LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
President Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate saturated most airwaves last week, including ours, ending with an abbreviated session yesterday morning in which the president's defense team presented what they called a, quote, "sneak preview" of their arguments on behalf of their client. During a relatively swift two-hour session, White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued that the president was innocent of the charges of abuse of power, and he turned Democrats' own arguments back on them.
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PAT CIPOLLONE: We ask you out of respect to think about whether what you've heard would really suggest to anybody anything other that would be completely irresponsible abuse of power to do what they're asking you to do - to stop an election, to interfere in an election and to remove the president of the United States from the ballot. Let the people decide for themselves. That's what the founders wanted. That's what we should all want.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In addition to presenting a radically different version of the motivation for the president's removal, the team also argued that House managers simply hadn't met the burden of proof and, indeed, that the whole process was illegitimate.
Here's Mike Purpura, deputy White House counsel.
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MIKE PURPURA: But the transcript is far from the only evidence demonstrating that the president did nothing wrong. Once you sweep away all of the bluster and innuendo, the selective leaks, the closed-door examinations of the Democrats' hand-picked witnesses, the staged public hearings, what we're left with are six key facts that have not and will not change.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Our own Mara Liasson has been watching the coverage over the past week with her eagle eyes, and she joins us now. Good morning.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did we learn from this session with the defense team yesterday?
LIASSON: Well, we learned about their defense, other than their most politically appealing argument, which you just heard there - let voters decide whether President Trump stays in office just 10 months from now - they said he did nothing wrong. No crime was committed. The transcript shows no explicit quid pro quo. Ukraine felt no pressure. They even said that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. That is a conspiracy theory that has been contradicted by the president's own intelligence community.
I think the bottom line was defense attorneys' job always is to raise reasonable doubts, and that's what they tried to do. They tried to make it more comfortable for Republican senators to vote to acquit.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mara, we've had a sort of a drip, drip, drip of new evidence. Has it given any moderate Republicans pause? I mean, Mitt Romney has signaled his willingness to entertain witnesses.
LIASSON: He certainly has, but I don't think that what's happened so far has changed any Republican minds. We see no evidence of that. But we do have Republicans worrying about what might happen even after they vote to acquit. Does more evidence come out? You've already seen the GAO report saying that Trump actually did break a law, the Impoundment Control Act. You've had Lev Parnas' emails and the interviews he's given and the videos. His lawyer says there's more to come. So the question is, even after the impeachment trial is over, could more information come out that would change voters' minds? - because they are the other jury in this case.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. The trial resumes Monday. What's going to happen? What should we expect?
LIASSON: I think that some of the legal superstars on the president's team will show up, like Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr. We also assume that the promised attacks on Joe Biden, which didn't happen over the weekend, will happen next week on the part of the White House team.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So where does it look like this trial is going?
LIASSON: It looks like it's going to an acquittal. We don't see any sign that any Republican is going to vote to remove the president. You need 20 for that to happen, and that's why the House managers were speaking to two different juries. One is the jury of Republican senators, who aren't impartial. The other is the public, whose opinion has been split. Big majorities think the president did something wrong, but they're about 50/50 as whether he should be removed from office.
And the question is, which message is going to prevail - the House, which voted to impeach Trump, or the Senate, which seems to be about to acquit him and say, in effect, that it was perfectly OK to ask a foreign government to dig up dirt on a political rival?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you have a sense of which message might prevail?
LIASSON: Well, that is the big political question hanging over this entire thing. Democrats worried way back when that if they did impeach and the Senate acquitted, the president would come to the State of the Union address, claim vindication and say, Congress said it's perfectly OK for me to do what I did.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mara, our colleague Mary Louise Kelly interviewed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday. And afterwards, he lashed out at her, calling her a liar. We aired that interview on NPR. Pompeo responded with vitriol, and his response prompted a letter from Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The members said that Pompeo's attacks on journalists are irresponsible and expressed concern about the corrosive effects of this behavior on American values and in our standing in the world. And that's a quote. That's pretty - that's a pretty strong statement.
LIASSON: Yes. I think Pompeo's statement where he said this - Mary Louise's interview was an example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt President Trump - that was his version of saying the press is the enemy of the people. It was very Trumpian response, and I think he was playing to an audience of one with that statement.
But look. If you think that the Trump presidency is a stress test on democratic institutions, with its contempt for any fact-based institution - like the FBI, the judiciary, the CIA, the press - and you are taking the pulse of these institutions to see how well they're holding up, well, I would suggest, as a famous person once said, read the transcript. Read the transcript of Mary Louise's interview with Secretary Pompeo.
LIASSON: It is a gold-standard example of how journalism - professional, polite journalism operates without fear or favor, and it's an example of how the First Amendment is holding up just fine, even under pressure.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: National political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.