KETR

Senators Ask Questions Of House Managers And Trump Defense In Impeachment Trial

Jan 29, 2020
Originally published on January 29, 2020 6:59 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

After 21 hours of the House impeachment managers and 10 hours of President Trump's defense team presenting their cases, it is now the senators' turn. They are submitting written questions for the respective legal teams to answer today and tomorrow, a process that can take up to 16 hours.

NPR senior Washington correspondent Ron Elving has been tracking this phase of the impeachment trial, and he joins us now.

Hey, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So unlike you and me, not everyone in the world has been watching every single minute of this trial. Why don't you give us all a sense of what happened today?

ELVING: Back in the Senate, where the format and the tone changed a little bit but the substance was pretty much what we've been hearing, the senators sent their questions up, written on little cards, to be read aloud by Chief Justice John Roberts. And then the lawyers from one side or the other would answer the questions which were directed to one side or the other. And they had just five minutes.

CHANG: Not long, long speeches.

ELVING: No more stemwinders. So - and the chief justice was enforcing this. At times, though, it seemed a little bit orchestrated. There wasn't much cross-examination back and forth between the parties to the other side's lawyers. Most of the questions were more like prompt - tell us more about why this was bad, or tell us more about why it wasn't bad. And it didn't really have that tight courtroom drama.

CHANG: OK. So let's get to the substance of some specific questions. Why don't you just start with the Republican senators? What did they seem to be most focused on today?

ELVING: They seemed most focused on dismissing, in essence, the overall case and trying to stay away from the particulars and also shifting the focus back to the Obama administration to talk about things that were done under the Obama administration or to talk about things that were done by President Trump that sounded better. So they were asking questions of their own team, their own lawyers, just as the Democrats were asking questions of their lawyers. And the question that I think most of the Republicans really wanted to deal with was this quid pro quo matter. And Ted Cruz of Texas asked whether or not it really was as it's been presented, and the president's lawyer Alan Dershowitz answered this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly, you're right. Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.

ELVING: So not necessarily denying that there was a quid pro quo as saying that this kind of quid pro quo could be perceived by the president as being in the national interest, not just a mixed motive where he had some public interest and some personal interest in what he was asking the Ukrainians to do. But actually, it was all good in the mind of Alan Dershowitz. So of course, the Democrats were eager to ask their lawyers what they thought of that.

CHANG: Right. I understand Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had an opportunity to ask a question.

ELVING: And House manager Adam Schiff had this counterargument.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: And if you say you can't hold a president accountable in an election year where they're trying to cheat in that election, then you are giving them carte blanche. So all quid pros are not the same. Some are legitimate, and some are corrupt. And you don't need to be a mind reader to figure out which is which. For one thing, you can ask John Bolton.

CHANG: Let's talk about John Bolton. How much of the question of whether the Senate would hear from John Bolton - now, this is the former national security adviser - how much did that issue come up or the issue of bringing in any other witnesses besides Bolton?

ELVING: The question of witnesses hung over this entire proceeding. The senators all know that two-thirds to three-fourths of the people are telling pollsters that they'd like to hear from witnesses, and the president's lawyer Patrick Philbin was not in favor of that. Take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATRICK PHILBIN: And it's not a question of just one witness. It's not a question - a lot of people talk right now about John Bolton. But the president would have the opportunity to call his witnesses just as a matter of fundamental fairness, and there would be a long list of witnesses if the body were to go in that direction. It would mean this would drag on for months and prevent this chamber from getting its business done.

ELVING: And that's really become the Republicans' final argument - please don't drag this out by bringing in a lot more witnesses, even if you want to hear from more people.

CHANG: That is NPR senior Washington correspondent Ron Elving.

Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.