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White House Officials React To Senate Impeachment Trial, Expecting It To Be Short


As the House began its vote today to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, President Trump was deep into remarks at the ceremony at the White House marking the signing of a trade deal with Chinese officials. The two events collided.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a big celebration. And by the way, some of the congressmen may have a vote. And I don't - it's on the impeachment hoax. So if you want, you go out and vote. I'd rather have - frankly - it's not going to matter 'cause it's gone very well. But I'd rather have you voting than sitting here, listening to me introduce you, OK? They have a hoax going on over there. Let's take care of it.

CORNISH: White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to talk about White House reaction.

Welcome back, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi. Good to be with you.

CORNISH: Let's start with President Trump. What else has he had to say as impeachment moves to the Senate?

KEITH: So you heard his remarks today. He didn't really dwell on impeachment. That event was the White House trying to showcase this big phase one partial deal with China. But he went on so long that the cable networks cut away from him before they ever signed the deal to go over to the House, where they were debating and voting on sending these articles of impeachment over to the Senate.

And you know, last night, he had a rally before a friendly crowd of supporters in Wisconsin. And he - you know, you wouldn't say that it was a speech about impeachment. He largely stayed away from it. He frankly spent much more time talking about Iran, the Democrats running for president. He even had a very long riff about low-flow toilets and energy-efficient appliances.

What he did say is what he usually says, which is that it was a perfect call with President Zelenskiy and that this whole thing is a total hoax. Just a reminder - there are two articles of impeachment, one accusing him of abuse of power, the second accusing him of obstructing Congress.

CORNISH: Behind the scenes, what is the White House saying?

KEITH: You know, it may be wishful thinking. It may be just an opening salvo. But an administration official who briefed reporters today on the condition of anonymity said that the White House didn't expect that this trial would need to last more than two weeks. Now, that's quite a bit shorter than the Clinton trial. One official said that the president's lawyers will present a very strong case for the president and that the reason that it won't take very long is because the facts are simple, and the facts are on the president's side. Of course, the reality is that the White House doesn't actually control the Senate trial.

CORNISH: In the meantime, how has the White House actually been preparing for this moment?

KEITH: You know, they have been huddling the president's lawyers, both lawyers from the White House counsel's office, as well as his private attorney, Jay Sekulow. So we know that Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, will take the lead. We know that Jay Sekulow will also be part of it. Both of them will be making arguments before the Senate. There will be others who will rotate in and out - some deputies from the White House counsel's office.

And then there's a question about who the other lawyers might be, whether there might be Rudy Giuliani or Alan Dershowitz, a couple of names that White House officials wouldn't commit to whether they're on the team or not. I texted with Dershowitz today, and he said he had no update. What we know is that over the weekend or maybe Monday, we're expecting the White House to file a brief that will lay out their case in writing.

CORNISH: At some point, President Trump has said that he wants witnesses. I know this has been the subject of back and forth between the House and Senate. Has the White House backed off completely?

KEITH: Not completely. The president has said that he wants to hear from Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden or the whistleblower. Now they say they don't think any witnesses will be necessary. But if the Senate decides that they want more evidence or they want witnesses, then the White House is going to insist that there also be witnesses that they want, which might be a way to sort of force - you know, say, well, maybe you don't want John Bolton that badly if we're going to force you to get Hunter Biden.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you for joining us.

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

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.