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Democrats' Final Day To Layout The Case To Remove President Trump

Jan 24, 2020
Originally published on January 24, 2020 9:24 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, after today, the prosecution rests. The Democrats have one final day to lay out their case for removing President Trump from office. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, one of the Democrats' impeachment managers, put the stakes this way.

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JERROLD NADLER: 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.

GREENE: As for the Republican senators serving as jurors, here is Lindsey Graham from South Carolina.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: 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.

GREENE: We should say, though, another Republican Senator, John Kennedy of Louisiana, told a New York Times reporter, quote, "I've learned a lot." He said going into the trial, many senators weren't familiar with the case. I want to start with our congressional reporter, Claudia Grisales, who is following all of this. Good morning.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Can you just remind us exactly where we are in this whole thing?

GRISALES: We are in the closing of the first phase of this impeachment trial with the managers making their final opening arguments. And these have been very long days in the Senate as the managers try to use up most, if not all, of the time allotted to them, 24 hours over three days. And now they have about nine hours left for today. Next, the president's team will start on arguments, and that will extend into early next week, after which Senators can ask questions. And then the battle for whether to call witnesses begins.

GREENE: What stood out to you yesterday in what the Democrats were arguing?

GRISALES: Democrats were really highlighting what was at stake here and how the president took this national security risk in search of a personal favor. And that came in the form of the president withholding nearly $300 million in aid from Ukraine last summer in hopes of foreign interference on his behalf in the upcoming 2020 elections.

GREENE: All right, Claudia Grisales, our congressional reporter covering the trial. Thanks so much, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: I want to bring another voice here that is actually one of the Democrats making the case, impeachment manager and Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. Good morning, Congressman. Thanks for taking the time for us. I know it's been some long days.

JASON CROW: Good morning, David.

GREENE: I want to start with some of the stakes here as we've been talking about. You have painted this very stark picture on the Senate floor, that while the president was holding up military aid, you had tens of thousands of Ukrainians fighting Russian-backed separatists, having been deployed wearing sneakers, without body armor, without helmets. Do you truly believe that President Trump's actions put their lives and other lives at risk?

CROW: I do believe that President Trump jeopardized national security. And I think it's really important, while we're having this debate, that the American people and members of the Senate remember what's really at stake here. And this is not a theoretical exercise. This is not a political game. We have over 60,000 U.S. troops stationed throughout Europe and their families. One of their primary jobs is to defend against Russian aggression. If the conflict in Ukraine spills over those borders, it's those troops that will have to do that job. You know, we have tens of thousands of Ukrainian allies. These are people that are fighting not just on their behalf but on behalf of a free Europe and the United States to contain that Russian aggression. And they're dying, they're fighting every day. So there are real people that are being harmed here. And the president continues to put his interests above the country's interests, and that's a very risky thing for us.

GREENE: You say real people being harmed. I just want to be super clear here. I mean, the president's defenders have argued that the aid was released, the lapse was brief. So if the argument is that this could have risked lives, soldiers could have been at risk, but it didn't actually happen, does that weaken the abuse of power argument that you're making here?

CROW: No, David, that's just not true. First of all, time matters at war. You know, I know that well from my own experience. Anyone who's been in that experience understands that, you know, days, weeks matter a lot. There were weeks and months where that aid was delayed. It didn't make it where it needed to make it, and those troops continued to fight without the equipment that they needed, so that was a real problem. The other thing is the lack of resolve that this showed. You know, Vladimir Putin continues to look very closely at what's happening, who's going to be backing who. We showed a lack of resolve. You know, we have shaken Ukraine's confidence. That's a big problem. And to this day - I think it bears repeating - to this day, over $18 million of that aid still has not made it to Ukraine.

GREENE: But some have said that the aid that was held up, though, largely was for the future, that it didn't change anything on the battlefield. You can make a direct link and say that the situation on the battlefield changed because of that money that was held up.

CROW: Well, those aren't my words. Those are Ukrainians words. That's what the Ukrainians are saying. I mean, the Ukrainian defense minister back in September, after the lift had been held, said that the aid still had not arrived. And this is the person who's out there on the front lines talking with his commanders every day. So, you know, this is not us making this up. This is exactly what we're hearing from the Ukrainians on the front lines of this battle.

GREENE: But the aid not arriving does not mean that it would have changed the situation on the battlefield. I mean, I just want to be clear about the argument you're making that lives were at risk.

CROW: I do think lives were right at risk. And you're right, that is exactly the argument we're making. I mean, all of this goes to a larger risk to our national security, to the security of Europe and our partner Ukraine. Holding up military aid for a partner at war puts people at risk.

GREENE: I want to move to the question of witnesses. There's been some reporting about a possible deal at some point in terms of reciprocity, that if the Democrats brought in someone like John Bolton to testify, that Republicans would want to bring in someone like Hunter Biden. Would you be open to that?

CROW: Well, you know, first of all, witnesses have to be relevant. You just can't call witnesses in that don't have any background in facts related to what we're discussing here, and that is the abuse of Donald Trump. You know, secondly, the important thing all of us have to keep in mind is that, you know, the words and conduct of our leaders matter. I think we've all learned that the last couple of years, that what leaders say matters. And we can't be put into a position where we are advancing conspiracy theories and debunked Russian propaganda. I think that's dangerous for the country...

GREENE: But wouldn't you have the chance? Wouldn't Democrats have a chance to point that out if Hunter Biden testified? If it is so important to get someone like the former national security adviser, such a highly valued witness in, and if there's nothing to hide in terms of Hunter Biden, what's the harm of agreeing to that if Republicans say that that's on offer?

CROW: Well, you know, that's going to be a deal that the Senate is going to have to work out, and we're going to see what happens. But, again, David, the words matter, and the more we discuss these conspiracy theories, you know, some people pay attention to that type of stuff. And we can't give a platform for those conspiracy theories to continue to be propagated.

GREENE: But if the Republicans made the case, like, in a court of law that bringing someone in could vindicate their client, isn't it possible a judge would allow that?

CROW: Well - and that's one of the reasons why we actually proposed a rule at the beginning of this trial that said that Chief Justice Roberts should actually sit and make that determination. You know, let's take it out of the realm of politics. Let's take it out of the hands of the senators themselves that, you know, might be viewing this through a political lens. Let's give it to Chief Justice John Roberts, you know, the head of our Supreme Court and say let's have him make the relevancy determination. And he can determine, you know, based on long-standing legal precedent who is relevant for the facts at hand here.

GREENE: Congressman Jason Crow is a Democrat from Colorado, one of the impeachment managers in President Trump's impeachment trial. Thanks so much, Congressman.

CROW: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.