Weekly Roundup: Friday, January 17 President Trump has announced his legal team for the Senate impeachment trial—and it includes ghosts of impeachment past. And a non-partisan government watchdog says Trump broke the law by withholding aid money to Ukraine that had been appropriated by Congress. Also, one tortoise gets too much credit for reviving his species.

This episode: White House correspondents Tamara Keith, Ayesha Rascoe, and Franco Ordoñez, Justice Department correspondent Ryan Lucas, and Senior Political Editor and Correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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Weekly Roundup: Friday, January 17

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Weekly Roundup: Friday, January 17

Weekly Roundup: Friday, January 17

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STEVE: Hola. This is Steve (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

STEVE: And we just climbed 659 steps to the top of La Piedra in Guatape, Colombia. (Speaking Spanish).


And there is a dance party going up on that vista.


KEITH: This podcast was recorded at - oh, God, why is Siri asking what I can help with? This podcast was recorded at 1:35 p.m. on Friday, the 17th of January.

STEVE: By the time you hear this, things will have changed.


STEVE: And now it's time for the show.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And now it's time to the show.

STEVE: (Speaking Spanish).


KEITH: Awesome. Hola. It is the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe. I also cover the White House.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KEITH: All right, so we now know who will be representing President Trump before the Senate in his impeachment trial. We knew some of the names before. Now we know the full team.

RASCOE: So who is it? Who (laughter)...

KEITH: Right. OK. So after a lot of reporting today, I've been able to nail this down. And these are going to be some names you recognize. Now Pat Cipollone is the White House counsel. He was not particularly well-known. You search the Internet, you're not going to find a lot of great videos of him on cable because they just don't exist. So now there are some lawyers on this team who you would recognize if you watch a lot of cable.

LUCAS: You'll find a lot of videos on some of these guys.

KEITH: Yeah. So one of them is Alan Dershowitz. He has been making the president's case on Fox quite a bit. If you love the '90s, you will remember him as O.J. Simpson's - one of O.J. Simpson's dream team of lawyers. But more recently, he's been affiliated with Jeffrey Epstein.

LUCAS: The very wealthy New York financier who was facing sexual abuse charges in New York. He had a previous conviction in Florida. Dershowitz was on his legal team back in the aught in the Florida case.

KEITH: Yeah, and Ken Starr is also on the legal team.

RASCOE: And I've heard that name before.

KEITH: You have heard that name before. Ken Starr was the independent counsel pursuing the Clintons. And...

RASCOE: That's the same guy.

KEITH: The same guy. So, I mean, you can imagine Ken Starr coming and arguing before the Senate, I know impeachment. I - my investigation was the basis for the last impeachment. And I don't think this impeachment is up to snuff.

MONTANARO: Yeah, it's really interesting. I mean, it's pretty ironic, I mean, given that he was a guy that - who was the principal investigator of Bill Clinton during his impeachment to now be defending President Trump in this one.

And remember; Ken Starr has been largely making the case for President Trump on Fox News, but there was - remember the hearing where Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, testified, and at the exact time that she was speaking, President Trump had tweeted out some disparaging remarks about Yovanovitch. And Starr, at that time, said that that showed - that that tweet showed, quote, "extraordinarily poor judgment. And obviously this was quite injurious." And he was noting that council wasn't really - that tweet must not have been vetted through counsel. And now he's going to be the kind of counsel that could be vetted through.

RASCOE: But I do know who Ken Starr is. I was just joking around earlier. I don't you all thinking I didn't know him.

MONTANARO: We know. Of course.

RASCOE: ...Make sure - but it is interesting because Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, like, had opposite thoughts clearly about the Clinton impeachment. Alan Dershowitz pointed out when he was chosen for this that he was against the Clinton impeachment, and he says he voted for Hillary Clinton. And now you have Ken Starr, who was clearly for impeachment. And now they're on the same team.

KEITH: Yeah.

LUCAS: Really interesting to see how all the folks on this team are actually going to work and kind of divvy up the tasks of defending the president in this case. I don't know how it's going to work, curious whether you have any insights on that from the reporting you've done.

KEITH: President Trump is trying to assemble his own dream team, if you will, you know, his own star-studded cast of lawyers who are charismatic and good on TV and can make the argument. Others on the list include Jay Sekulow and Jane Raskin. They were both part of President Trump's defense team in the Russia investigation. And Sekulow is a, you know, has argued before the Supreme Court numerous times and is someone who is also very good on the cable.

LUCAS: And Raskin, from what I understand, is not a name that a lot of people would remember from the Mueller investigation. The faces of the president's legal team were obviously Sekulow and then Rudy Giuliani at that time. But my understanding is that a lot of the legal work that was done by that team was done by Raskin and Raskin's law firm.

KEITH: Just to round it out, other people on the defense team include two White House Counsel lawyers in addition to Cipollone. They're Pat Philbin and Mike Purpura, also Robert Ray, who was the independent counsel after Ken Starr was the independent counsel - he sort of put the bow on that in the Clinton years - and also Pam Bondi, who was the attorney general of Florida who then was brought into the White House to do communications on impeachment. But now she's going to be one of the lawyers.

LUCAS: And to talk about the impact of social media on this and what we didn't see obviously back during the Clinton days, already a - photographs of Pam Bondi have turned up online sitting next to another character who I believe we're going to talk about, and that is Lev Parnas, who, of course, is an associate of Rudy Giuliani who's been indicted in the Southern District of New York. Social media adds a special twist to this, this version of impeachment.

MONTANARO: Who at this point didn't know Lev Parnas? He's like Waldo.

KEITH: Yeah. So since you bring him up, let's talk about Lev Parnas. He is this Rudy Giuliani associate who, last year, as the impeachment proceedings were heating up, was indicted for campaign finance violations related to political donations that would benefit President Trump and other politicians. Now he is - he's very chatty.

LUCAS: He's making the rounds, yeah. He was on "Rachel Maddow" on Wednesday night and then Thursday night as well. It was one interview that they broke up into two parts. He was also on CNN. He did an interview with The New York Times.

The fact that he did these very kind of incendiary interviews in which he makes a lot of big claims about a lot of senior folks in the administration has obviously garnered a lot of attention. But I think that we have to bear in mind all the stuff that you led up to this with, which is that he is indeed an individual who is under indictment in the Southern District of New York. He is under a lot of legal pressure. And he has his own motivations for why he might be talking about what he's talking about now. And we cannot take everything that he says at face value.

MONTANARO: I think it was interesting Nancy Pelosi yesterday, the House speaker, said, you know, when someone makes allegations like, this they should be looked into. They should be confirmed. They should be denied, not just pushed aside, which is what winds up happening.

KEITH: All of this coming out right as the trial is set to begin sort of adds to the argument at least the Democrats will make that they think that there should be witnesses, that there should be more evidence. I don't think they're actually arguing that they want to hear from Lev Parnas, though, which is interesting. I suspect that we are going to be hearing his name quite a bit more in the coming days.

LUCAS: I suspect so. And I think that Democrats looking at the Parnas materials coming out this past week, what he has had to say in public, really has kind of amplified their push of saying, this shouldn't be a closed case. Republicans in the Senate, you guys should be onboard for bringing witnesses in, continuing this investigation so that when, in this trial, senators and the American public can have a full picture of what happened. But there's little indication at this point that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is interested in that.

KEITH: And, Ayesha, scheduling note - what do we expect in the coming days?

RASCOE: What we know is that the festivities really kind of kick off on Tuesday. But they may not be - there may not be any fireworks at that point. It will be kind of them talking about motions and stuff like that, procedural stuff.

KEITH: Laying out the rules, how it'll they work.

RASCOE: Yes. Yeah. And so - and then they'll go from there.

KEITH: All right. And we are going to leave this part of the conversation here. And, Ryan, you've got to get back out and do more reporting.

LUCAS: Yes, I do. I do. I need to go.

RASCOE: See you later.

LUCAS: Let me out of here.

KEITH: Well, then we will let you leave. And when we come back - (laughter) yeah, and...

LUCAS: And before a three-day weekend, too.

KEITH: Yeah, yeah. We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, the Government Accountability Office weighs in on the Ukraine situation.

And we are back. And we are joined by NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Hey, Franco.


KEITH: You're the one in the White House today.

ORDOÑEZ: I am here.

KEITH: And Ayesha are...

RASCOE: Yeah, and we're in the - me and Tam are in the studio.

KEITH: So neener-neener (ph).



ORDOÑEZ: Seems like I'm in the safe place.

KEITH: OK, let's get serious because there is serious stuff to talk about. This week, the Government Accountability Office came out with a finding. It had been reviewing the process by which President Trump and the White House budget office withheld funds from Ukraine for a rather long time. This is sort of a centerpiece of the impeachment that the president now faces. Ayesha, the Government Accountability Office, this watchdog, did not side with President Trump on this.

RASCOE: No. And this is a watchdog agency, independent, nonpartisan but works for Congress. And what they found was that the White House broke the law. So basically under this law, the Impoundment Control Act, you are not allowed as president to withhold funds that have been appropriated and signed into law because that's the law.

KEITH: And Congress controls the purse strings.

RASCOE: And Congress controls the purse strings. And they got this power, Congress, to control the purse strings from the Constitution. So basically, the Impoundment Control Act lays out these very kind of limited circumstances where a president can withhold funds. And in those circumstances, you have to go to Congress and go through these very specific steps. The White House didn't do that, so the GAO said they broke the law.

KEITH: Yeah, this act was passed in, like, 1974-ish. It came after Watergate. It was part of a whole crop of legislation after Watergate, where Congress said, hey, there's been an abuse of power by the president of the United States, President Nixon. And we are going to try to wrest some of our control back over things like budgeting and other things. And now you have President Trump and the White House saying we completely disagree with this law. Some of President Trump's allies are saying this law is unconstitutional.

MONTANARO: I am amazed by the PR machine that the White House and President Trump have been able to create, the way that they've been able to sort of just soften the playing field where anything that's critical either becomes fake news or just lands in this pit of mud. And that's what they've done even with this. You have a nonpartisan watchdog group that says the president of the United States broke the law. And, you know, it's like crickets.

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it's true. There is no potential criminal penalties associated with this. So there is kind of a bit of a lacking of teeth. So - and I think they're kind of taking advantage of that.

MONTANARO: Yeah, there's no GAO police.

ORDOÑEZ: Right. I mean, the point, though, is, I mean, this does undercut one of the administration's, one of the White House and one of their supporters' central defenses, is that show me the crime that was committed. And here's an example at least where the Democrats can say, well, this nonpartisan independent body found that a law was broken, and here it is.

KEITH: So, Franco, we actually called you here not to talk about the Impoundment Control Act but some exclusive reporting that you did this week about an action that President Trump is taking related to prayer in school. What is this story that you broke?

ORDOÑEZ: So President Trump held an Oval Office event aimed at reminding public schools that their students have constitutional rights to prayer and that they, the schools, could risk losing federal funds unless those rights are protected. This was an event that came as Trump's been working to kind of shore up his support among evangelical Christians and other religious groups and advocates before the 2020 election.

So on Thursday, he brought in a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim students who they - who felt that they had been discriminated against. And President Trump kind of used that to announce some updated guidance for school prayer. The interesting thing is that the guidance is really not that much different than what was already in place and what has been in place for over a decade. There's a few tweaks here and there. The language is supported. But there are no changes to the rules. There are no changes to the regulations. A lot of this is just a reminder of what is already existing.

KEITH: So kind of like, hey, evangelicals, remember me?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it is that. I mean, I do want to note that there is power in the president using his megaphone, using the Oval Office and using that stage to raise awareness. You can imagine schools, who may have concerns about some of these things, not wanting to kind of go against what the president says after an event like this.

There are - you know, there are cases where a coach, for example, from Washington that was holding prayers with his athletes after football games. That was - he was fired and let go because he refused to do that. I want to be clear - the guidelines, the new guidelines will not protect this coach, at least according to - they're written. But you could see that the school system, for example, thinking twice before taking action.

MONTANARO: You know, what this president is continuing to do is lay down building blocks for his base, so that as we're now in an election year, he can easily have that to keep them motivated, keep them energized. I mean, white evangelicals have been a core of Trump's support since the beginning, as ironic as that has been. The fact that there was this Christianity Today op-ed where you had one leader, the editor of that paper, say that he was - felt that Trump should be impeached. He was in the minority, to be totally honest, of white evangelicals.

According to our polling, 68% percent approve of the job the president's doing, while 53% of the country disapproves of the job he's doing. Seventy-four percent of white evangelicals oppose his impeachment, for example. And, you know, they voted for him at extraordinarily high numbers in 2016.

KEITH: Yeah. Ayesha, it was - what? - just, like, a week and a half and 500,000 new cycles ago that there was a really big deal about this Christianity Today op-ed, where this significant publication in evangelical circles weighed in.

RASCOE: Yeah, it was a big deal not because it really showed - as Domenico was saying, it didn't really show a shift in, you know, overall, white evangelicals moving away from President Trump. But this publication was founded by Reverend Billy Graham, and this was - so this is a big deal in evangelical circles, that the outgoing editor-in-chief, Mark Galli, basically said that he felt like President Trump did not have the character to be president. And he said that - just like this magazine at the time, during the Clinton administration, advocated that Clinton should be removed, they felt like President Trump should also be removed because of his character issues.

And you could tell that this bothered or at least got under the skin of President Trump because you had a lot of pastors writing letters - Billy Graham's son, Franklin Graham, wrote - you know, came out and said that his father would have voted for President Trump. Although, he has a lot of grandchildren, and they seem to be on all sides of this. But this was something that you see - President Trump wanted to show, no, the evangelicals are really with me. This magazine does not represent all evangelicals - because this is so important his base.

KEITH: Absolutely. All right, we are going to leave that here for now. We are going to take a quick break. And when we come back, Can't Let it Go.

And we're back. And it is time for that thing that we do every Friday, Can't Let it Go, where we talk about the one thing we all can't stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. Ayesha, you go first.

RASCOE: What I can't let go of this week is this video put out by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. She represents a district in Massachusetts. And she put out this video with theroot.com about her journey, and it turns out she has alopecia. She is a black woman. She was known for these beautiful twists and braids that she would have in her hair, a very style - or a very unique style at times for someone who is in public office because there have been all these issues over the years for black women and the way they wear their hair and whether braids are professional or not, supposedly.

But she hasn't been wearing them, and she wanted to explain why. And apparently, she has alopecia, which is...

KEITH: Yeah. What is alopecia?

RASCOE: So it's basically when you lose your hair. It can be - you can lose it in patches or lose it all over your head. And she has lost all of her hair. And this is a little bit of what she said.


AYANNA PRESSLEY: I think you might overly intellectualize it and say, it's just hair. People are well-meaning and have been reminding me of the India.Arie song, you know, "I Am Not My Hair" - you are not your hair. And that's true. But I still want it (laughter). So I'm trying to find my way here, and I do believe going public will help.

KEITH: She had been wearing a wig and then pulled it off.

RASCOE: She - yeah, she'd been wearing a wig, and she pulled it off in the video. And of course, she looked amazing with the wig, without the wig. But it really wasn't about that. I felt like she was so vulnerable in this moment. I mean, for any woman to stand there without any hair when that's not your choice, when you - I mean, some women, you know, cut off their - all their hair off, they look amazing. But this wasn't her choice, and she's still dealing with it and grappling with who she is. She's still the same person. But your hair can be such a huge part of who you are and how you look at yourself.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And anyone who does that, I mean, you're just - you're tremendously vulnerable in that moment. You're opening yourself up to everything that the Internet and social media will say. So I think it takes a lot of guts to open up that conversation.

KEITH: Domenico, what can't you let go of?

MONTANARO: Well, what I can't let go of is - we have a new album that came out and a song from Eminem, who is back again, yes.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

KEITH: Slim Shady is back again. OK.

MONTANARO: So, you know, it's - but it is - you know, he's always one to draw controversy. And what I found fascinating is part - this song is called "Darkness" that came out. And you're sort of led to believe in watching this then maybe it's him calling out for help. He has a substance abuse problem. He's going to be going on stage. And then you quickly realize what he's doing is acting out the shooting in Las Vegas. And it quickly turns into a very, very political video about gun violence in America. In fact, it ends with news clips that show more acts of gun violence that happened after Las Vegas. And there's a banner that goes up and says, when will this end? When enough people care.

So, you know, I was also struck by the fact that this is a time when it's like this kind of thing being put out would be highly controversial, gain a lot of attention, and there's not really that much being talked about with it. And I feel like people are so anesthetized to this kind of thing. I mean, the album is called "Music To Be Murdered By." I mean, imagine if this was the 1990s and that album came out.

KEITH: Well, if it was the 1990s, then Eminem would still be huge.

RASCOE: That's true. (Laughter) That is true. But I think also, too, it's just I think that it's amazing when you see the journeys that these artists go on because in the '90s, Eminem was just rapping about all sorts of very controversial things but not necessarily political. It was him, you know, talking about, like, hurting his baby mama and stuff like that. And now he's rapping and making this political statement.

KEITH: Franco, what can't you let go of?

ORDOÑEZ: What I can't let go of his how White House officials have been tickled by the fact on Wednesday's episode of "Jeopardy" that the contestants could not pick out a picture of the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff.

KEITH: What?

ORDOÑEZ: He was a - yeah. He was in a category titled U.S. representatives. And there was a - the question was 1/53 of California's House delegation is this House Intelligence Committee chairman. They flashed up a picture of the chairman. And...

KEITH: Wait, isn't this the greatest of all time Jeopardy, too? Like, these are...


MONTANARO: No, not anymore.

KEITH: Oh, we've already passed that?


KEITH: Womp-womp (ph). Sorry.


KEITH: These are clearly not the greatest of all time.

MONTANARO: We're back to layman "Jeopardy."

RASCOE: OK. Maybe they were too busy studying "Jeopardy" to turn on CNN for the past...

KEITH: Like presidents and...

RASCOE: ...Six months.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I do want to point out - I want to be very, very, very clear that these episodes are taped well in advance, months in advance, several months, so potentially likely before, you know, the thick of the impeachment proceedings where he was holding the gavel and taking the testimony of these witnesses, you know, foreign policy experts and what have you. But I still am...

MONTANARO: I was going to say, Franco says hopefully, with...

KEITH: Have they defended themselves?

MONTANARO: ...Given the lack of engagement.

KEITH: Have they come out and said, oh, my God, it was months ago? It's not my fault. I know who he is now.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean...

RASCOE: We're probably the only people that care.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I'm just stunned that more people - that - you know, Schiff has - it's not like this is the first time he's showed up. I mean, he's been a critic of the president for a while. And I'm a little concerned.

MONTANARO: Yeah, and this isn't "Wheel of Fortune." This is "Jeopardy."

ORDOÑEZ: This is "Jeopardy."

KEITH: But hey, on the other hand, most of America is not following this as closely as we are.

ORDOÑEZ: Exactly.

KEITH: All right, I get to go last. And what I can't let go of is a fellow named Diego.


KEITH: Headline in The New York Times - Diego, the Tortoise Whose High Sex Drive Helped Save His Species, Retires. With the future secured, he's finally going home. Good job, Diego.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Well, first of all - so I was fascinated by this. And I read some articles on this. And apparently, he wasn't even the most prolific mater out of this little group. But he was the most, like, flamboyant with it. Like, he was the most, like, out there...

KEITH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

RASCOE: ...With it.

KEITH: Here, let me verify this. So paternity tests indicate that Diego is responsible for about 40% of the offspring produced. Now this is an amazing thing. Let's just get the statistics out there. At the time that this project began, there were only 14 of these specific tortoises left - 12 females and two males, OK? Now the tortoise population is up to 2,000.

RASCOE: So they've been busy.

KEITH: Forty percent of their lineage goes back to Diego. But get this - there is another, more reserved, less charismatic male who has generated about 60%.


KEITH: So, like, Diego...

MONTANARO: Two of them?

KEITH: ...Gets a big retirement party, all this attention. And this other, like, tortoise with no name...

RASCOE: He was putting in all the work.

KEITH: ...He was doing the work.

MONTANARO: Wait, can we talk about the fact that two tortoises are responsible for all of these offspring?

KEITH: But then there were baby tortoises who had baby tortoises who had baby tortoises.

MONTANARO: Yeah, but genetically, that's not good for anything.

RASCOE: No, I think that's what...

KEITH: Well, it's better than no tortoises.

RASCOE: Well, I think that's what Tam is saying, that they had - that they didn't father all of them. But they are - their genes helped, you know, push it forward.

ORDOÑEZ: I think the real question is, why did they name him Diego? Because when you first said Diego, I kept thinking of my son's favorite cartoon character.

MONTANARO: Yeah, Dora.

ORDOÑEZ: And now anytime I see that show when I go home, I'm going to think of the turtle.

KEITH: Here's the thing; Diego is more than 100 years old. And this mating adventure began in 1965. So it was the '60s.

RASCOE: Free love.

ORDOÑEZ: OK. I'm going to bring you over to explain that to my son.

MONTANARO: Yeah, really.

KEITH: Not my job. All right, that is a wrap for today.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

KEITH: And let's end the week by thanking the team that puts this show together. Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producer is Barton Girdwood. Our production assistant is Chloe Weiner. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl, Dana Farrington, Brandon Carter and Elena Moore. And a very fond farewell - this is, like, so sad - to one of our very best, very favorite political reporters on the team, Jessica Taylor. She is off to become the senator and governor's editor for The Cook Political Report.

ORDOÑEZ: Big job.

KEITH: So cool, such a cool job. I'm Tamara Keith. I covered the White House.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe, I also cover the White House.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I also cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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