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The Week In Politics


This morning, President Trump's legal team began their arguments against removing him from office. This, of course, follows three days of arguments made by Democrats to do so in the Senate impeachment trial. Here's Jay Sekulow, one of the president's lawyers, laying out the case that the president was a marked man before he even entered office.


JAY SEKULOW: Let's, for a moment, put ourselves in the shoes of the president of the United States right now. Before he was sworn into office, he was subjected to an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

SIMON: And White House counsel - forgive me - White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued that removing the president was a strike against democracy.


PAT CIPOLLONE: They're asking you to tear up all of the ballots across this country on your own initiative, take that decision away from the American people. And I don't think they spent one minute of their 24 hours talking to you about the consequences of that for our country - not one minute.

SIMON: And deputy White House counsel Michael Purpura argued that President Trump did not condition military aid to Ukraine on an investigation into Joe Biden and his son.


MICHAEL PURPURA: The transcript shows that the president did not condition either security assistance or a meeting on anything. The paused security assistance funds aren't even mentioned on the call. Second, President Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that there was no quid pro quo and no pressure on them to review anything.

SIMON: We have NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving with us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: The session, I gather, has just wrapped. We heard from a number of people already. What seems to be the main arguments?

ELVING: The main argument is that the president did absolutely nothing wrong. At one point, one of his lawyers said the overwhelming evidence is that the president did nothing wrong. Now, this might be a little surprising to some people because there are probably easier ways to defend a president from an impeachment proceeding than by saying there was absolutely nothing wrong. But it is what the president has been saying about himself, and this defense seems very much to have been designed to please the president as opposed to looking for the sweet spot of perhaps where public opinion or the feelings of senators might be.

SIMON: A major part of the case that they're developing, at least based on arguments presented today and maybe some press interviews, is that Ukrainians didn't even find out that aid was being held up until they read about it in Politico.

ELVING: The evidence for that is that right after that Politico article on August 29, many Ukrainian officials started calling Americans and saying let's talk about this. So one could assume at that juncture that they had either just found out about it or they had just seen that it was now public. And being public is a very different situation from just not getting the aid. It does, however, strain credulity to think that at that late date, after months of waiting for this aid that had already been approved by Congress back last winter, the Ukrainians would not have noticed that it was not flowing.

SIMON: The president's defenders seem to get back to the transcript of what the president once called a perfect call. And they point out - and I wonder about your assessment of it - that the president never explicitly says unless you come across with information for us, I'm going to withhold aid. Isn't that correct?

ELVING: That is correct. And there is a great deal to be said for the distinction between explicit and implicit. And again and again, we are going to hear the president's defenders say nothing was made explicit. We did not have a clear statement of a quid pro quo, and all these witnesses that the House managers keep referring to are talking about what they presume or what they assume, and we heard a waterfall of video tape clips of people saying those two words. And that is going to be a particularly strong part of the president's defense.

But I think we should also say one other thing about this word, transcript. We hear frequent references to the transcript as though it were a total and actual transcript. But actually, what we got back last summer, and the only thing we've ever gotten, was a summary.

SIMON: That's right. NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for
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