STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Senators are preparing their turn in the impeachment process. The House votes on two articles of impeachment this week. And if that vote goes as expected, the next step would be a trial before the Senate in January. The presiding judge would be the Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and the jury is the 100 members of the Senate. Unlike ordinary jurors, they set the rules. They vote on which witnesses they want to hear, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has requested four. They include acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.
Senator Schumer is on the line now. Good morning.
CHUCK SCHUMER: Good morning. Nice to talk to you.
INSKEEP: Yeah, welcome back to the program. Why these four?
SCHUMER: Well, look - first and foremost, this is an enormously weighty and solemn responsibility. And we Senate Democrats believe that the trial has to be fair, and it's important that the American people judge it to be fair. And so there is lots of evidence that the House presented, but these four witnesses have direct knowledge of why the aid to Ukraine was delayed. There is no reason not to have them. I haven't heard of a single good reason not to have them other than people are afraid of what they might say.
INSKEEP: Well, the White House, of course, has claimed executive privilege and said that they will not send them over. And John Bolton, who is out of the White House, has said he wants a court to decide whether he should go.
SCHUMER: Well, here's the bottom line. This has to be a fair trial, and there are a good number of my Republican colleagues who have said that, you know, they need more evidence. There are no better people than - presenting this evidence than this. So our Republican colleagues, Leader McConnell and the president, have two choices. Do they want to get all the evidence out? Or do they want to hide the evidence, resist letting the facts come out and basically engage in a cover-up?
This is very serious stuff, Steve, and these witnesses have direct knowledge. And I haven't heard of a single reason why they shouldn't testify. Now, I don't know; maybe their evidence will be exculpatory. But to exclude them gives the appearance at least - and maybe more - of people are very afraid of what they might say. What are they hiding?
INSKEEP: As you know, Senator, Mitch McConnell has warned of mutual assured destruction here - that if there are witnesses on one side, there would be on the other. Are you willing to accept some of the witnesses that Republicans want? They, for example - some of them, anyway - would like to hear from Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden and pursue the conspiracy theories that the president was pursuing inside Ukraine.
SCHUMER: Well, again, we want witnesses who will focus on what the facts that the House presented are. I haven't heard of a single fact that Hunter Biden might know that are relevant to the House charges. You know, if the senators, Lindsey Graham or others, want to go do their own independent hearings, fine. But don't besmirch a very solemn proceeding. Our document here is based on the '99 rules, where there were witnesses - Republicans voted for witnesses, a limited number. And they're based on the fact that the House presented.
If people don't want to hear these witnesses and instead try to put these shiny objects of conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact, I don't think the American people want that. So my appeal - I'm sending this letter this morning to all the hundred senators. I believe Republican senators will think that this is a fair proposal. I'm certainly willing to listen to Mitch McConnell to alternatives. But the idea that they can bring in this one or that one for political purposes who have nothing to do - nothing to do - with the specific facts that the House has alleged and will vote on this week is demeaning to the entire process, and I don't think the American people will stand for it.
INSKEEP: Now, Mitch....
SCHUMER: Belief (ph) is that some Republican senators won't stand for it either.
INSKEEP: Now, Mitch McConnell was on Fox News over the weekend and has talked about the way that he intends to conduct this trial - or influence this trial. Of course, it's presided over by John Roberts, but you need 51 senators to set the rules. Here's something that McConnell says.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
MITCH MCCONNELL: Everything I do during this, I'm coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this.
INSKEEP: OK. To be honest, that doesn't sound impartial at all, Senator. But Republicans have said Democrats are just as committed against the president. Is that correct?
SCHUMER: We're committed to a fair trial where the facts come out. And we're willing - we don't know what these witnesses will say. But whatever they say, they should be heard from. And Mitch McConnell, when he says he's going to do just what the president wants, it's sort of like a juror conspiring with a defendant. It makes no sense. That's not what a fair trial is about.
And what I tried to do in this letter and what we Democrats are trying to do is lay out for all of the Republican senators - as well as the American people - what a fair, fair trial would be. We're not interested in dilatory tactics. We're not interested in introducing our own conspiracy theories - just the facts, ma'am - and that's what these four witnesses will produce.
INSKEEP: Of course, it is a little different than a jury trial because it is a political process involving people who are supposed to defend an institution but are also partisans. I do have a question, though, about your institutional role here.
I understand that senators - Democratic senators want to defend the institution of Congress, which the president refused to cooperate with. But there's another institution here, the institution of the presidency. As you must know, Senator, in two previous impeachments of presidents, both times the presidents were, on the face of it, guilty as charged. But both times, enough senators decided it would be unwise for the country to remove him. Do you worry that it would damage the presidency if you were to remove this president?
SCHUMER: Well, first, the facts must come out. And second, if a president can so abuse power and he is not stopped, will he do it again and even in a worse way? Will future presidents do it even more? I think the danger here is the balance of powers and the checks on the president. This president has shown a desire for almost undiminished power more than any other. So I worry much more about the overreach of the president than a diminishment to the president.
INSKEEP: You're sure that this is serious enough to warrant not only rebuking the president in some way but removing him from office?
SCHUMER: Look - I'm not making a final decision. I want to hear the facts. I think most of my Democratic colleagues want to hear the facts as well. I think many of my Republican colleagues want to hear the facts as well. This is an attempt to be fair. If you look at this objectively, it is right down the middle - equal time for both sides, nothing dilatory. You know, there's an American expression - speedy but fair justice. That's what this letter bespeaks of.
So thank you very much. Thank you. I got to run, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, Senator. Thanks so much.
INSKEEP: That's Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate.
And NPR's Mara Liasson was listening along to that. Mara, what did you hear there?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, I heard Chuck Schumer trying to make a distinction between the witnesses that Trump wanted to call, like Hunter and Joe Biden, and then the witnesses that the president has refused to allow to testify. You know, the fact that the president made the ask - he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens - that's established. But Republicans complained that what wasn't established was the quid pro quo - questions about the delayed aid. They said we didn't have a lot of direct evidence about that.
So now Chuck Schumer is saying, well, let's call the people who would have direct evidence about that delayed aid, what the president said about it and wanted to do about it. And that's why he's asking for these four witnesses, including the former national security adviser John Bolton, and the acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. And he's saying, look - if the call was perfect and there was no quid pro quo, then these witnesses will tell us that. Why not let them testify? That's the strong argument that he's making. What we don't know is how Mitch McConnell will respond.
INSKEEP: Yeah. And we should note about the senator's abrupt departure there - he promised us seven minutes and gave exactly that and went away. I do have to ask, though - what is the circumstance under which Chuck Schumer would get his way? Does he have to win some Republicans over to his side in order to get the witnesses that he wants?
LIASSON: Yes - or he just makes a deal with Mitch McConnell. I mean, that's usually how these rules are worked out. The Democratic leader and the Republican leader work out the rules, as he said they did in 1999 for the Clinton trial.
INSKEEP: OK. So it's - so this is - this letter that Chuck Schumer is sending is part of a negotiation.
INSKEEP: Mara, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.
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