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Impeachment Trial Day 4: Trump's Lawyers To Present Their Defense

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, former President Donald Trump's lawyers lay out their defense. They follow Democratic House impeachment managers, who, over the course of two days, argued that last month's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was foreseeable, predictable and a direct result of Trump's behavior. Here's lead manager Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

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JAMIE RASKIN: January 6 was a culmination of the president's actions, not an aberration from them.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis and White House correspondent Tamara Keith join us this morning. Thanks for being here, you two.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Sue, I want to start with you. The nine impeachment managers rested their case yesterday, as we said. What were their final arguments for conviction?

DAVIS: You know, they really focused on this argument that conviction was necessary because they needed a deterrent for Donald Trump, who they said has shown no remorse about his actions on the events of January 6. Here's Raskin again.

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RASKIN: My dear colleagues, is there any political leader in this room who believes that, if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way? Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?

DAVIS: Another one of the impeachment managers, Ted Lieu of California, also made a point that really made an impression on several Republican senators. Here's what he said.

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TED LIEU: You know, I'm not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I'm afraid he's going to run again and lose because he can do this again.

DAVIS: Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota told reporters afterward that he thought that was a very powerful statement, in his words. But at the same time, Rachel, Rounds is one of these senators who says he won't be a vote to convict because he simply does not believe the Senate has a right to hold an impeachment trial of a former president.

MARTIN: Which the Senate agreed that it did because they went ahead with the trial. Tam, when you were listening to all these closing arguments, what stood out to you?

KEITH: The impeachment managers spent a lot of time on what President Trump did after it was clear that the Capitol was being violently overrun, and they played a lot of video of prominent Republicans that day going on TV and begging Trump to call off the attack. Here's part of the tape they played. You'll hear Republican Representative Mike Gallagher and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

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MIKE GALLAGHER: Mr. President, you have got to stop this. You are the only person who can call this off. Call it off.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Pretty simple - the president caused this protest to occur. He's the only one who can make it stop. What the president said is not good enough.

KEITH: Also, near the end of the day, Raskin made an interesting appeal to Republican senators like Senator Rounds, pleading with them to decide this case on its merits, even though the vast majority of them voted on Tuesday to say that the trial was unconstitutional. He said that's been settled, the trial moved forward and they should not fall back on procedural questions when deciding whether to acquit Trump for this behavior.

MARTIN: Sue, so the big question - is there any indication that the Democrats' presentation changed the minds and the votes of any Republican lawmakers?

DAVIS: You know, probably not. They still need 17 votes to get there, and there's no indication that they've moved that many minds. We've known from the beginning of this trial that conviction was unlikely, Rachel, though I still think it's important to remember that that doesn't mean this isn't still historic. Trump is obviously the first president to be impeached twice, but his impeachments are also on track to be the most bipartisan impeachments in history. Already, 10 Republicans supported impeachment in the House. That's a record for one party supporting an impeachment against their own president. And if more than one senator votes to convict, it will be the most bipartisan Senate trial in history, and at least six Republicans have indicated they could be votes to convict him.

MARTIN: So, I mean, Tam, the managers, the impeachment managers, the Democrats drew on a lot of emotion over the last few days, showing new security video, new audio, video that was disturbing to hear. How much of this whole thing was about changing individual senators' minds, and how much was about convincing the American public?

KEITH: Yeah. As we've been saying, this is a political process, not a legal or criminal process, and it seems pretty clear that they were speaking to the American people in a way that could affect Trump's legacy. Most of the legal discussion came in the form of a prebuttal of one of Trump's defenses. Raskin said that the defense team's First Amendment argument, which we'll hear today, that Trump was just exercising free speech that day at his rally and in the months leading up to it is a smokescreen, completely irrelevant and a distraction from the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.

He said as the president of the United States, Trump had a higher duty not to spread falsehoods about the election or to promote violence or to convince his supporters that it was their patriotic duty to try to stop the counting of electoral votes in a free and fair election. And there are two different standards here. Trump is not being tried for violating the First Amendment in an actual court of law. You know, the Senate sets its own standards and can decide what it considers high crimes and misdemeanors.

MARTIN: OK. So we know that the defense is going to focus on this First Amendment issue. What else do we know about what the defense has planned for today?

KEITH: We know it's going to be short, that, you know, they could take up to 16 hours over two days to mount their defense. But instead, they are predicting it will only take three or four hours. They will argue that Trump was just speaking, not inciting, and we expect them to spend a good bit of time focused on instances where Democrats have used violent or incendiary language, like saying they're going to fight like hell. We may also see video of violent elements and rioting during last summer's largely peaceful racial justice protests. One of Trump's lawyers, David Schoen, previewed this in a conversation with pool reporters at the Capitol yesterday.

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DAVID SCHOEN: I thought the argument we heard today from Congressman Raskin about what he understands the law to be was as dangerous a formulation as I have ever heard. I think it puts at risk every senator in that chamber and every politician who has - who wishes to speak passionate political speech.

KEITH: So they'll argue that convicting Trump would set a dangerous precedent of punishing people for political speech, and in another interview, he predicted that everyone in that room would look bad by the time Trump's defense rests.

MARTIN: So Sue, as you look at today Trump's defense and moving forward, what are you going to be looking for?

DAVIS: Well, you know, frankly, this defense team has the easiest job in Washington right now, Rachel, right? I mean, the quality of their arguments are really going to have no bearing on the outcome, so they can move pretty quickly and confidently towards an acquittal. They're saying - senators are saying yesterday that they think they could wrap as early as Saturday. It is unlikely that this is going to spill into next week at this point. You know, as I said, there's about a half a dozen Republicans who could be votes to convict. If the defense team is trying to minimize defections, I think their goal here is about making a case that those Republicans could reasonably support and defend.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thanks. Thanks to you both.

KEITH: You're welcome.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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