Impeachment Trial Recap: Democrats Continued With Opening Arguments

Jan 24, 2020
Originally published on January 24, 2020 9:24 am
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MICHAEL STENGER: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons are commanded to keep silent on pain of imprisonment while the Senate of the United States is sitting for the trial of the articles of impeachment exhibited by the House of Representatives against Donald John Trump, president of the United States.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For more than nine hours yesterday, House Democrats tried to make their case that President Trump abused his office in his dealings with Ukraine and that abuse of power constitutes an impeachable offense. Here's impeachment manager Representative Adam Schiff making his closing remarks last night.

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ADAM SCHIFF: You can't trust this president do what's right for this country. You can trust he will do what's right for Donald Trump. He'll do it now. He's done it before. He'll do it for the next several months. He'll do it in the election if he's allowed to. This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed because right matters - because right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.

MARTIN: Today is the final day for Democrats to try and convince Republican senators that President Trump should be removed from office. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales and justice correspondent Ryan Lucas are in the studio with us this morning.

Thanks for coming in.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thank you.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: Claudia, let's start by reviewing more of what happened yesterday. House Democrats focused on the first article of impeachment, right? This is the abuse of power article. How did they make their case?

GRISALES: They focused on how this president threatened national security by withholding this aid to Ukraine and the worries that the president could do it again. And they made several pleas that the senators should hold this president accountable and remove him from office. Let's take a listen to manager Hakeem Jeffries.

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HAKEEM JEFFRIES: It's about liberty because in America for all of us, what keeps us free from tyranny is the sacred principle that in this great country no one is above the law.

GRISALES: So we heard this theme much of the day, what was at stake. And they needed to defend democracy by holding this president accountable.

MARTIN: Ryan, President Trump supporters have argued abuse of power is not an impeachable offense. Did the House managers try to counter that?

LUCAS: They did. We heard a lot about the country's founders, what they considered impeachable conduct, the sort of conduct that would rise to the constitutional threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors. House manager Jerry Nadler focused on what he called the ABCs of high crimes and misdemeanors - abuse of power, betrayal of the national interest, corruption. And he argued that President Trump's actions regarding Ukraine hit all three of those. He played clips of constitutional law professors who testified in the House saying much to that effect. Bottom line, Nadler said, is this isn't even a close call. Here's a bit of that.

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JERROLD NADLER: Abuse of power is clearly an impeachable offense under the Constitution. To be honest, this should not be a controversial statement. I find it amazing that the president rejects it, yet he does.

MARTIN: I mean, it did feel a little bit like a history class at times, didn't it?

LUCAS: It did. Fans of the American revolutionary period heard plenty of shoutouts to the big names of the day - Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and, of course, George Washington. But House managers were doing this to try to support their own arguments very much in the present day, that abuse of power is an impeachable offense and a pushback on another argument that the president's counsel has made - that you have to have a statutory crime to be impeached. Democrats say that's not so.

MARTIN: Claudia, how are Republican senators and White House lawyers for, that matter, how are they responding to the argument so far?

GRISALES: Well, White House lawyers are saying they can't wait to put on the president's defense, which could start as soon as tomorrow. This as some Republican senators are surprisingly giving some positive reviews to the managers, but they're also noting that they aren't being moved by the arguments and that they have found some redundancy in the presentations. Let's take a listen to Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think they did a good job yesterday. Today is painful. I think they're going too far. I've seen all the videos, like, five times. I think the managers as a group have done a really good job. And I think you're overtrying your case now. And if I were the defense, I wouldn't overtry my case.

GRISALES: Graham also said he's taking notes on the managers' presentations to share new suggestions with the president's legal team on how to make their arguments in the coming days.

MARTIN: And Ryan, Rudy Giuliani's name came up frequently in all of this. What point were the impeachment managers trying to make in highlighting that?

LUCAS: Well, they did drill down on Giuliani's role in the Ukraine scandal. They also highlighted two associates that he worked with - Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two individuals who have been indicted in the Southern District of New York for campaign finance violations. Part of the reason to highlight Giuliani's role is that House managers say it shows that Trump's pressure campaign on Ukraine wasn't about national security. It was about his own personal political benefit. And if it had been about national security, it would have gone through normal foreign policy channels. It was about personal interest because it was going through his personal attorney. He was the one leading this campaign.

MARTIN: And Claudia, just in summary, what do we expect today?

GRISALES: So today, they'll be focusing on obstruction of Congress. So we'll see the videos again and the similar arguments but showing how the president tried to stop this investigation.

MARTIN: All right. Claudia Grisales, Ryan Lucas, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.