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White House Responds To Impeachment Trial Summons


We're going to begin today's program with breaking news on President Trump's impeachment trial. House Democrats and the White House have laid out their arguments prior to the Senate trial that begins Tuesday. White House lawyers unveiled their response to the summons sent Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And earlier today, House managers filed their brief, writing, quote, "President Trump's conduct is the framers' worst nightmare," unquote. Joining us now to explain what's happening is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Franco, thanks so much for joining us.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So let's start with the White House team. What are they saying?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, President Trump's legal team says it's ready for the Senate trial. And they've delivered a very forceful response to the House finding. They're calling the two articles of impeachment passed by the House a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their president. Sources close to the president's legal team said White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump's private attorney Jay Sekulow plan to challenge the impeachment on both procedural and substance grounds. They kind of teased the fire - rhetoric that we expect. They argue this is a brazen attempt to overturn the 2016 election, as well as interfere with the 2020 election that's coming up.

MARTIN: What about the quid pro quo allegation? That was the thing that started this whole process.

ORDOÑEZ: Right. That is going to be a part of this. They plan to address both the April and July calls with the Ukraine president, that as you note, started this. They will go over those discussions between the president, Trump, and President Zelenskiy of Ukraine. They will argue that the House record from the House hearings did not establish a quid pro quo. And they will argue that the House abused the power of the word quid pro quo, noting that it never showed up in the articles of impeachment. They say they plan to raise it because they want to remind the American people of exactly how this all started.

MARTIN: You know, Franco, this week the Government Accountability Office found that the White House violated federal law by withholding that congressionally approved security aid to Ukraine. Does that finding play into this, and if so, how?

ORDOÑEZ: It could. I mean, certainly the White House is disputing that, but they argue - they disagree with the conclusions. Again, the sources close to the legal team, though, say it should not be part of this, and that those findings are not part of the Senate trial. They are specifically looking - arguing about the two articles of impeachment. And very bluntly, they say they're not referring to or they're not going to be litigating reports and findings that came out after that fact.

MARTIN: OK. Let's go to the other side of the equation, the House side. Earlier today, the House of Representatives filed their brief in the impeachment trial. What are the big takeaways from that?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I should note that in - that brief is not in response to the White House, but a legal requirement established by the Senate process. In their brief, though, they make the argument that the president's actions were an abuse of power and that the evidence overwhelmingly establishes that he is guilty of both articles of impeachment. They're now urging the Senate to carry out its responsibility, you know, that was placed on them by the framers of the Constitution and to uphold their constitutional oath.

MARTIN: OK. So we have about 30 seconds left. What happens next? How is this going to begin next week?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, they gave us a little bit at least of the opening. We know that Alan Dershowitz will be helping with the opening statements. He will also - part of that will be Pat Cipollone of the White House counsel, as well as Jay Sekulow, who will follow Pat Cipollone, who will kind of give an overview of the case. But they are going to argue very vigorously.

MARTIN: That is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Franco, thank you.

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

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.