Impeachment Trial Finds House Managers Beginning To Make Their Case

Jan 22, 2020
Originally published on January 22, 2020 7:51 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Opening arguments in the impeachment trial of President Trump are underway. Returning to his roots, the lead impeachment manager and former assistant U.S. attorney Adam Schiff spent hours laying out the narrative of what Democrats say are President Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to help him take down a political rival.

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ADAM SCHIFF: President Trump solicited foreign interference in our democratic elections, abusing the power of his office to seek help from abroad to improve his reelection prospects at home.

CHANG: Schiff and his fellow managers will have a total of 24 hours over three days to make their case. NPR's Tim Mak has been following all of it. He joins me now from the Capitol.

Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: So tell us more about how Schiff is framing these opening arguments.

MAK: Well, he's acting as a lead prosecutor. And he began by arguing, firstly, that the president abused his power. That's that first impeachment article.

CHANG: Right.

MAK: And turning to the second impeachment article, Schiff said that the president obstructed Congress when it tried to investigate in an attempt to cover up his wrongdoing.

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SCHIFF: In unprecedented fashion, the president ordered the entire executive branch of the United States of America to categorically refuse and completely obstruct the House's impeachment investigation.

MAK: The bottom line for Schiff is essentially this - that the president elevated his personal interest above the national interest, and then he tried to hide this misconduct. And thus, according to Schiff, the president needs to be removed from office.

CHANG: OK, those are the substantive arguments from the Democrats. How exactly is this trial going to proceed over the coming days?

MAK: Well, Schiff kind of laid this out. He said that the House team would be laying out the facts, kind of in a timeline first with the facts. And then he'll be talking along with his colleagues about the constitutional framework for the removal of the president. And finally, he'll be connecting how those facts he talked about require the Senate to use the removal remedy outlined in the Constitution.

We've also been hearing a lot about whether witnesses would be brought forward in this trial.

CHANG: Right.

MAK: One idea that had been circulating was this idea of a trade - right? - for example, former Vice President Joe Biden for former national security adviser John Bolton, one Democratic-supported witness for a witness supported by Republicans. But Schiff shot down that idea today before the day's trial proceedings started.

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SCHIFF: This isn't like some fantasy football trade, as I said yesterday. This isn't we'll offer you this if you'll give us that.

MAK: So the question of witnesses will be dealt with after both sides have provided their opening arguments and senators have had a chance to offer their questions to both the impeachment managers and the defense.

CHANG: OK, that's some of the Democrats' side of things right now. Give us a sense of how Republicans have been responding to these first two days of the trial.

MAK: Well, all eyes are on these GOP senators who have indicated an openness to hearing from witnesses later on in this trial - senators like Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. But some are already being rubbed the wrong way by the House's approach. Here's an example. Last night, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler confronted senators, saying that they would be complicit with Trump's actions if they didn't support subpoenaing former national security adviser John Bolton right away.

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JERRY NADLER: The question before the Senate is, do the Republican senators want to be complicit in the cover-up of the president? Any senator who votes to deny a witness, who votes to deny evidence is voting to cover up the president's crimes and subversion of the Constitution.

MAK: So Murkowski told reporters today she was offended by those remarks. According to Alaska Public Radio's Liz Ruskin, Murkowski said, quote, "I took it as very offensive. As one who is listening attentively and working hard to get to a fair process, I was offended." And other Republicans supportive of President Trump pounced on this. Republican Senator Josh Hawley was sarcastic in his assessment of the presentation so far as he spoke to reporters today.

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JOSH HAWLEY: So if the point was to go on for 13 hours to no apparent purpose, frequently using rebuttal time just to delay further and to alienate the very senators that they're trying to convince, then I'd say it was a raging success on their part.

MAK: We still have two more whole-session days for House impeachment managers to make their case before the president's defense team gets to respond.

CHANG: That's NPR's Tim Mak at the Capitol.

Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.