RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The impeachment inquiry may start to feel real to a lot more people this morning. House Democrats are expected to unveil their articles of impeachment against President Trump this morning. Yesterday, lawyers for both parties laid out their cases in a public hearing.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal was there. She's a Democrat from Washington state and a leader of the Progressive Caucus. And she joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us, Congresswoman.
PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Good morning. It's wonderful to be with you.
MARTIN: I know you don't want to get ahead of your party leadership and this announcement today. But what can you tell us about the scope of the articles of impeachment?
JAYAPAL: Well, we - Judiciary Committee members met over the weekend. We met again last night after listening to the presentation from the Intel Committee, both majority and minority. We are meeting again this morning at 8 o'clock to talk about exactly how we apply that legal and constitutional framework to what we heard.
And what I can tell you is that the president's abuse of power in essentially shaking down a foreign government to get them to interfere in our election and withholding taxpayer dollars - military aid that was desperately needed - is the core of the case. I think there is a pattern of conduct here that goes, you know, to what we saw in the Mueller report that I think will somehow be incorporated. But what we're talking about is gross abuse of power...
MARTIN: You mentioned them...
JAYAPAL: ...Obstruction of Congress.
MARTIN: So two things to follow up on there. Obstruction of Congress - so that is likely to be another article of impeachment, not just abuse of power?
JAYAPAL: Well, I don't want to get ahead, as you said, of the party. But I think that certainly, you know, what we heard the law professors testify to us last week is that - when you have a president who believes that he is above the law and above any checks and balances, a president who is unprecedented in blocking and obstructing every witness from coming to testify, not providing any documents - and then he himself, as you know, not coming to testify before us or sending his legal counsel - that is a gross violation of the checks and balances.
And that obstruction of Congress essentially means that we no longer have a democracy. We no longer have those checks and balances that the framers were so intent on providing so that no one individual - or one body, in this case, since we have three - would ever be unchecked in its power.
MARTIN: Republicans have criticized Democrats for trying to find a reason to impeach this president ever since the Mueller investigation and even before that. I mean, you referenced the Mueller report. Will the articles of impeachment include aspects of Mueller's investigation? Should it be that broad?
JAYAPAL: Well, certainly what we saw in the Mueller report was terrible and really, really substantive in its content. But what I will tell you is that what we're seeing unfolding in Ukraine is even worse, more egregious because the president is already in office as he is soliciting this assistance in our elections from Ukraine - as he is coercing, I should say, Ukraine to get involved in our elections. So same pattern but significantly worse because now the president is in the White House.
MARTIN: Although there were no hearings, no witnesses during the inquiry as it pertains to the Mueller report - so is it fair to include that in potential articles?
JAYAPAL: Well, I don't know that we're - I mean, we're still in that process of determining. But I will tell you that, you know, in the Clinton impeachment, as well, the only witness that came to testify was the special prosecutor. And so this is typical, where you would have the special prosecutor presenting the evidence. Yesterday on Ukraine, we had the Intel Committee present the evidence. This has been eight months of witnesses and testimony about this president's conduct and particularly about his abuse of power, which I think we have seen in multiple different ways. But obviously, the most severe is what's unfolding in front of us with Ukraine.
MARTIN: Some Republicans have asked - why? Why move so quickly? Why not let the courts, for example, rule on those subpoenas that the Trump administration is challenging? What's your answer to that?
JAYAPAL: Well, I have two answers. One is that the Republicans have actually obstructed us in getting any of the documents or the witnesses that we need. And that is unprecedented, I said - you know, as I said. Nixon tried to delay a little bit. He did go to court on - on one or two things. But for the most part, he provided his top officials to the committee, and he provided a lot of documents to the committee.
This president has said blanketed, I am not cooperating with this investigation. And by doing that, he puts himself above Congress, which leads to the second thing and the most important, which is the gravity of the threat in front of us. This is a president who wants us to be a dictatorship or a monarchy but not a democracy. And we know what's happened with Ukraine, but we have no idea what he is going to do next. If he's capable of this, he is capable of much more.
MARTIN: Big last question - looking for a short answer with our remaining time. If the Senate does not convict - if the president remains in office, will it all have been worth it?
JAYAPAL: We - we really can't think about what the Senate does. We swore an oath to the Constitution. And at the end of the day, it's up to us to look ourselves in the - in the - in the face every morning and every night and know that we did everything we could to save our democracy. And I hope Republicans have the courage of some of the civil servants that came to testify before us to actually look at the evidence - the overwhelming, uncontested facts that are in front of us - and do the right thing to save our democracy.
MARTIN: Representative Jayapal is a Democrat from Washington. She sits on the House Judiciary Committee. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us this morning. We appreciate it.
JAYAPAL: Thank you, Rachel.
MARTIN: NPR senior political correspondent and editor Domenico Montanaro was listening in to that conversation. Domenico, we heard the congresswoman there reticent to outline the scope of these articles of impeachment. But she did reference Mueller, so I guess it's all up in the air at this point. She also said they're still meeting about this. It appears not to be finalized yet.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Yeah. Look, I think that if you read between the lines of what the congresswoman said, it's pretty clear that they're not going to include the third bucket that we've been talking about - the obstruction of justice as it relates to the Mueller report. She mentioned the Mueller report, but I think more in trying to lay out a, quote, "pattern of conduct" that was highlighted by the Mueller report, as she has noted.
And that's been the debate. You know, they could still perhaps include that third bucket of obstruction of justice based on the Mueller report. But it sounds like, behind the scenes and in listening to Congresswoman Jayapal right there, that they're not going to include this third bucket of obstruction of justice based on the Mueller report and they may allude to the Mueller report in some fashion.
MARTIN: So just real quick - what happens next in terms of votes?
MONTANARO: Yeah - I mean, the Judiciary Committee is going to have to vote on this. They're promising that they'll maybe do this by the end of the week, we could see. Then that would go to the full House, and the full House would vote on it. Democrats think that they definitely have the votes, especially if they don't include that third bucket of obstruction of justice. And then we're looking at a Senate trial in January.
MARTIN: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, thank you.
MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.