Q&A Session Will Continue For 2nd Day In Senate Trial

Jan 30, 2020
Originally published on January 30, 2020 6:52 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

There were eight hours of questions and answers on the Senate floor yesterday. Here's how it went - one by one, Senate pages picked up little notecards from the desks of senators, including Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

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SUSAN COLLINS: Mr. Chief Justice.

JOHN ROBERTS: The senator is recognized.

COLLINS: I send a question to the desk on behalf of myself, Senator Murkowski and Senator Romney.

KING: And then, Chief Justice John Roberts read the question out loud.

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ROBERTS: This is a question for the counsel for the president. (Reading) If President Trump had more than one motive for his alleged conduct, such as the pursuit of personal political advantage, rooting out corruption and the promotion of national interests, how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of Article I?

KING: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with me now. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, there.

KING: So 93 questions, eight hours - what stands out after all that time?

LIASSON: What stands out to me is the shift in the president's defense argument. It's evolved from he did nothing wrong; the call was perfect; there was no quid pro quo, to whatever he did wasn't serious enough to warrant removal; abuse of power doesn't equal - or rise to the level of impeachment and, then, it doesn't matter what he did as long as his intentions were good. Here's how Dershowitz put it.

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ALAN DERSHOWITZ: 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.

LIASSON: So Dershowitz is saying that if the president thinks his reelection is in the public interest - and what politician wouldn't think his reelection isn't in the public interest? - and he does something to help him get reelected, it's fine. So the president's personal political interest is equal to the public interest. That's a very Trumpian defense - sounds like when Trump said Article II of the Constitution lets me do whatever I want. And for Democrats, they say that it sounds like the president's team is arguing that the president is above the law.

KING: OK. Aside from the shift in the defense's strategy, there was also a debate over what actually constitutes campaign interference, right?

LIASSON: That's right. One of the president's lawyers said it's not campaign interference for credible information about wrongdoing to be brought to light, even if this information comes from overseas. Adam Schiff, who leads the House managers on impeachment, said - well, that's not a policy; that's corruption. Here's how Adam Schiff put it.

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ADAM SCHIFF: We're calling that policy now. It's the policy of the president to demand foreign interference and withhold money from an ally at war unless they get it. That's what they call policy. I'm sorry. That's what I call corruption. And they can dress it up in fine legalese, but corruption is still corruption.

LIASSON: This was one of the other arguments that Democrats felt was outrageous. They feel that the president's legal team's argument has evolved or devolved into the bottom line of - if the president does it, it can't be wrong.

KING: And then, Mara, as we expected, there were a lot of questions about John Bolton, the former national security adviser, and whether he should testify.

LIASSON: That's right. Democrats want Bolton to testify. He has firsthand knowledge, according to reports of the manuscript of his book, that the president told him in August that he wanted to hold back the aid for Ukraine until the investigations into the Bidens were announced. Yesterday, we learned that the National Security Council told Bolton's lawyer that there is classified information in the manuscript that can't be published. Bolton's lawyer says none of the information in the Ukraine chapter could possibly be classified. And now there's a question of whether Bolton's book will come out anytime soon or ever.

KING: President Trump is obviously paying careful attention to this. He tweeted about John Bolton yesterday, yeah?

LIASSON: That's right. He tweeted about John Bolton. He has been very unhappy that - he calls Bolton a disgruntled employee, one of the many people who've left the Trump administration who Trump feels have turned on him unfairly.

But John Bolton I don't think cares if the president tweets at him. He's certainly agreed with Trump on many things. He had a similar distaste for some multilateral institutions, but he was at odds with him on Iran, on North Korea and certainly on Vladimir Putin. And he has strong views on those foreign policy issues, also on the powers of the executive branch. But in this case, those two views on foreign policy and on executive power are in conflict.

KING: Right.

Do you get the impression, after the eight hours of questions and answers yesterday, that there's still some momentum in the Senate to hear what Bolton and possibly some other top advisers to the president have to say?

LIASSON: Well, there are no signs yet that there are four Republican senators that want to join forces with Democrats and push for witnesses, vote to hear what John Bolton has to say. That decision will come later this week, after the question-and-answer session is over.

But assuming that no witnesses are called, then the big question becomes - how is the president acquitted? Is he acquitted on his own terms? Do senators say what he did was perfect, he did nothing wrong? Or do they say that what he did was inappropriate or, in Mitt Romney's words, wrong and appalling but it just wasn't impeachable - or he shouldn't be impeached for it, especially so close to an election?

So I think it does matter, in the end, how he's impeached - I'm sorry - how he's acquitted and how Republican senators explain their vote.

KING: And then, Mara, as we look ahead to today, it's the same thing - right? - another eight hours of questions and answers.

LIASSON: Yes, another eight hours of questions and answers - last big chance for both sides to make their case and for senators to figure out how they want to vote on witnesses and on conviction. Then on Friday, we'll find out whether there will be witnesses or not, and then they could move very quickly to the final vote.

KING: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

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