Watergate Prosecutor On Whether Trump Should Participate In Impeachment Inquiry
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This week, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent President Trump a letter. In it, Representative Jerry Nadler sets a date for his committee's first impeachment hearings, and he asks the president if he plans to participate. In recent weeks, President Trump has hinted that he might.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JIM ACOSTA: President Trump is dangling the possibility he might provide written testimony in the impeachment inquiry, tweeting, even though I did nothing wrong, I like the idea and will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it.
SHAPIRO: Well, our next guest is a former federal prosecutor and member of the Watergate prosecution team. Nick Akerman joins us to talk about what the president's strategy might be here.
Welcome back to the program.
NICK AKERMAN: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: President Trump has said that he's been denied due process in this inquiry so far. Does that mean that he should want to participate in this inquiry?
AKERMAN: I would think so. If he's so innocent and the call was so perfect, you would think that he would be running up to Capitol Hill and demanding to have the committee hear his testimony firsthand so he can explain why the call was perfect, why he didn't commit bribery or extortion. I mean, he should be eager to do that if he's truly innocent.
SHAPIRO: Is that a note of cynicism I hear in your voice?
AKERMAN: A little bit, yeah, because I don't really think he's going to do it. I mean, you start off by written testimony. Well, that doesn't really do anything. He's going to basically be able to do the same thing he did with Robert Mueller with his don't recalls and not really providing anything substantive. But his real downside here is that he would leave himself open to be cross-examined.
SHAPIRO: We've been talking about whether President Trump would testify. But does the White House stand to gain anything by sending someone else, whether that is White House counsel or acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney or somebody else who has been close to the center of this but is not the president himself?
AKERMAN: They could do that. There might be something to gain. But there's always going to be the lingering question as to why the president himself didn't testify because if somebody is truly innocent, why wouldn't they get up there and explain what happened, explain their side of the story? Whether the people who will be questioning him are hostile or not, if he truly has an innocent story to tell, why wouldn't he do it?
SHAPIRO: Ultimately, do you think the White House is likely to send anyone to participate in this next phase of the hearings?
AKERMAN: Well, they're really between a rock and a hard place here because on one hand, they've been complaining that the president hasn't had the opportunity to provide his side of the story; he's been denied due process as a result. And so for them not to do something is not going to look very good. And if they just refuse to cooperate, that could wind up being a totally separate article of impeachment by the time we're done.
SHAPIRO: But it sounds like you think maybe the White House is willing to risk that and is probably not likely to cooperate.
AKERMAN: I think that's probably what's going to happen. Just like they couldn't risk having Donald Trump testify in the grand jury in the Mueller inquiry or subject himself to an interview with Mueller, I think they're concerned he can't tell the truth, that he has a long history of lying. And there is just too much other evidence that would undercut what kinds of lies Trump would probably try and perpetrate in terms of trying to describe what happened here. Everything from the Sondland testimony to the David Holmes testimony - I mean, they could really put him through the hoops here. And if he has no explanation for any of that testimony, I think it's just going to hurt his case.
SHAPIRO: If I could ask you to put on a different hat for a moment, if you were advising the White House here, what would you advise the president to do?
AKERMAN: I think he's got no choice but to not cooperate with the investigation. Maybe send up a surrogate. But you certainly wouldn't send up Mulvaney because he was involved in this whole matter. So you'd probably try and send up somebody who doesn't really know too much to try and put the president's side of the story into the record. But you know, how effective that would be - I just don't think it would work. Jerry Nadler has called their bluff, and now they've got to respond to it. And there is no good response at this point.
SHAPIRO: That's attorney Nick Akerman of the firm Dorsey & Whitney.
Thank you for speaking with us.
AKERMAN: Thank you for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE INNER BANKS' "ELECTRIC")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.