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White House Responds To Impeachment

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When the House began voting on articles of impeachment last night, President Trump was in Michigan. At a rally, he told supporters they were in for, quote, "the greatest speech you've ever heard." He attacked Hillary Clinton. He mocked the name of Pete Buttigieg. He urged security to get tougher on a protester, said Fox News hosts praised him and said that women tell him dishwashers do not work as well as they used to. He also brought up impeachment.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It doesn't really feel like we're being impeached.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: The country is doing better than ever before. We did nothing wrong. We did nothing wrong. And we have tremendous support in the Republican Party like we've never had before.

INSKEEP: The president was right about the Republican Party. House Republicans unanimously voted no on impeachment, which is just what Republican voters have been telling pollsters. But the Democratic House majority prevailed.

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NANCY PELOSI: On this vote, the yeas are 230. The nays are 197. Present is 1. Article 1 is adopted.

INSKEEP: That was the vote on the article accusing the president of abusing his power by seeking investigations in Ukraine. The House approved a second article for obstruction of Congress.

Pam Bondi joins us next. She was Florida's attorney general until earlier this year and is now a special adviser to the president. She's on the phone. Attorney General Bondi, welcome to the program.

PAM BONDI: Good morning. Thank you.

INSKEEP: David A. Graham writing in The Atlantic yesterday said this, quote, "even without Senate removal, the stain of impeachment will forever be attached to Trump and his presidency." Do you agree?

BONDI: Of course it's a stain on President Trump. Now, will it be attached forever? I think, ultimately, people are going to remember what the president has done for USMCA - 176,000 jobs, bringing to our economy over $60.2 billion. You know, look at the stock market. It's repeatedly hit highs in the recent weeks - the Dow, the S&P, the Nasdaq. I mean, Americans understand that. They're feeling good about the economy, what's happening, the trade deals the president's doing. Wages are continuing to rise for American workers. Unemployment dropped to 3.5 in November. That's matching, Steve, its lowest point in half a century.

So people are going to remember those things and the things that President Trump is going to continue to do even though the House has voted to impeach him. But now it goes to the Senate. And we hope Nancy Pelosi will be sending it to the Senate...

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that, because...

BONDI: ...Like this (ph) process happened in the House.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Let's talk about that, because Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to be waiting to formally send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate. She seems to be waiting for more clarity on the terms of the trial and, perhaps, negotiating with Republican senators for better terms of a trial. Does the president oppose any delay?

BONDI: Any delay? Absolutely. Of course. We want this to go to the Senate. It should go to the Senate. You know, this has been going on for - they've been dragging it out. It started with Adam Schiff, who everyone knows, in the bunker of the Capitol, not even allowing Republicans in the door.

INSKEEP: Stop. Stop. I got to remind you that many, many Republicans were in the rooms when there was private testimony. And, of course, Republicans were also there for the public testimony. Please go on.

BONDI: Nope. They were removed from the room. Talk to Matt Gaetz. When they tried to...

INSKEEP: Let's - I got to stop you again. Go to stop you...

BONDI: So we can keep going on there.

INSKEEP: We'll turn down the microphone a bit just to remind people, Ms. Bondi - I'm sorry to do this. But there were Republicans on the various House committees who were in the rooms for the questioning. But, please, go on.

BONDI: Republicans were not allowed to ask questions at all. Republicans were never allowed to ask questions in those secret bunker hearings. They continued on.

INSKEEP: That is also incorrect, but go on.

BONDI: OK. They went to - (laughter). They went to the House. It started with Adam Schiff. Our witnesses - the president's witnesses were not allowed to be heard. The Republicans were not allowed to question. They were given a limited amount of time. And then we saw what - it was complete theatrics. We saw what happened when Nadler - how about this? They called three law professors, and the Republicans were only allowed to call one. And then we find out...

INSKEEP: Well, that is true. There were - let me ask you about witnesses just because time is limited, Attorney General Bondi. I'm sorry to cut you off there. But there was the question of witnesses before the Senate, which is clearly a much more favorable forum for the president because Republicans are in the majority and Republican leaders have explicitly said they're going to coordinate with the White House. Democrats have asked for several witnesses, such as the president's chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. Now that you have a more favorable forum to you, should the Democrats get those witnesses?

BONDI: Well, OK. This will be a fair trial in the Senate because it is presided over by the chief justice, Justice Roberts. And the senators - that's not up to Nancy Pelosi to decide, first of all. That's up to Senator McConnell, working with Senator Schumer. Nancy McConnell has - Nancy McConnell. Nancy Pelosi...

INSKEEP: Understood.

BONDI: ...Has no control over what happens in the U.S. Senate. And for her to try a gimmick - it's unprecedented to say that she could hold these rules of impeachment and not send them over to the Senate. It's absurd. And it's not fair to any of the American people. It's not. This needs to go to the Senate. And Mitch McConnell will decide with Schumer. That's how it's done in the Senate. Once it's out of the House, it's out of the House. And for her to hold it is truly absurd - for her to say that she's going to hold it.

INSKEEP: Does the president want witnesses to be called before the Senate, which is a question senators are now wrestling with?

BONDI: Sure. And, you know, when this all started, the president - if you were falsely accused, you would want to be heard. You would want your voice heard. This has continued out so long. First, they said they were charging him with quid pro quo. They took that to a focus group - the Democrats - who said bribery sounded better. Then they said they were charging him with bribery. What did they end up with - abuse of power and obstruction, neither of which are criminal acts - neither one crime - neither one. So they send it over to the Senate.

And at this point, it's up to the senators to decide. And, you know, as Lindsey Graham said, this has gone on long enough. Let the Senate decide. I think at this point, the president wants to get on, continue with what he's been doing, all the work for the American people.

INSKEEP: Pam Bondi, thanks very much for the time. Really appreciate it.

BONDI: Thank you. Have a great day, Steve.

INSKEEP: She's a special adviser to the president and former attorney general of Florida.

Now, NPR's Tim Mak was listening along with us. He's in our studios. Tim, good morning.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do you hear there?

MAK: Well, it's interesting. I mean, she made that claim that Republicans weren't able to ask questions during this process in the House. And it makes me question whether Pam Bondi has read the transcripts of the depositions, which are public for anyone to see. The Democrats and Republicans were both given similar or equal time to ask questions of witnesses. And this is an individual - Pam Bondi is - that's advising the White House on the issues of impeachment. It's very surprising to me that she either doesn't know that or would be willing to say something that's contrary to the truth.

INSKEEP: OK, appreciate that. Now, let's talk about the witnesses before the Senate. Where does that stand? We had Senator Chuck Schumer on the program the other day. And he said, I want four witnesses, among them, Mick Mulvaney, the president's chief of staff. What have Republicans been saying about that? And what are you hearing from other White House officials about that?

MAK: Well, Republicans are saying that they want to go through this process in phases - firstly, to go through the presentations by House managers - that is, lawmakers that will be appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to make the case of the House - and then the presentation by the president's counsel in the president's defense, and then to decide other elements of the trial - whether there will be live witnesses, whether, as Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, suggested yesterday, there should be private depositions so this doesn't all occur in the public, you know, in front of reporters and, you know, television cameras and such.

So the parameters of this - of the trial is still to be determined. And meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to leverage, in some ways, the transmission of these articles to see if she can't help shape those parameters.

INSKEEP: How would that even work? That's clearly something that Attorney General Bondi objected to. How does Nancy Pelosi get any leverage by delaying sending some papers over to the Senate?

MAK: Well, the leverage would depend on the president's interest in being vindicated in some way, the president's interest in a trial that occurs swiftly and promptly. Now, you heard from Pam Bondi that the White House does want this to go to the Senate as soon as possible.

INSKEEP: Tim, thanks very much for your insights.

MAK: Thanks a lot.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.