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Democrat Debbie Stabenow On President Trump's Senate Defense


Today marks a rare break in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump following a marathon week that went late into several evenings. Yesterday, the president's legal team began its defense. We're very glad that Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, has agreed to join us this morning on the one day during which she's not acting as a juror in the case. Good morning, Senator. Thanks for being with us.

DEBBIE STABENOW: Well, good morning, Lulu. It's good to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator, one of the arguments the defense is pursuing is building an alternative version of events in which the aid to Ukraine was withheld. One of the arguments made by the president's lawyer Pat Cipollone was that to hold on the aid - that the hold on the aid was driven by the president's desire for other nations to share in supporting Ukraine rather than a ploy to get Ukraine to kneecap a political rival. Do you think they were able to support that argument?

STABENOW: Well, so far - first off, let me say, in listening to everything and listening to that first day of the White House defense, I think what's most important is that through all of this, they don't act like they're defending somebody who's innocent, which I find very interesting. I mean, the president, first of all, would be acting very differently if he was innocent. He would want his top people, who heard the call, to testify. He'd want to release documents. It would be very, very different rather than all of these theories as you're talking about it. And they're certainly not even contesting the facts of what happened. So when they look at Ukraine and they talk about burden sharing, the president has talked about burden sharing. Now, in this case with Ukraine, the European Union gives substantial dollars. Others do. I mean...


STABENOW: ...That's a legitimate question. But here's what I think is important...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Records examined by The New York Times have shown that some officials were pursuing the question of burden sharing while the freeze on military aid was playing out.

STABENOW: Well, here's what I think is most important, though, in this particular situation. And that is to follow the dates over the years and how the president has reacted to Ukraine. So 2017, he comes in. There's no talk of corruption and holding back aid or other burden sharing in order to help Ukraine.

He moves forward in 2018 - bipartisan supporting Congress to support Ukraine. Nothing talked about like this at all - 2019. And then what changed? And I thought this was very significant. And what Congressman Schiff said - what changed was vice - former Vice President Joe Biden announcing for president and looking like he was strong.

And then all of a sudden, we have a situation where it's, we need to be doing investigations, specifically on the Bidens and Ukraine. And then when they got caught through the whistleblower, they'd now come back to put together a case after the fact. And they're using burden sharing. I've not seen anything yet that substantiates that in terms of the facts. But what we're seeing is, you know, build the case afterwards, deflect, distract, distort...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What they're trying to show...

STABENOW: ...And cover it up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Is reasonable doubt, right? Can we really know the president's intentions from what the Democrats presented?

STABENOW: But in - at - contrary, though, to a trial with reasonable doubt, per se, this is about the president of the United States and whether or not he's above the law. And by the way, in a regular courtroom, you would have witnesses and documents, you know, which would - we've never heard of a situation before where you wouldn't bring forward the people who could actually, you know - were in the room and could say what's happening and defend the president if he was not breaking the law.

But the fact is in this situation, which is extremely serious - when I look at the decisions I've had to make, other than votes on going to war, I can't think of a more important decision than whether or not to remove a president of the United States. And the issue really is, is he above the law? Is any president above the law? And so that's what they have to address - what he did, the fact that - in fact, he broke the law in holding up the aid. And for them, they need to go right to the facts. And so far we're not seeing that yet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Senator, we only have a few more moments. But I want to talk about witnesses. The vote on that question will not come until later this week. There's been some reporting about a proposal that would trade witnesses for witnesses, possibly trading John Bolton's testimony for that of Hunter Biden. Would you welcome that sort of deal?

STABENOW: I think we need to keep it to the folks that are relevant to the question. So it's not about deflecting the folks that don't know anything about the phone call, the intimidation of the new Ukrainian president, the illegally holding up the aid, the cover-up afterwards. Anyone relevant to that should be allowed in. And the others that kind of just, you know, move forward the political case that the president and Rudy Giuliani are trying to do, the conspiracy theories, have no business in this trial.

So that's what I'd like to see. And I can tell you from Michigan that what people want is a fair trial regardless of whether they support or oppose the impeachment decision. They want to know that this is fair because this is very important. This is a big deal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We'll have to leave it there. Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, thank you very much.

STABENOW: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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