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How Former President Donald Trump's Lawyers Are Laying Out Their Impeachment Defense

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Here now is NPR's senior political correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey again, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So we heard a little bit there how the impeachment managers are making their argument today. What do we know about how President Trump's legal team will make their case?

MONTANARO: Well, they're actually supposed to just take one day and that they're going to wrap up tomorrow by the end of the day. So it's going to be interesting to see what they wind up saying. I mean, they're hoping that if there were some wavering Republicans that they'll be put back in line after they're done. I think we can expect them to do it using a healthy dose of angry finger-wagging whataboutism really to appeal to deep-seated Republican resentments toward Democrats. It worked for Brett Kavanaugh, frankly. During his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, it solidified enough Republicans for him to squeak through. So there's a tried and true path for this. There's plenty of evidence that they'll likely go that route.

Conservatives, including those aligned with the former president, have been tweeting out Democrats using the word fight, calling them hypocrites. Their 78-page brief pointed fingers at specific Democrats and their language around the protests over the racial reckoning last summer. None of that has anything to do with Trump's culpability here, but they're banking on it being enough to keep Republican senators and the Trump base in line. And that's why you're seeing a lot of this done on social media and amplified already in conservative media. I expect Trump's lawyers also to say that Democrats cherry-picked President Trump's comments on January 6. And even though they mentioned it, they didn't play video of Trump saying to march peacefully. Regardless, they say this whole thing is unconstitutional anyway. So what's the point?

KELLY: OK, so a tall order for Democrats to overcome all that - they wrapped their case today. How did they try to persuade the Republicans to get the 17 votes they would need?

MONTANARO: Well, they wanted to drive home the point that the rioters were inspired by Trump. And - but they widened out the scope to show how Trump has embraced, encouraged and sanctioned violence from the time that he was a candidate back in 2015. After a series of clips showing exactly that, lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin of Maryland said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMIE RASKIN: There the pattern is staring us in the face. Very, very appropriate, he said after a man was assaulted at one of his rallies. Totally appropriate was how he characterized his incitement on January 6, meaning that, of course, if given the chance, he would gladly do it again - because why would he not engage in totally appropriate conduct?

MONTANARO: And Democrats used a lot of assembled video clips, as they have all week, essentially making trial witnesses of the rioters, members of Congress, former members of Trump's administration who are critical of him and, yes, even Trump himself.

KELLY: And how are Democrats pushing back against this central view among many Republicans that this whole thing's unconstitutional anyway? That - if the point of impeachment is to remove somebody from office and that he's already out of office, why do this? Why hold the trial?

MONTANARO: Well, because that's only one of the penalties in the Constitution - removal. But disqualification is another. And Democrats made the point that there is an ongoing threat from extremists who say that they're operating on the president's behalf. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIANA DEGETTE: We are not here to punish Donald Trump. We are here to prevent the seeds of hatred that he planted from bearing any more fruit. This must be our wake-up call. We must condemn it because the threat is not over.

MONTANARO: And that was Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado. The impeachment managers showed these extremist groups continuing to plot, waiting for direction from Trump. And frankly, those in favor of impeachment are also aghast at the fact that Trump has simply shown no remorse.

KELLY: How about you, Dominico? What has struck you watching these first three days of the trial?

MONTANARO: Well, clearly, Democrats were prepared. They're methodical in showing, as they called it, Trump's provocation, attack and harm that he caused, as they say. They used emotional and new video, frankly, which was pretty jarring for some of us to watch, something that's been going on, lasting from all of this. The bigger picture, though, that I've been thinking about is that, you know, in the context of this trial, Watergate has shaped many of the rules for modern U.S. politics, right? The insurrection on January 6, though, was worse because of the president's role in all of it. This trial may very well shape the next chapter in our politics for what America becomes and governs its politics. It's going to be really interesting to see how all of that gets shaped in the coming years.

KELLY: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thank you.

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

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