STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Jerry Nadler had an eye on history last evening. His House Judiciary Committee was preparing to debate possible edits to two articles of impeachment, and the New York Democrat gave an opening statement.
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JERRY NADLER: President Trump will not be president forever. When his time has passed, when his grip on our politics is gone, when our country returns, as surely it will, to calmer times and stronger leadership, history will look back on our actions here today.
INSKEEP: Nadler added, quote, "I hope that none of us attempt to justify behavior that we know in our heart is wrong."
Republican Doug Collins of Georgia insists his heart is not troubled at all. Here on NPR the other day, he said the president did nothing wrong. And last evening, he derided the articles of impeachment accusing the president of abuse of power and obstruction.
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DOUG COLLINS: Two articles like that - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress? In 70-something days, the only abuse of power here is the majority racing the fastest they ever have, the clock and the calendar determining what impeachment looks like.
INSKEEP: Well, what is the White House defense now and in weeks to come? Steven Groves is back, special assistant to the president and deputy press secretary. Mr. Groves, good morning.
STEVEN GROVES: Good morning, Steve. Thanks for having me on.
INSKEEP: OK, so two articles of impeachment. We know pretty well by now the president's view on the abuse of power charge. But what is his defense against the charge that he obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the investigation at all?
GROVES: You know, the defense, at bottom, is an entire lack of evidence to support those very, very serious charges. And you mentioned that, you know, Jerry Nadler said something about he hopes that people don't, you know, make their decision based - and not think about things that are not wrong in their heart. You know, that's very interesting and a good sentiment, but it has nothing to do with evidence. And any intelligence committee, when you boil it all down to its basic facts, there are just certain - there just simply wasn't any direct and compelling evidence of what they charged in that particular article.
INSKEEP: We don't need to argue about that now, though, of course, you know there was sworn testimony and text messages and the White House record of the call. But I know you have an interpretation of that evidence.
INSKEEP: But this is a question of who has the power to do what. The House, under the Constitution, has the sole power of impeachment. That's the actual phrase in the Constitution. The president said, no, I can decide that this is illegitimate. Can you point to the phrase in the Constitution that allows the president to have the power of impeachment?
GROVES: Well, of course he doesn't. But he does have the power to defend himself. He has the privileges and immunities that come with being at the top of the executive branch. And those are what he asserted when he was subpoenaed in this process.
INSKEEP: Let me stop you there for a second because I understand executive privilege.
INSKEEP: I mean, there's been a lot of court findings on this. There may be specific documents or specific witnesses that the president could have off-limits, or even a question to a witness that shouldn't be asked. But the president didn't do any of that. He said, I have the power to declare this entire process illegitimate. Why is that not obstruction of Congress? Can you point to anything in the Constitution that allowed that?
GROVES: Well, that's not in the article, Steve. The articles speak of him not cooperating on subpoenas to the White House and for witness testimony. And the president communicated his privileges and immunities on each of those counts to these - to the House Intelligence Committee and to the House Judiciary Committee. So those are - you know, it's not broad overstatements about the illegitimacy of a process. The process was entirely illegitimate. But when it comes to the actual article of impeachment on obstruction of Congress, there are very specific defenses that the president has to those counts.
INSKEEP: Don't they get to decide, though? The House gets to decide that, and their power is if you don't cooperate on some level, they impeach you.
GROVES: Well, the House gets to decide it, but their decision has to have some backing of legitimacy and some logic behind it. The American people have to understand why the House is deciding what it's deciding. Otherwise - you know, and this goes back to all the various times that the president has been impeached or attempted to be impeached in the past for a tweet here or a statement about, you know, a protest there. The American people have to see this exercise of power by Congress as legitimate. Just because Congress can do something, Steve, doesn't mean they should.
INSKEEP: You're correct that there are occasions where Democrats have said some past specific and even rather small action by the president looks impeachable. This, however, of course, is the matter that has gone to impeachment.
Now, Democrats have said if the president is allowed to do this, allowed to order this kind of investigation or demand this kind of investigation in Ukraine, that he'll do it again and again. So when Robert O'Brien was on the program the other day, national security adviser for the president, I just asked if the president plans to seek more investigations overseas like the one in Ukraine. O'Brien said, it's not on the agenda, as far as I'm aware.
INSKEEP: Can you expand on that? Does the president plan further investigations?
GROVES: Well, I mean, of course, he's the president and he has the power to do what he wants to do in the executive branch. But I think the only investigations that are going on now are being conducted by his private counsel in this case. I know he expressed his concerns about an investigation into 2016 directly to President Zelenskiy and getting to the bottom of whether there were Ukrainian politicians there who opposed his presidency. And those are well out there. Those are in the transcript from the call that you and I have talked about.
GROVES: But to my knowledge, in terms of the future, I don't know about that. And I don't - I wouldn't think that Mr. O'Brien would know about them either.
INSKEEP: When you say his private counsel, you mean Rudy Giuliani, who's been seeking witnesses and testimony and so forth.
GROVES: That's right.
INSKEEP: But you say the president does have the power to do that.
GROVES: You mean the - with his private counsel?
INSKEEP: He does have the - yeah. No, no, no - does have the power to ask for more investigations. That was the beginning of your answer. You're saying he has that power?
GROVES: Well, of course he has the power - exclusive power to deal with our foreign relations. And if he thinks that Ukraine can assist in getting to the bottom of what happened in 2016 and whether there were politicians over there or whether there's a server over there, he's well within his rights to ask President Zelenskiy about those, of course.
INSKEEP: Does the president want witnesses for his side at his Senate trial? We've got about 30 seconds.
GROVES: Yeah, I think we're waiting to see what Leader McConnell issues in terms of procedures, and then making decisions based on that. As you recall, the Clinton trial in the Senate didn't have any live witnesses. It had videotaped depositions and so forth.
GROVES: So we're kind of waiting to see what those procedures look like. And then the president, through his - then with his counsel, will decide on a final strategy.
INSKEEP: Mr. Groves, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.
GROVES: Thanks for having me on, Steve.
INSKEEP: Steven Groves is a special assistant to the president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.