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Your Senate Impeachment Trial Questions


We are beginning this hour with a look ahead to the Senate impeachment trial that begins Tuesday. Yesterday, House Democrats and the White House each gave us a preview of their arguments. In response to the Senate impeachment summons, White House lawyers argued, quote, "the articles of impeachment are constitutionally invalid," unquote, adding that they, quote, "fail to allege any crime or violation of law whatsoever." In their filing, House prosecutors said, quote, "President Trump's conduct is the framers' worst nightmare." They allege he used his official powers to pressure Ukraine to interfere in a U.S. election and that he obstructed Congress as they investigated his conduct.

This has been a complex and evolving story. An impeachment itself is such a rare event that we assume many people have questions. So from time to time, we've been asking you to tweet us your questions, and we've asked experts to answer them. And we've called on Timothy Naftali once again. He's one of the co-authors of the book "Impeachment: An American History."

Professor Naftali, thank you so much for joining us once again for this.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI: My pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's start with a question we got from Tracy Warden (ph). She asked, what rights does the president have with regards to the trial, and what can he be compelled to do?

NAFTALI: During his trial, President Clinton was so angry he burst out at one point saying, look, I have fewer rights than people have in a regular court in any part of this country. The rules of the trial are set up by the senators themselves. The senators are - in part, they're jurors, of course, but they're also the court. What that means is that the president has the rights that the Senate gives him. And then, of course, the senators have to remember that they will be judged by the American people if what they have done seems unfair.

MARTIN: We've also gotten some questions about how the trial will proceed. Jean Burrell (ph) tweeted us these questions. Do the federal rules of evidence apply? And can evidence revealed after the trial begins be presented?

NAFTALI: The final question involves the key question - can new evidence be introduced? Because the senators are a court in addition to being jurors, they can decide whether or not there can be a new evidence introduced into the trial. In the case of the Clinton trial, you had an unusual moment where both the Republican leader in the Senate and the Democratic leader - both of them agreed not to introduce new evidence.

Well, we don't expect that kind of agreement between Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer. And so the issue of what new discovery or information would be - that's going to be debated, and that will be decided by a majority vote of the senators in the Trump trial.

MARTIN: And we're going to end with a question about what might come next. What happens if President Trump is voted out but will not leave?

NAFTALI: The nightmare scenario. Our Constitution ultimately depends on all members of our elected establishment to be people of good faith. The founders didn't write down what to do if the three branches of government disagreed on a major constitutional point. Now, this is not the same as saying not leaving office when his term has abruptly ended. But Richard Nixon considered not obeying the Supreme Court decision. He ultimately went and did the right thing, but it took a number of hours.

We don't know what the outcome would have been if Richard Nixon had said, I disagree with the court. There is in the end a real need for our leaders to respect the wisdom of our founders. According to their wisdom, if you are removed by a vote of two thirds of the Senate, you must leave. But they don't explain how. And we would hope and they would have hoped that future leaders would care more for the country than themselves and if they lost a constitutional battle would accept their loss and move on.

MARTIN: That is sobering (laughter). That is Timothy Naftali, historian and co-author of the book "Impeachment: An American History."

Professor Naftali, thank you so much for joining us. And I hope and assume we'll talk again.

NAFTALI: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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