Democrats Conclude Opening Arguments; Election Security Risks Persist Democratic impeachment managers conclude their opening arguments Friday night in the Senate Impeachment trial. The president's defense team begins their arguments Saturday morning, a timeslot President Trump referred to as "Death Valley in T.V."

And is the country more prepared for misinformation and election interference now than it was in 2016? NPR's Secure Your Vote series documents the progress and continuing challenges.

This episode: campaign correspondent Scott Detrow, White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, congressional correspondent Susan Davis, political reporter Miles Parks, and Election Security editor Phil Ewing.

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Democrats Conclude Opening Arguments; Election Security Risks Persist

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Democrats Conclude Opening Arguments; Election Security Risks Persist

Democrats Conclude Opening Arguments; Election Security Risks Persist

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Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the campaign.

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

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: And I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

DETROW: And it is 7:47 Eastern on Friday, January 24. And as we tape this, the Democrats are concluding their opening arguments in the impeachment trial of President Trump. They're still going. But, Sue, what was the focus today?

DAVIS: I think today everyone was about hitting the high notes, trying to leave the most lasting impression on the senators and their - really, their last best case to make before the White House teams takes over tomorrow morning.

DETROW: We had talked a lot about how the obstruction of Congress argument might be a little harder to make because, among other things, Congress didn't, you know, issue a lot of subpoenas. They didn't challenge this in court. Did that come up in any way in the Democrats' presentation? Did they anticipate those questions about their case?

DAVIS: Not yet. I think those - that will come up when senators have chances to ask questions. I did think it was notable today that they really spent most of their three days on the first article - the abuse of power. I mean, that's really where the bulk of the argument landed. They really only turned to the second article - this question of obstruction of Congress - just this afternoon. So, clearly, the abuse of power case is the one that Democrats feel like they have the most powerful case to make, certainly, at least, rhetorically.

RASCOE: So, Sue, you were there. Were there any standout moments?

DAVIS: Have you guys ever seen the movie "A Time To Kill" with Matthew McConaughey?

RASCOE: I have.

DAVIS: So...

DETROW: It's been a long time.

DAVIS: It's been a long time, but it's a pretty famous movie. And it's famous because at the end of the movie, he's an attorney and he's trying to make the case for a conviction against a young African American female. And there's this famous line in the movie where he asked the jury to close their eyes, and he recounts the crime. And then at the end, he says, now, imagine that she's white. And it was basically the point being - that making the juror think about, what if this crime had happened to them? - because it was an all-white jury. And I feel like Adam Schiff had his now-imagine-it-was-you moment on the floor of the Senate today, where he basically said to them, do you think the president wouldn't do this to you if he thought it would benefit himself?


ADAM SCHIFF: Do you think for a moment that any of you, no matter what your relationship with this president, no matter how close you are to this president - do you think for a moment that if he felt it was in his interest, he wouldn't ask you to be investigated? Do you think for a moment that he wouldn't? And if somewhere deep down below you realize that he would, you cannot leave a man like that in office when he has violated the Constitution.

DAVIS: Pretty powerful stuff from Schiff.

RASCOE: Yes. But so, you know - but who knows whether that really kind of played well with the actual senators, whether that really touched any hearts or minds.

DETROW: But there are - sure, there are a lot of Senate Republicans who are very onboard with the Trump administration, with the Trump agenda. But there are a lot who have been pretty skeptical here or there. And they've seen the way that - you know, I can't vouch for, would he investigate them right away? But he certainly will attack personally any Republican who mildly criticizes him in the Senate a lot. And yet, it seems like Adam Schiff's argument was falling mostly on deaf ears.

DAVIS: Well, we don't know, right? I mean, this is the thing - is that the small orbit of votes that are up for grabs aren't really talking. But we do know things like this. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, two of the senators we've talked about a lot, are two of the senators who have also been the most attentive inside the Senate gallery. They are the ones that are taking notes. They are the ones that say they have lots of questions. They're also the ones who are saying, we're not going to show our hand until we've made up our minds, so we don't presume there's going to be any big breakthroughs. But these senators are clearly - they clearly have a lot of questions. I think one thing we're going to watch and see from there is what kind of questions they're asking from when they get to Senator questions and how much room there really is for any kind of bipartisan compromise on potential witnesses or documents.

DETROW: Ayesha, tomorrow, the president's defense team begins its presentations. They've been telegraphing their approach a lot more in the last day or so. What can we expect to hear from them tomorrow?

RASCOE: Yeah, so the president's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, who will be helping to lead the defense, he talked to reporters today. And what he was talking about was the Steele dossier. Do you remember that? - kind of some greatest hits from the Russia investigation and, you know, the concerns that the administration was raising then about that Russia investigation. He says he's going to bring that up because he thinks that shows kind of, I guess, some hypocrisy on the part of Democrats and then, also, this idea of going after the Bidens - that because House impeachment managers have talked about Biden a bit, they feel like that's opened the door. They're going to talk about Biden. And they were probably going to talk about him anyway, but...


RASCOE: They're saying the door has been opened. But just for tomorrow, it seems like they're not going to go very long tomorrow. They're saying they are going to talk for just a little bit tomorrow, kind of give a broad overview. They're not going to get into the nitty gritty until next week.

DETROW: So seems like Russia is going to come up a lot tomorrow and the next few days from President Trump's defense team. But, of course, the articles of impeachment - most of the conversation is about Ukraine and the way the Trump administration pressured Ukraine. We did actually hear from a top-ranking Trump administration official on the issue of Ukraine, on a lot of the questions of what the Trump administration was doing this spring and summer to pressure or not pressure Ukraine. That was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who sat down with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly for an interview today, and it got pretty contentious.


MARY LOUISE KELLY: As a shadow foreign policy, as a back-channel policy on Ukraine was being developed, did you try to block it?

MIKE POMPEO: The Ukraine policy's been run from the Department of State for the entire time that I have been here, and our policy was very clear. I've been clear about that.

KELLY: Marie Yovanovitch testified under oath that Ukraine policy was hijacked.

POMPEO: I've been clear about that. I know exactly what we were doing. I know precisely what - the direction that the State Department gave to our officials around the world about how to manage our Ukraine policy.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you for your time. Thank you.

KELLY: Secretary, thank you. Thank you.

DETROW: And this is Marie Louise Kelly talking about this exchange with Ari Shapiro, co-host of All Things Considered.


ARI SHAPIRO: Mary Louise Kelly is here in the studio. And, Mary Louise, will you explain what's happening at the end of the interview there?

KELLY: Hey, Ari. What is happening there as an aide has stopped the interview, said, we're done. Thank you. And you heard me thank the secretary. He did not reply. He leaned in, glared at me and then turned and, with his aides, left the room. Moments later, the same staffer who had stopped the interview reappeared, asked me to come with her - just me, no recorder - though she did not say we were off the record, nor would I have agreed.

I was taken to the secretary's private living room, where he was waiting and where he shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself had lasted. He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked, do you think Americans care about Ukraine? He used the F-word in that sentence and many others. He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes. He called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked.


KELLY: I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, people will hear about this. And then he turned and said he had things to do. And I thanked him again for his time and left.

DAVIS: People are hearing about it.


RASCOE: They are hearing about it. And, you know, look - this is an administration that has definitely attacked reporters - you know, in public, in private. But this is extreme. The secretary of state cursing out - well, as I - cussing out (laughter) the - Mary Louise Kelly over questions about Ukraine, which - that's the news of the day.


RASCOE: That's what we do. We ask questions.

DETROW: And I think it shows for all the bluster that there is some sensitivity and concern for the Trump administration on this topic. And also, like, literally of anyone at NPR who could probably pick out any country on a map...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

DETROW: ...That's the person who knows the most.

RASCOE: Isn't it? Yes, it's Mary Louise Kelly. Like, you think she doesn't know where Ukraine is? Like, come on.

DAVIS: I also think - I mean, it doesn't - this ultimately isn't going to affect, I think, senators' thoughts on impeachment. But it does bolster the case that Adam Schiff was trying to make today in that this is an administration that does not care about Ukraine and, in doing so, has ultimately weakened national security. And having the secretary of state, the top diplomat for the United States of America, get in Mary Louise Kelly's face and say, do you think Americans care about Ukraine - to me, that was actually the most provocative part of that exchange.

DETROW: Yeah. All right. We're going to take a quick break now. Just a reminder that as the impeachment trial continues tomorrow, we will be covering it on your local public radio station on Up First, which is now available on Saturdays. And we will have an episode of the NPR POLITICS PODCAST tomorrow afternoon.

Ayesha, Sue, thanks so much.

DAVIS: Thanks, Scott.

RASCOE: Thank you.

DETROW: Get some rest before you're back at it tomorrow.

RASCOE: (Laughter) I'm off tomorrow.

DETROW: Oh. Don't say that too loud.

RASCOE: I know.


DAVIS: I'm in the Capitol right now, and I'll be back here bright and early tomorrow morning.

DETROW: All right. Good luck. We'll be listening. In the meantime, we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll talk election security.


DETROW: And we're back. And I'm now joined by NPR's Miles Parks, who covers election security.

Hey, Miles.


DETROW: Nice to have you.

PARKS: Thank you.

DETROW: And we've got Phil Ewing, our election security editor.

Hey, Phil.

PHIL EWING, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

DETROW: So I think we're going to talk about election security here. We are a bit more than a week out from the Iowa caucuses, and the both of you have been reporting a lot this week on the security of our election systems. How's it stand right now?

PARKS: Well, looking ahead at the rest of the year of elections, I think it's inarguable that we are in a much better position heading into 2020 than we were in 2016 for a couple different reasons. From a technical standpoint, more people are going to be voting on paper ballots, ballots that involve paper, which all cybersecurity experts say is a really good thing. We've cut the amount of electronic-only balloting almost - more than in half. A lot less voters are going to be voting on paperless machines.

EWING: Here's the other thing. I don't remember exactly every podcast we've done, but I don't think we did one at this stage ahead of 2016 that was focused on election security. But the fact that we are and the fact that we've been able to do so much coverage before the first vote is even cast in these primaries just underscores how much more attention is being paid to this by those of us who are covering security - the campaigns and politics, but also by those in officialdom at every level.

DETROW: So how far does that awareness get us, though, in term - thinking of terms of voters being aware and officials being aware?

EWING: It goes pretty far down. In fact, another of our colleagues, Pam Fessler, had a great story recently that included an anecdote about an election official in Texas who got a mysterious phone call from someone who said, tell me some things about your security. And I need you to go to a website and use your credentials to log in - and just generally acted very suspicious with this woman over the phone.

And according to this interview that Pam did, this elections official immediately was put on her guard because she's been primed to expect someone testing her cyberdefenses, their security practices, et cetera. And she sent the flag up. She alerted her superiors. They alerted the Department of Homeland Security. And in this case, it was somebody red-teaming, as they say - the security for that particular district in Texas.

But the takeaway was the system worked. People were paying attention. And the lesson, at least according to what people are telling our reporters, is that people are ready now in a way they weren't before.

DETROW: And for those of us who aren't Phil Ewing, can you explain red team?

EWING: A red team in the cyberworld is where - let's say you think you have a secure system or secure practices. You might bring in people from the outside and say, I want you to knock down my barriers or test truly how secure my systems are. And we'll use that to try to see where I can shore up my practices.

PARKS: The other thing is, from a communications standpoint, it's just so clear that the government has a much better grasp on planning ahead of this election than they did leading up to 2016. We had a big announcement a couple of weeks ago from the FBI that said they're changing the way that they're actually communicating around cyberbreaches related to election infrastructure.

We remember after the 2016 election and in the Mueller report, it came out that two Florida counties - we still don't know which counties they were - but two Florida counties were breached, had their election systems breached, but the state officials, the governor and the secretary of state didn't find out about those breaches until years later because the FBI told the counties that were breached but didn't relay that information up the line. The FBI says it's going to be different this time around. If a breach like that happens, they're going to tell the county as well as the state.

EWING: It's notable, though, that they still haven't said which counties were breached in 2016.

PARKS: Right. They say they're protecting their methods - that if they gave up this information, that it would theoretically make elections in the U.S. less safe. A lot of cyber experts kind of call baloney on that, but it's what the government says.

DETROW: So, Phil, NPR actually recently sat down with the woman who is in charge of election security. What did we learn from that conversation on Morning Edition?

EWING: It was really interesting. Her name's Shelby Pierson. She's the kind of supremo czar for election security inside the intelligence community. Her job is fusing all the things that all the agencies in that big alphabet soup of spy world are learning about these threats. And on the one hand, her interview was encouraging because, as we've been talking about, someone like her exists, she has this job, she's paying attention and she's preparing before the fact. But she also said some potentially really scary things. She said the threat is much broader and more diverse than it was in 2016.


SHELBY PIERSON: The Russians, for example, are already engaging in influence operations relative to candidates going into 2020. But we do not have evidence at this time that our adversaries are directly looking at interfering with vote counts or the vote tallies.

NOEL KING: Is it fair to say we don't know what Russia's going to do yet?

PIERSON: I think that is a fair characterization. And I would also say that this isn't a Russia-only problem. We're still also concerned about China, Iran, nonstate actors, hacktivists and, frankly, certainly for DHS and FBI, even Americans that might be looking to undermine confidence in the elections.

EWING: And she reinforced this dilemma, which dovetails with what Miles said a moment ago, about how much the government should reveal about what it's learning, who it should tell, how much it should say. And we are going to potentially have some really tough test cases coming up this year if there are things that happen like the things that happened in 2016, many of which we didn't find out until after the fact. The question is will Shelby Pierson or others reveal them to the public in real time? And if so, how will that affect the politics of the presidential election?

DETROW: This is interesting 'cause you're both saying that a lot of steps have been taken. There are a lot of plans in place. And I feel like that does not seem to be the case with the things that we often talk about in conjunction with election security, and that is misinformation campaigns and foreign interference in elections through spreading misinformation, which, by and large, it seems like we haven't quite figured out whether we want to address that or not.

PARKS: I think it's clear that 2016 was not a one-off event in the sense that elections in this country are never going to - potentially never going to be the same in terms of we're going to be feeling the ripple effects from a confidence perspective from people having doubts about the legitimacy of our elections this time around and in the future. And election officials are going to have to keep working at that.

We had an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll out this week that found that almost 40% of Americans think another country is going to manipulate votes in this year's election. That is an astounding number considering we never saw any evidence that even happened in 2016, and we have no evidence that that's ever happened in an American election. The fact that people have that many doubts about the election infrastructure is really worrying.

EWING: Here's the other thing that's scary as we look ahead. You don't know what you don't know. And not notwithstanding all these promises and reassuring statements made by state and local and federal officials, if 2016 was just a trial run or a proof-of-concept test for people who want to interfere in the United States in 2020 - is when the real show actually gets started. New, more sophisticated, different techniques are employed by foreign governments, or even people in the United States. We're going to be reacting to that in real time. And so we're all just going to have to keep paying attention to it the whole time.

DETROW: So one last thing here before we take a quick break. Miles, the very first thing you said was that more votes will be cast on paper ballots, and that's a good thing. But you had an exclusive report this week on one voting district that is going to vote via smartphone.

PARKS: Right. This is not going to be in a primary or in the general election for the presidential race, but it is going to be the first election in U.S. election history where all eligible voters will be able to cast a ballot on a smartphone. This is in King County, Washington state, which houses the greater Seattle area. And it's for a small-state environmental agency called the King Conservation District. They announced this week that they're going to allow all voters to cast a vote via smartphone in their upcoming February election, which raises a lot of security concerns.

And it also shows how the election system in this country is kind of disparate. We have, at the same time, more voters voting on paper while there are also these pockets of election officials who are showing a clear disregard for best cybersecurity practices in favor of trying to chase turnout.

DETROW: All right. Well, we were obviously focused a lot on impeachment this week, but Miles and Phil both wrote a lot of stories on this broad topic of election security, and you can read them all at We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, things we can't let go of this week.

All right. We are back with Can't Let It Go, the time each week where we take a moment to talk about the things we can't let go of, politics or otherwise. I will go first. My Can't Let It Go is decidedly not politics. This was a week where if you were a New York-area sports fan, you felt incredibly old. Eli Manning of the New York Giants retired. And for me, more notably, Derek Jeter, the longtime Yankees shortstop, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, which was very exciting. I grew up as a Yankees fan, and one of the things I really appreciated this week and brought back something to me was that a lot of the articles about *it pointed out that Jeter had the skill of getting almost 3,500 hits, but he also had the skill of navigating the New York sports media for two decades without ever really making himself look like an idiot by and large and was just really good at avoiding questions.

And I was thinking about the fact that one time as a high schooler, I snuck into a baseball press conference posing as a journalist, which I guess wasn't a lie 'cause I eventually became a journalist. And it was for the All-Star Game, and Derek Jeter was there. And I went up to him at a crowded press conference, and I got a question in, but it was the question of, like, a super fanboy. And I was like, Derek Jeter, if the 1998 Yankees played the 1927 Yankees, who do you think would win?

PARKS: What did he say?

DETROW: He just kind of stared at me for two or three seconds. Then he was like, I don't know.

PARKS: (Laughter) I will say that I also had a similar feeling of excitement about the Derek Jeter thing for an opposite reason. I've been spending the entirety of my life hating the Yankees.


PARKS: And so it was really great to watch him not be a unanimous Hall of Famer. There was one ballot that did not include Derek Jeter, which gave me a lot of joy because I got to watch a lot of Yankees fans get very, very upset.

DETROW: Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat who is one of the House managers, brought up this one voter on the floor of the Senate during the Senate impeachment trial. That is how much New Yorkers were upset about this.


HAKEEM JEFFRIES: And I understand that House managers - certainly, we hope we can subpoena John Bolton, subpoena Mick Mulvaney. But perhaps we can all agree to subpoena the Baseball Hall of Fame to try to figure out who out of 397 individuals - one person - voted against Derek Jeter.

PARKS: I don't know who the voter is, but if you're out there and listening, I will buy you lunch. Phil, was it you?

EWING: It was me. It was I who cast the vote against Jeter to get into the Hall of Fame.

PARKS: I think he was a poor defensive shortstop.

EWING: He was.

DETROW: Miles with the haterade. Phil, what can you not let go of?

EWING: Well, I have spent the preceding week focused not only on impeachment but on one of the most strange institutions in this republic, your United States Senate.


EWING: And it is a strange place made all the stranger by these impeachment proceedings, among other things because of the restrictions imposed on itself and its members during the time when senators are sitting as a jury in judgment of the president. They can't leave the Senate chamber. They can't have their mobile telephones. They can't do anything really except take part in these bizarre rituals and adaptations that they've kind of brought into the Senate for the purposes of this impeachment. One thing was Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina gave out all the Republicans fidget spinners so they could, like, doodle with these toys while they're sitting listening to the Democrat presentation.

And the other thing is they're restricted in what they can have to drink on the Senate floor. They can only have water and milk, and so we've had a lot of coverage on NPR and elsewhere about this milk that these senators have been drinking. I know we've talked about this on the pod before, but you know there are a hundred members of the United States Senate, which means you're going to get a hundred different takes on the milk and dairy and water restrictions for consumption on the floor, including, in one case, Republican Senator Tom Cotton, one of the first to get a glass of milk. He was asked whether, in fact, he had ordered this milk. And he responded on Twitter, and he said this, it's true I had some milk with my chocolate, which is another thing Senators are allowed to have. I guess I could've added vodka and had a White Russian, minus the Kahlua, but Adam Schiff probably would've accused me of collusion.

PARKS: It's a good joke.

DETROW: Yeah, he's got a zinger. Miles, what about you?

PARKS: Yeah, I just want to get a little bit of joy in here. One more...

DETROW: Derek Jeter being elected to the Hall of Fame was not joyous for you?

PARKS: The opposite of joyful for me. But for my big, joyful sports moment was the debut of Zion Williamson, who is kind of like the most exciting prospect in basketball since - a lot of people say since LeBron James. He made his debut on Wednesday night after being out for the beginning of the season with a knee injury. And he is, like, this amazing - he's got this awesome smile. He's built like a football player. And he comes out there. It's in New Orleans where he's playing, and the hometown crowd's super excited to see him.

He doesn't really do much for the first couple minutes of the game. Fourth quarter comes up, they're down by, like, 10 or 12 points. And then I actually went and pulled the highlights and pulled the sound. I just want to have you guys listen. And this is not something that happened over the course of the game. I didn't take, like, highlights from the entire game. This is, like, six minutes of real time that I just put together. And you can imagine me watching on my couch alone in my apartment yelling after each one of these shots.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Pulling the trigger and getting it through (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Lob to Zion, and he finishes over DeRozan.

DETROW: I like how it's not just cheering. It's clearly everyone going, oh.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Zion for 4-4. Welcome to the NBA.

PARKS: And this guy's, like, huge.

DETROW: Were you doing this, too, on your couch?

PARKS: This is me. And he's shooting 3-pointers. This guy should not be shooting 3-pointers. It's very clear that the San Antonio Spurs are like, you can't shoot. Go ahead. Keep shooting these 25-foot shots. And it's just one after the other after the other. And by the end, people are just up. They're going absolutely nuts. And it was just an awesome, awesome moment to see.

EWING: So, Miles, if I understand you correctly, here is a giant basketball man who should use his huge size to put the ball into the hoop. But what you're describing is a basketball man who has the power to throw the ball into the hoop from the court...

PARKS: More importantly...

EWING: ...A significant distance away and, in so doing, score points for his squadron, correct?

PARKS: And bring joy to many people.

EWING: And bring joy to a young teenager named Miles Park.

PARKS: The most important part of this is just the idea that somebody this young in his early 20s could have his first moment ever on such a huge stage and perform this well. To me, the amount of pressure that was on him - in the basketball world, it's like all people could talk about for the last four months is, like, when is he coming back? When is he coming back? And this was his debut, his first ever game, and he does this. It was just pretty cool to watch.

DETROW: I'm a little worried that ESPN is going to come scoop up Phil Ewing after that analysis right there.

EWING: Sports ball is one of my areas in which we comment.

DETROW: What we can't let go of this week - sports, alcohol, more sports.

That is a wrap. A reminder that the impeachment trial does continue tomorrow, a Saturday, but you can catch more on the end of tonight's arguments from the Democrats and what to look for from the president's team tomorrow on Up First tomorrow morning. That's right, Up First does post on Saturday mornings now. And, of course, we will have another edition of this podcast tomorrow afternoon. Until then, I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the campaign.

PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

EWING: And I'm Phil Ewing, election security editor.

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


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