What Happened On The Second Day Of Oral Arguments In The Impeachment Trial

Jan 23, 2020
Originally published on January 23, 2020 5:16 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today was the second day of oral arguments in President Trump's impeachment trial. The lead House manager, Democrat Adam Schiff, opened the proceedings with a bit of levity. He joked about how rare it is for House members to command the attention of senators.

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ADAM SCHIFF: Of course, it doesn't hurt that the morning starts out every day with the sergeant at arms warning you that if you don't, you will be in prison.

CHANG: All right. So the day began with a joke or two, but of course, the tone changed from there.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been watching for a long time. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi, there.

CHANG: So yesterday, the House managers - they presented the chronology of events in the Ukraine scandal. What was their aim today?

LUCAS: So - right. Yesterday was indeed a very detailed chronology of what the House managers say the president did that merits his removal from office - that he pressured the Ukrainian government to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and that Trump used 400 million in military aid and a White House visit as leverage to try to force Ukraine to announce those investigations.

One of these seven House managers, Jerry Nadler, today boiled Trump's actions down to this.

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JERRY NADLER: This conduct is not America first. It is Donald Trump first.

LUCAS: And then throughout the day today, the House team focused on the first of the two articles impeachment that the House passed. That would be abuse of power. And they set out to show senators and, of course, the American public that the president's actions land squarely within the four walls of impeachable conduct - that famous phrase of high crimes and misdemeanors.

CHANG: OK. So what was their argument?

LUCAS: Well, Nadler focused on what he described as the ABCs of high crimes and misdemeanors - so abuse of power, betrayal of the national interest and corruption. He argued that the president's actions with regard to Ukraine hit the trifecta, hit all three of them. In part, Nadler was trying to counter an argument that the president's supporters have made that abuse of power is not a high crime or misdemeanor and, therefore, Trump can't be impeached for it, shouldn't be removed from office for it.

Nadler said that Trump's conduct was wrong. He said that it was illegal. He said it was dangerous. And then in kind of the spirit of the day, he put it into historical context of the country's founders.

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NADLER: Since President George Washington took office in 1789, no president has abused his power in this way. Let me say that again. No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections. Prior presidents would be shocked to the core by such conduct.

CHANG: OK. So this was, like, part ABCs lesson, part constitutional law lecture and part history class.

LUCAS: Yes. There were a lot of references to James Madison, to Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and, as we heard Nadler say there, George Washington. But this was done with a purpose - for the House managers to push their case that impeaching Trump, removing him from office for abuse of power, is supported by the Constitution.

CHANG: Now, one of the arguments that the president's supporters have made is that Trump did not break the law, technically, and therefore should not be removed from office. So how did the House managers address that argument?

LUCAS: Well, they made the case that you don't need a conventional crime to meet the constitutional threshold of a high crime or misdemeanor. This is an argument that has been made in the past, ironically, by two of President Trump's more outspoken supporters today, Senator Lindsey Graham and attorney Alan Dershowitz, who is going to make arguments on the president's behalf in this trial. The House managers did a bit of archival research, dug up two clips of Graham and Dershowitz speaking in the late '90s around the Clinton impeachment, saying exactly that. Here's a bit of that Graham tape from 1999.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: What's a high crime? How about if an important person hurt somebody of low means? It's not very scholarly, but I think it's the truth. I think that's what they meant by high crimes - doesn't even have to be a crime.

CHANG: All right - so using Senator Lindsey Graham's words to bolster the prosecution's case, virtually. Any idea where things are headed next?

LUCAS: Well, the House managers have one more day to present their case. The president's legal team will then have 24 hours on the clock to present their defense of the president. The arguments on both sides really are pretty well-known at this point. We've heard a lot of this over the past several months. But one question or battle, really, that is not yet decided is whether the Senate will hear from any new witnesses or force the administration to turn over new documents.

CHANG: Right. That's NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Thank you, Ryan.

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