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White House Lawyers Resume Impeachment Defense As Trial Hits Week 2


President Trump's defense lawyers continued today to lay out the case against the president's removal. Ken Starr kicked off the day's arguments. You'll recall he led the probe that drove the impeachment of former President Clinton. Well, Ken Starr takes another view of impeachment now.


KEN STARR: Like war, impeachment is hell, or at least presidential impeachment is hell.

KELLY: Our White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe has been keeping tabs on the arguments today. She's with me now. And, Ayesha, let's start there with Ken Starr. What kind of role did he play in today's proceedings?

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Well, he really laid down the big-picture argument for President Trump. It was striking because he's on the opposite side of where he was during the Clinton trial. But he kind of alluded to that, saying that people who lived through that impeachment know how harmful it is to the country, and how divisive. And he said it's tantamount to a domestic war. His point overall was that impeachment should be a last resort. And in this case, he's saying that he believes that Trump's actions do not rise to the level of deserving impeachment. He also criticized the process in the House and the decision by Democrats to not fight in court to force witnesses to testify.

KELLY: Now, Ken Starr was one of several of Trump's attorneys who were on their feet today. What were some of the other ones pointing to?

RASCOE: Well, they drilled down on the details of the House impeachment managers' case. And they basically, over and over again, said that Democrats had left out information in an important context. They played clips from witnesses from the House hearings where they talked about Trump's long-running concerns about corruption in Ukraine and burden-sharing. And they said this is why Trump held up the money and that it wasn't because of the 2020 election or former Vice President Biden. But at the same time, they also talked about Biden and alleged conflicts of interest that he had - that he may have had as VP, with his son working for the Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

They also defended Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has been accused of running a shadow diplomacy for Trump. Jane Raskin, one of Trump's lawyers, said Giuliani was just defending his client like famous defense attorney Clarence Darrow. Here's more from her.


JANE RASKIN: You may not like his style, but one might argue that he is everything Clarence Darrow said a defense lawyer must be - outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, a rogue, a renegade.

RASCOE: So Raskin seems to be acknowledging that Giuliani has been a bit of a wild card with his interviews and his public statements, but she's saying that he wasn't engaging in any misconduct.

KELLY: Let me ask you, Ayesha, about this bombshell that landed even before today's arguments got underway, and I'm referring to John Bolton's upcoming book. Democrats had already been pushing for John Bolton, the president's former national security adviser, to testify in this trial. What was the White House saying about Bolton and his book today?

RASCOE: So The New York Times reported that Bolton says that Trump linked aid to Ukraine to investigations into his political rivals and that this is going to come out in his book that's coming out soon. Trump has denied this. Today, also, the attorney - the act - the attorney for the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, also pushed back on this story. He said that Mulvaney had never had a conversation with anyone about aid being withheld in exchange for investigations. The chief of staff for the vice president also pushed back on this.

But at the trial today, Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow didn't really address Bolton's book. They seemed to proceed as if the news hadn't come out, and they were still saying that no witnesses actually heard Trump directly tie aid to any investigations. Of course, there seems to be someone who may have heard this. But obviously, Bolton has not testified, and that's what they seem to be alluding to.

KELLY: Yeah. And briefly, Ayesha, President Trump himself is weighing in. He's been tweeting.

RASCOE: He's been tweeting. He denied the main allegation of the story, but he's been retweeting a bunch of supporters who said that Bolton is just doing this for book sales. Bolton denies that.

KELLY: All right, NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.