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White House Decries 'Rigged' Impeachment Process


With less than 24 hours to go until the Senate convenes for President Trump's impeachment trial, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally released his plan for how that trial will go. His plan sets the stage for fairly swift proceedings, but Democrats are expected to object to some key elements of the plan when the Senate debates the resolution tomorrow. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now with more.

Hey, Tam.


CHANG: So McConnell has been holding his cards pretty close for weeks now. What do we know now about his plan for this trial?

KEITH: For some time, McConnell and Republican senators have been talking about the so-called Clinton precedent, sort of following the way the trial went for Bill Clinton.

CHANG: Right.

KEITH: Well, we now know that they aren't exactly following the Clinton precedent.

CHANG: (Laughter).

KEITH: So in the Clinton trial, there were 24 hours of arguments spread - for each side, spread out over three days. Well, in this - in these proposed rules, it would be over two days...


KEITH: ...Which potentially means 12 hours a day of arguments...

CHANG: Yeah.

KEITH: ...Starting at 1 p.m. going until 1 in the morning. Now, it's also quite possible that they won't use all the time. In the case of Clinton, they didn't use all that time. Democrats object to this, saying it's, you know, conducting the trial in the dark of night. McConnell's resolution also skips a section of the 1999 rule that automatically allowed House evidence to be introduced into Senate proceedings. For the proposed Trump trial, it wouldn't do that. It only allows that the senators may offer the evidence, meaning that all of the findings from the House process could be subject to a majority vote...

CHANG: Wow, like...

KEITH: ...According to a senior Democrat.

CHANG: ...Every piece of testimony from every witness so far that's testified during the inquiry.

KEITH: It's possible. And it's also quite possible that they can get a majority vote. Also, this proposed rule allows that the White House or senators could offer a resolution to dismiss the charges right away. But there are several Republicans who've said that they wouldn't support something like that, so it's not likely that that will be brought up immediately. But you never know.

CHANG: OK. So one of the biggest debates has been over whether McConnell will be calling more witnesses before the Senate. How is he proposing that that be handled now?

KEITH: He is proposing that that be handled after all of the arguments are made and after senators have gotten about 16 hours to ask questions. Then they would be able to debate the witness question. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is pledging to raise this tomorrow. Democrats want this debated right away. He says in a statement tonight, quote, "after reading his resolution, it's clear Senator McConnell is hellbent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through. On something as important as impeachment, Senator McConnell's resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace." And I will just say that I have now given you a preview of part of what we're going to hear a lot of...


KEITH: ...Tomorrow.

CHANG: Now, McConnell has said that he has been working closely with the White House on this trial, which a lot of Democrats said was improper. Should we assume that this means the White House is totally OK with the plan that McConnell has proposed?

KEITH: Well, I was in a briefing with sources working with the president's legal team today. We asked this very question. Well, how do you feel about possibly 12 hours? They said they are just fine with whatever McConnell ends up proposing, which, of course, I'm pretty sure they knew what he was going to propose.

CHANG: Right. All right. Well, we got the Trump defense team's argument today in the form of a legal brief. Very briefly, what are some of the highlights there?

KEITH: So it mixes legalese with Trumpian language, and here is just an example. Quote, "after focus group testing various charges for weeks, House Democrats settled on two flimsy articles of impeachment that alleged no crime or violation of law whatsoever, much less high crimes and misdemeanors." They also call it a dangerous perversion of the Constitution.

CHANG: That is NPR's Tamara Keith.

Thank you so much, Tam.

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.