gets underway. I want to start with NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who's following this. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

GREENE: OK. So you've been looking at these legal filings. What are you seeing here in terms of what we can expect from both teams once this gets started?

KEITH: Well, their arguments couldn't be more different. That's one thing. You know, the Democratic impeachment managers from the House are arguing that President Trump's conduct is, quote, "the framers' worst nightmare." They say that he used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in the U.S. election for his own personal, political gain and then attempted to cover it up by obstructing Congress. They argue that the only remedy for this is removal. Then you have the White House, which is arguing that the president did nothing wrong, that abuse of power is not impeachable, that, in fact, the president is accused of no crimes, let alone high crimes and misdemeanors. And while Democrats are saying that the president was trying to interfere in an election, get a foreign government to interfere, the White House is saying that Democrats with this impeachment effort are, quote, "in a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the result of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election." So we're going to hear a lot of back and forth.

GREENE: OK. So those are the arguments. Those are the themes from the two sides. What exactly happens now?

KEITH: So there will be more legal briefs. There will be more exchanges of paper, if you will. And then the action really begins tomorrow when the Senate comes into session and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lays out what he wants the rules of the trial to be. There will be a lot of debate about that. And then it will begin in earnest. But there is some talk coming from some senators that McConnell may want the trial to last 12 hours a day and not start until 1 p.m.

GREENE: I mean, you didn't have any other plans in the evening, did you (laughter)? My goodness.

KEITH: Or the very early morning hours. I mean...

GREENE: That's right.

KEITH: Democrats are likely to object to the idea of a trial conducted in darkness.

GREENE: NPR's Tamara Keith. We'll be hearing much more from you as this process goes forward. Tam, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

GREENE: Now, I want to bring in one perspective on this whole process. It's from Jonah Goldberg, who has been following this. He's a conservative columnist, editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and, of course, a frequent voice on our program. Good morning, Jonah.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey, it's great to be here.

GREENE: Well, it's great to have you, as always. I want to just ask - I mean, President Trump repeatedly calling this whole thing a witch hunt, but he's been beefing up his legal team in recent days. Is that just part of the process or are you feeling that this could be a sign the White House is beginning to feel the heat here?

GOLDBERG: I think it's more of Trump's natural regression to spectacle. I mean, that's what he likes is spectacle. And he sometimes even can't help himself. I think the really interesting dynamic to watch for here, which I think a lot of observers have missed, is that Mitch McConnell is not your typical sort of Trump sycophant Republican. It may seem that way on cable news shows and whatnot, but Mitch McConnell, the House majority - the Senate majority leader is desperate to keep the Senate majority and probably cares much, much more about that than protecting Donald Trump in this trial. And so he's at odds with Trump who always wants to make things about him, wants it to be a circus, wants to be the center of all the attention. And Mitch McConnell is desperate to protect people like Cory Gardner and other vulnerable senators. And that tension is sort of playing out. So there's no way that Mitch McConnell was happy that basically they took the sort of - the Fox News legal all-stars and put them into a - there - his trial team.

GREENE: Well, you mentioned people like Cory Gardner. I mean, you've got these - this handful of moderate Republicans who could become important if there's a vote on whether to allow more witnesses. I mean, is that a place where you could see McConnell's interests in keeping his majority in the Senate diverge from, you know, going all out to protect the president?

GOLDBERG: Absolutely. And this is one of the reasons why Donald Trump makes things much more difficult because he goes back and forth and back and forth about whether he wants immediate acquittal or he wants a big hullabaloo with lots of witnesses and all of the rest. McConnell's task is to figure out how to - I mean, other than the actual oath he took and all these senators took to provide impartial justice, which is kind of important at least to me, but his political task here is to find a way to make it seem like these guys did the minimum due diligence before voting against removal. And that's going to be hard to do without allowing for some of this new information to come in or at least trying to get some of these witnesses, particularly when people like John Bolton, the former national security adviser, has said he's willing to testify if he's subpoenaed.

GREENE: Well, you've got all of this new information, as you say. I mean, are you getting the feeling that that could change this into a less predictable process in any way?

GOLDBERG: Yes, to a certain extent. You know, people like John Bolton, one of the reasons why he's dangerous to the president is that John Bolton, whatever you think about him, whether you think he's a neocon hawk or whatever that kind of stuff, he's actually a really good lawyer, and he's not going to lie, and he probably memorialized his experiences on paper when he was in the White House, which means he's not going to deviate from that stuff because he's not going to perjure himself for Donald Trump. So that's one wild card. Another one is that with this Lev Parnas stuff - and I do not really credit a lot of the things that Lev Parnas says because he was a professional liar and grifter for Donald Trump and now he's a turncoat, but his character hasn't changed. But, you know, what Lev Parnas exposes is that the president attracts these sort of grifter types who seem like they would be more comfortable at the bar in tracksuits at the dog track than, like, surrounding a president, and you never know what you're going to get with those people.

GREENE: So in terms of image, I mean, just having that image out there that this is who the president might, you know, have relationships with, could be telling in some way.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. And it's terrible for people like Rudy Giuliani because Rudy Giuliani is the president's personal emissary, and he surrounded himself with all of these really strange people.

GREENE: Jonah Goldberg - editor-in-chief of The Dispatch, a frequent guest on our program. Thanks so much, Jonah, always appreciate it.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.