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Conservative Lawyer On Why He Backs Impeachment


To hear President Trump and other conservatives tell it, Democrats alone are fueling this debate over whether the Mueller report laid the grounds for impeachment. One big question - will Republicans, will allies of the president, consider removing the president from office? We have one perspective this morning from J.W. Verret. He's a conservative lawyer who worked for Trump briefly on his 2016 transition team. He wrote in The Atlantic this week that he is moved from being a, quote, "pragmatist about Trump" to a, quote, "advocate for his impeachment." And he joins us in the studio this morning.


J W VERRET: Thank you, David.

GREENE: So what changed your view?

VERRET: Well, it was a list of potentially 12 counts of obstruction of justice contained in the Mueller report that really changed it for me. I was waiting for it to come out, and it's a game changer.

GREENE: And we should be clear. I mean, Robert Mueller did not specifically come out and say that the president committed crimes. I mean, he raised these questions about his behavior, and then you had the attorney general afterwards saying that it did not meet the standard for prosecuting. But - so what, despite all that, convinced you that this was obstruction?

VERRET: It's clear that the report itself is, essentially, a recommendation to the Congress to begin impeachment proceedings. The beginning of an impeachment proceeding is, essentially, like a start of a grand jury investigation. And that does not require a finding of guilt. It merely requires a colorable claim of instances of obstruction of justice, and that's exactly what we have.

GREENE: You wrote in your piece that other Republicans are beginning to tilt this way. What gives you that sense?

VERRET: Because I've been on every major news network this week, and my text messages are full of colleagues of mine who are thanking me for speaking out.

GREENE: And these are Republicans - I mean, people involved in politics.

VERRET: Staffers on the Hill and staffers in the administration, yes.

GREENE: OK, I want to play some tape here. This is the voice of both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and also Republican Senator Lindsey Graham this week.


MITCH MCCONNELL: I think it's time to move on. This investigation was about collusion. There was no collusion, no charges brought against the president on anything else. And I think the American people have had quite enough of it.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: The idea that the Mueller report is not the final word on all things Trump, Russia, collusion, obstruction is news to me. I thought we all trusted Mueller.

GREENE: So these are Republicans who hold some sway in Washington. And there are even Democrats who are saying that if the Senate is not willing to convict the president, there's no real value in starting impeachment proceedings. So what gives you the sense that the party as a whole would ever move in that direction, given some of the voices we're hearing there?

VERRET: First of all, offhand comments in advance of an impeachment investigation and trial are very different from actually going through the thing itself. We'll learn a lot more from the impeachment proceedings as people are put under oath, as people face consequences like losing their bar license for not complying with subpoenas. And furthermore, I don't think it's a waste of time to begin an impeachment process, even if the political calculus is that there won't be a conviction in the Senate. There's never been a conviction of a presidential impeachment in the Senate. We've had two impeachments of presidents. It's still a worthy exercise to uncover information, to have the judgment and the precedent for history that this conduct is not acceptable. So the bare-naked sort of political calculus we see from the speaker of the House right now about impeachment proceedings is disappointing to me. We shouldn't be talking about politics. We should be talking about differing interpretations of Federalist 65, the Federalist Papers and how they weigh in on impeachment process.

GREENE: Nancy Pelosi has brought up other options for Democrats to hold the president accountable - potentially, you know, to scrutinize his behavior in other ways and committee hearings with witnesses maybe before ever starting the formal impeachment process. Why, in your view, is impeachment specifically so important?

VERRET: I think if they don't begin impeachment proceedings before the end of this Congress, they're doing a real disservice to history. I think President Trump deserves - we need the truth about what happened. And we don't - I think right now, some of his activity has led to his successful cover-up of information. Mueller alluded to that in the report.

GREENE: Polls suggest that not an overwhelming majority of voters want this right now. Do you think the country wants to go through this?

VERRET: I think the country needs to go through this. And I think that it might take time, but the proceedings will bring the American people around just like it did with the Nixon hearings.

GREENE: J.W. Verret is an associate professor of law at George Mason University. He worked briefly on President Trump's transition team in 2016.

Thanks so much for coming in this morning.

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