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Opening Statements Recap: Senate Impeachment Trial Of President Trump


We're going into Day 3 of President Trump's impeachment trial. Democrats will keep the stage, laying out their case. Yesterday, they used stark language, saying the president tried to cheat to win reelection. They also made comparisons to leaders of nations like North Korea and Russia, saying a U.S. president can't be above the law like those leaders are.

House impeachment manager Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, spoke for more than two hours.


ADAM SCHIFF: President Trump has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance. His conduct has violated his oath of office and his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the law. He has shown no willingness to be constrained by the rule of law and has demonstrated that he will continue to abuse his power and obstruct investigations into himself, causing further damage to the pillars of our democracy if he is not held accountable.

GREENE: Now, outside the chamber, Republicans told a very different story. Here is Florida Senator Rick Scott.


RICK SCOTT: All they're doing is going through the process because they don't have anything to do to attach anything to Donald Trump. They just hate the guy.

GREENE: All right. Let's review what we learned from those long hours yesterday with NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe and congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, who are both with us this morning. Hello to you both.



GREENE: Claudia, I want to start with you. Can you just remind us - we had Schiff, but who was speaking for the Democrats' case? And did we learn anything new yesterday?

GRISALES: Yes, this was the House impeachment managers, basically the prosecution team. And they divvied up Day 1 of their opening arguments. Adam Schiff, as you mentioned, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he handled a large bulk of the arguments on Day 1. And other members presented specific angles of the case. For example, another manager, Jason Crow, spoke to the president's defiance of Congress to try and block aid to Ukraine and its threat to national security. Let's take a listen.


JASON CROW: Everyone was worried - and not just because of the urgent need for the equipment on the front lines but also because of the message that it sent. You see, President Zelenskiy had just been sworn in. They were very vulnerable. And as we all know, Vladimir Putin looks for vulnerability. He looks for hesitation. He looks for delay. And any public sign of a hold on that aid could be a sign of weakness that could show him it was time to pounce.

GRISALES: So it was not so much learning something new but seeing it in new packaging as these managers summarized weeks of hearings and testimony uncovered in the House probe. And they'll do this in a matter of days, refocusing the argument to try and convince these senators why the president should be removed from office.

GREENE: And we should say - so far, no sign that there's much convincing being done with Republicans...


GREENE: ...But there are hours left.

Ayesha, what stood out to you yesterday?

RASCOE: The impeachment managers, they were drilling down on those very specific issues. But what stood out to me is that they were also making this larger case about the significance of this trial. You know, they talked about the big picture and what they view is at stake. Here's Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.


HAKEEM JEFFRIES: Vladimir Putin is above the law in Russia. Erdogan is above the law in Turkey. Kim Jong Un is above the law in North Korea. But in the United States of America, no one is above the law - not even the President of the United States.

RASCOE: And that's a point that Democrats seem to want to drive home, that this - that these proceedings are about the very nature of U.S. democracy and that the future of checks and balances in the federal government is what's on the line right now.

GREENE: Well, Claudia, as we mentioned, I mean, the chances for Democrats to win over Republicans, I mean, seem pretty small at this point. What is their strategy right now? And are we starting to get a feeling for what their strategy might be going forward as they try to push this case?

GRISALES: Yes, I think we're getting that feeling. This is Democrats' last and only chance to deliver this argument to what is essentially a captive audience. For many Republicans in the Senate, this is their first time having to sit through all of this evidence. So House managers have relied on a lot of video and firsthand testimony in their presentations. And they just aren't arguing for the removal of the president alone. They're also hoping to convince Republican members to join them in this effort to ask for witnesses to be part of the trial. And while there's been rumors of a witness trade - like presidential candidate Joe Biden, who President Trump has asked for in exchange for who Democrats want to see; and that - one of those individuals is former White House national security adviser John Bolton - those rumors have been shot down. But that isn't stopping Democrats from continuing to make this case that they need witnesses in this trial.

GREENE: We did hear from the White House yesterday on the sidelines. This is President Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow speaking to reporters.


JAY SEKULOW: Look, there's two parts to what we're going to do. We're going to respond, of course, to what the House managers have put forward, and we are going to make an affirmative case defending the president.

GREENE: Ayesha, briefly, what is that affirmative case you think we're going to hear from the president and his team?

RASCOE: They're going to be making the case that the president did absolutely nothing wrong. And they're going to continue to push back on the process in the House, which they say was unfair to the president.

GREENE: All right. White House reporter Ayesha Rosco, congressional reporter Claudia Grisales - part of our team covering this trial. Thanks so much to you both.

GRISALES: Thank you.

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

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.