News Brief: Impeachment Trial, March For Life, Weinstein Trial
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
After months of investigating President Trump in the impeachment inquiry, it all comes down to today for House Democrats.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
That's right. This is their last day to lay out their case for why President Trump should be removed from office. Yesterday, Democrats were at it for eight hours, trying to convince senators that what the president did in Ukraine amounted to abuse of power and that he should be removed from office. This is one of the House impeachment managers, Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida.
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VAL DEMINGS: When it came down to choosing between the national interests of the country and his own personal interests, his reelection, President Trump chose himself.
MARTIN: So how do Democrats close their case today? We are joined in studio by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, who has been watching it all. Hi, Claudia.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.
MARTIN: So Democrats yesterday focused on the first article of impeachment. Was there one specific issue or argument they were trying to get across?
GRISALES: Yes, they focused on evidence that President Trump abused the power of his office and hammered home why the president threatened national security by withholding this aid to Ukraine. They played video clips from hearings showing witnesses testify to this, from the stark testimony of former Ambassador Fiona Hill debunking this theory that the country of Ukraine interfered in the 2016 elections to the testimony of an overheard phone call of the president heard asking about these investigations.
They connected the dots as well between a Fox News poll showing that presidential candidate Joe Biden was leading Trump and the beginnings of this hunt for a probe into the former vice president. And Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin played large themes yesterday as well, with Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment managers and others highlighting multiple times that the president was peddling this debunked theory about Ukraine and Putin's public gratitude that it was being peddled around.
MARTIN: All right. So cameras aren't allowed in there. We can't see the reactions of the senators. Do we know how the Democrats' arguments are going over with the senator jurors in the room, especially on the GOP side?
GRISALES: The Republican senators, and lawyers for the president's team as well, have been chatty during these breaks. And, notably, some zeroed in on presentation by the impeachment managers that touched on Joe Biden's role in the impeachment affair, eagerly seeking to debunk Trump's claims that Biden was engaged in corruption in Ukraine and highlighting Trump's interest in taking down a formidable political foe. That caught some Republicans' ears, like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Let's take a listen.
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TED CRUZ: Today saw a very significant development, which is today, the House Democrats, perhaps unintentionally, threw Joe Biden under the bus.
MARTIN: So wait. How did Democrats throw Joe Biden under the bus?
GRISALES: So what Ted Cruz is saying in that moment is because Biden was brought into this presentation yesterday and the role he played, they say that's going to be the opening for them to come in and attack.
MARTIN: Just even saying Joe Biden's name in this context.
GRISALES: And playing out his role in this impeachment affair.
MARTIN: OK. So they see an opening with Joe Biden. What else are Republican senators saying?
GRISALES: So we're hearing some senators remark that they feel like they're hearing a retelling of the evidence and the testimony in this probe over and over. Let's take a listen to Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.
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JOHN BARRASSO: Well, we sat through another day. Seems like Groundhog's Day in the Senate. And what we heard from the managers yesterday, the day before, it is the same thing day after day after day.
GRISALES: So Republicans and White House lawyers are saying they still don't see a case and that the president was within his authorities to make these decisions.
MARTIN: And so today, the House Democrats are going to focus on what?
GRISALES: They're focusing on the second article of impeachment against the president, obstruction of Congress. So we'll see highlights again pointing out how the president, they say, thwarted their efforts to investigate this matter.
MARTIN: OK. NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you.
GRISALES: Thanks so much.
MARTIN: For all the impeachment coverage you need, make sure you check out NPR's Politics Podcast.
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MARTIN: So while the Senate hears arguments about why the president should be removed from his job, the president himself will be just down the road along the National Mall at the March for Life.
GREENE: That's right. President Trump and Republican presidents before him have addressed this rally remotely, but this is going to be the first time in the rally's 47-year history that a sitting U.S. president will actually attend. Thousands of anti-abortion rights activists are expected to show up. The president announced his in-person appearance on Twitter, where he wrote, quote, "see you on Friday. Big crowd."
MARTIN: For more, we're joined by NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon in studio. Hi, Sarah.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: Can you start off by just reminding us of the political significance of the March for Life?
MCCAMMON: Well, this event happens every year. It draws thousands of, you know, mostly conservative activists to the National Mall. They march to the Supreme Court, which, of course, has huge symbolic significance for the abortion issue. It's been happening every year, going back almost to 1973 after the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide. Other presidents have sent letters or phoned in. And two years ago, President Trump himself spoke live via video feed from the White House.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today, I'm honored and really proud to be the first president to stand with you here at the White House to address the 45th March for Life. That's very, very special.
MCCAMMON: And what's different today, Rachel, is that President Trump will be there in person.
MARTIN: Why? I mean, why is he choosing this moment to make this appearance?
MCCAMMON: Well, there is a lot going on in Washington, as you just heard - of course, there's the trial in the Senate, the impeachment trial to potentially remove him from office, it's an election year. This is a crowd, the anti-abortion rights crowd, that initially, you know, was a little skeptical of him in some centers when he was running for president, but he's become very popular with these groups because of his conservative Supreme Court nominees and federal policies aimed at restricting access to abortion and cutting family planning funds to groups like Planned Parenthood. So this is a friendly audience at a time that he can use one.
MARTIN: So what's the other side saying, abortion rights groups?
MCCAMMON: Right, well, NARAL Pro-Choice America's president, Ilyse Hogue, issued a statement calling this an act of desperation. I talked to Planned Parenthood's acting president, Alexis McGill Johnson, and she said Trump coming to the March for Life is no surprise.
ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON: I think this is just confirmation - right? - that the sitting president of the United States is determined to do whatever he possibly can to end people's access and ability to access abortion. And we've seen this completely under his administration, we've seen this full-out assault on our health and human rights.
MCCAMMON: And McGill Johnson says those same things that anti-abortion rights groups are pointing to for - as causes for celebration - conservative judges, federal policies aimed at restricting abortion - those are the things she's going to be pointing to in this election year as she reminds her supporters to get out and vote against Trump.
And, Rachel, it's worth noting that while Americans have really complex and nuanced views about abortion, a majority - about 70 to 80% - believe that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. And newer polling from Gallup indicates a growing number of Americans think the nation's abortion laws are too strict. So it'll be interesting to see how this plays this election year.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Sarah McCammon for us. Thanks, Sarah. We appreciate it.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
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MARTIN: All right. Before we turn to our next story, we need to let you know that for the last few minutes of the show today, we're going to be talking about sexual assault. The trial of Harvey Weinstein took a dramatic turn yesterday when actress Annabella Sciorra took the stand.
GREENE: That's right. You may know the actress from "The Sopranos." She is the first of six women expected to testify that Weinstein raped or sexually assaulted them. Yesterday, she described Weinstein pinning her hands above her head and raping her as she fought back by punching and kicking him. The former film producer has maintained that all of his contact was consensual.
MARTIN: NPR's Rose Friedman was in the New York courtroom yesterday, and she will be there again today, and she joins us now. Hi, Rose.
ROSE FRIEDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: So Annabella Sciorra - she was a really well-known actress getting a lot of attention in the '90s. A lot of people will recognize her face from "The Sopranos." David gave a snapshot of her testimony. It's hard to hear it, but can you tell us more about what she said?
FRIEDMAN: Yeah. She explained that she'd met Harvey Weinstein at a party in LA in the early '90s. He actually offered her a ride home from that party, and nothing bad happened at that point. Then she got a role in a Miramax film, which his company produced. And then, you know, the next part of the testimony got really emotional. It's going to be disturbing for some listeners.
Sciorra says after a dinner in New York in 1993 or 1994, Weinstein offered her a ride home again. He dropped her off. She says she went upstairs and got ready for bed. A few minutes later, she says there was a knock at the door. She opened it, and Weinstein was standing in the hall. She says he pushed the door open, came inside and began unbuttoning his shirt.
So she said in court she never gave any indication that she was interested in a sexual relationship with Weinstein, that she asked him to leave, and when he put his hands on her, she started yelling and fighting. She described the rape in detail. And then she said in court, I said no, but there wasn't much I could do at that point. My body shut down. It was just so disgusting that my body started to shake. It was like a seizure.
MARTIN: And he was there, right? She's saying all this as Weinstein is sitting in the courtroom.
MARTIN: So then she's cross-examined. What happened during that exchange?
FRIEDMAN: Yeah. So Weinstein's team has maintained that all of the incidents in this case were consensual. Weinstein's lawyer, Donna Rotunno, did the questioning. She started by noting that Sciorra was an actress who took on different characters for a living.
She also asked a lot of questions about the apartment that Sciorra was in - whether Weinstein could have gotten by the doorman, how he would have known her apartment number, why Sciorra couldn't have gotten away and why she didn't report it to the police. And to that, Sciorra said she didn't really think at the time that it was rape. She thought rape was something that happened in a back alley by someone you didn't know.
MARTIN: What happens today?
FRIEDMAN: We're going to hear from an expert witness in the behavior of women who've been assaulted. And then there are five more women who will testify that they were raped or assaulted by Weinstein. And then there are various other people who have been mentioned - Rosie Perez has been mentioned as someone that Annabella Sciorra talked to about her story. And all of that is expected to take six to eight weeks, so probably sometime into March.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Rose Friedman reporting on moving, gruesome testimony coming from Annabella Sciorra, one of the women accusing Harvey Weinstein of rape and sexual assault. That trial is ongoing in New York. Rose, we appreciate it. Thank you so much.
FRIEDMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
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