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As An Impeachment Juror, Sen. Braun Says He's Listening For New Details

11 hours ago
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NOEL KING, HOST:

To Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment manager in the Senate trial against President Trump, the case boils down to this.

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ADAM SCHIFF: We are here today to consider a much more grave matter, and that is an attempt to use the powers of the presidency to cheat in an election.

KING: That was Schiff speaking in his opening argument yesterday. Democratic lawmakers are making their case to convict President Trump in the Senate for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. So what did Republicans think of yesterday's opening arguments?

Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana is one of the jurors in the trial, and he's with me now. Good morning, Senator Braun.

MIKE BRAUN: Good morning.

KING: So let me pose that question to you - what did you think about the opening arguments made yesterday by the Democratic impeachment managers?

BRAUN: Well, for me, I've paid very close attention to the whole process through the House and three versions of, you know, the behind-closed-doors public hearings, constitutional experts. And then we did sit through - reminded me of, like, cramming for a test back in college, only we started at 1 in the afternoon and it was - what? - 13 hours. So a lot of that, depending on how closely you've been paying attention, I didn't glean much new information. But I do understand the method and their point of view. It's kind of deeply rooted.

I respect that because it's symbolic of how divided we are as a country. You've got almost the Hatfields and McCoys when it comes to not only policy - but the vitriol involved with, you know, President Trump is something that kind of bothers me. But I also understand the other point of view, and I respect it. So I'm sitting here listening to see if I hear anything new.

KING: Listening, as is your job on this one.

BRAUN: Yep.

KING: You and I talked last month on the show, and I asked you then if you'd already made up your mind - if, as some Republicans have said, you simply would not vote to impeach the president. Let's listen to what you said then.

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KING: Senator Mitch McConnell says his mind is made up. He is working in conjunction with the White House. Is your mind made up?

BRAUN: I think that's based upon, once we get into the trial, that there's nothing else we hear. And I think in that case, you can again say that same thing on both sides.

KING: OK. You seem to be diplomatically suggesting that you were open to considering new information. What made you decide to vote with the rest of your party against the Democrats' push for new information once the trial started?

BRAUN: Well, I think there you have to try to think about - well, what is the - is this part of the process, or is it really to try to get more information that's going to make a difference? So when it comes to that, I did it based upon the principle that it was going to be the same as the Clinton process. And that was a hundred, I think, to zero vote. And this is basically the same.

And for me, when I hear both sides - and of course, the big dynamic difference is going to be we haven't heard the defense. I think we've got to decide at that point - do you have enough information to make a decision? Now let's say nothing new happens before the discussion of witnesses. And I think, so far, we're playing it out...

KING: Some new information has surfaced, though, since we last talked. I mean, this is relatively recently - in the last couple of days. The Government Accountability Office says the administration broke the law by freezing aid to Ukraine. And Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, says the president knew - had direct knowledge of the pressure campaign in Ukraine. As a juror in this trial, do you want to know more about any of that?

BRAUN: Well, when you look at those two components, that's the kind of information that's going to be differential.

KING: How so?

BRAUN: I think six times it occurred, you know, with the Obama administration where the law was broken in terms of GAO pronouncements. And when it comes to Lev Parnas, that, to me, isn't going to really be differentiating. And if it doesn't tell me that we're going to have more than another opinion that says that President Trump broke the law - I'm looking for substance.

And if that could be gleaned through a witness when they describe what they want out of a witness, I think that's where you're going to have everybody attentive and listening. If it's to belabor the point - which I think the main issue they've had with their presentation is the fact that it's been regurgitating the same stuff for especially for a guy like me that's been paying attention.

KING: But Lev Parnas is something new. Sure, sure. But Lev Parnas - this is the point I'm making. Lev Parnas is something new. And what I'm trying to figure out is - this is new information. Now, there are questions about Lev Parnas' credibility. But why wouldn't you want to know more? It sounds like you're open at this point to excluding information that a lot of people want details on.

BRAUN: Well, now, I think - well, that would have to do with the fact of - do you really believe that's going to lead to anything? If - where do you start and stop on new information? Because you could use that argument - and I'll refer back to the Kavanaugh hearings. And you know, that was kind of the process we got into when the case got weak. I'm definitely going to be one that does not want to see this belabored.

I do want to try to make the right decision. And at this point, what they've done so far has not really put any new information on the table. Now I will say this - for senators who haven't been paying attention, haven't been looking at it closely - which I did all along through the House stuff - you know, it makes a difference. Because I think - I've heard comments - well, I didn't really know that. Whether that's going to make a difference for them, I don't know either.

So I think we get to that bridge, we cross it. And each one of us has to feel comfortable with the decision we make.

KING: OK. It sounds like you're sort of - which is fair - making your mind up as you go.

Let me ask you about witnesses. National polls suggest a majority of Americans want to see witnesses at the trial. Are there new witnesses - Lev Parnas, I'm going to bring him up again; John Bolton - that you would like to hear from?

BRAUN: So John Bolton, Lev Parnas would be two witnesses the prosecution would want to talk to. I really don't think you can talk about witnesses without - you know, I - not only was Ted Cruz talking about it, many Republicans - there would be only a handful that wouldn't want reciprocity. So where we would go with defense witnesses, I think it's going to be reciprocal if we get there. If it's dismissed...

KING: You're saying you guys get witnesses...

BRAUN: ...As being irrelevant or not necessary...

KING: ...We get witnesses, too. Yeah?

BRAUN: Definitely.

KING: OK. Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana, thank you so much.

BRAUN: Hey, you're welcome.

KING: I want to bring in NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, who's been listening.

Hey, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

KING: So here, again, we get to the big question of witnesses. Are there any signs - you've been watching this very closely. Are there any signs that the White House is open to witnesses at this point?

RASCOE: No. President Trump has said that he would love for his advisers to testify during the Senate trial. But yesterday, he raised concerns about national security, especially in the case of John Bolton, his former national security adviser. He said that he didn't think Bolton should testify and he might have to assert executive privilege. So the White House seems to be throwing cold water on that idea.

KING: OK. NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks, Ayesha.

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