Rep. Mike Johnson Of White House Defense Team Reacts To Impeachment Proceedings
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
It is Day 2 of opening arguments from the House Democrats in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump. Once again, the team of seven impeachment managers led by Congressman Adam Schiff of California is spending eight hours today laying out the case for how President Trump obstructed Congress and abused his power. Here's House impeachment manager Sylvia Garcia of Texas.
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SYLVIA GARCIA: In putting himself above our country, he put our country at risk. And that is why his actions are so dangerous.
CHANG: Now, President Trump's defense team will likely begin to make its case on Saturday to the 100 senators sitting in judgment. The White House says that defense team is getting the support of eight House Republicans, one of whom is our guest now, Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana. Welcome.
MIKE JOHNSON: Hey. Thanks for having me.
CHANG: So I understand that you're not going to be making arguments on the Senate floor. You're going to be instead providing guidance to the legal team. Can you just tell us what kind of guidance?
JOHNSON: Well, yes. We don't anticipate making arguments on the floor. The White House has exceptional counsel. The president's put together an all-star team. Pat Cipollone's done a great job, Jay Sekulow. They're seasoned trial attorneys. And there are others at the table as well.
Our role as House members is to assist in the case strategy, the development of the arguments. We've been doing that since mid-December, a small handful of us - Jim Jordan, myself, John Ratcliffe, Mark Meadows and others - because we had such a good grasp of the facts and the record below. And I think that's been an important aspect of this.
CHANG: Well, the House - the White House statement announcing your team says that you and the seven other House Republicans on this team are working to, quote, "combat this hyper-partisan and baseless impeachment." Tell me, what does that mean practically speaking? How are you going to be combating the partisanship in these impeachment proceedings?
JOHNSON: Well, if you look at what has happened below, over the last few months, the American people have seen on display a hyper-partisanship. There's no better way to describe it. This is the first single-party impeachment in the history of our republic in 243 years. It's something that the founders warned against because they were afraid. They were concerned that if it ever came to this, it would divide the country bitterly, perhaps irrevocably.
CHANG: And how would you quell that partisanship? How would you quell it?
JOHNSON: Well, by reminding the American people - ensuring that they know the true facts here, what has happened, the real record, the real evidence. And the American public has not seen that yet. That's why the president is so anxious to put on his case, that's why our team is because up to this point, as we've said many times this week, this has not really been a fair fight.
Adam Schiff, the chairman of House intel, had the super-secret hearings in the basement where he engineered the facts, cherrypicked facts he wanted to put out to advance their narrative. And thus far, that's all the public has seen. We look forward to putting on the other side.
CHANG: Well, I am curious. I am curious. Why even bring the eight of you House Republicans in? I mean, as you said, the president already has a pretty robust defense team, a team that insists the July 25 phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president was perfect. There's no impeachable offense here according to that team. Why do they need this extra layer of support from the eight of you?
JOHNSON: Well, because in much of the media, the president is mischaracterized, certainly on this issue, and he sees that. There's two aspects of this. There's the court...
CHANG: So you see your role as a messaging role?
JOHNSON: Well, and in some respects, it is. There's the court, which is inside the Senate. And there's a court of public opinion. And it's important for the president's message to be out there. He is the one that is effectively being prosecuted here, so to have those who understand the record and the facts presenting that on a regular basis is a benefit to him and, I think, to the American people.
CHANG: Let's talk about the case that the president's team will be presenting starting Saturday. Are you OK with the president of the United States asking a foreign country to interfere in a U.S. election?
JOHNSON: That's not what happened. It's not in the record.
CHANG: What happened?
JOHNSON: That's - well, that's something Adam Schiff has manufactured. And that's part of the point we're making.
CHANG: Well, President Trump flatly asked for an investigation of Joe Biden, a political opponent, during the 2020 election, during that July 25 phone call.
JOHNSON: What the president was after was rooting out corruption in the third-ranked most corrupt country in the world, Ukraine. Federal law required him to be a good steward of the use of taxpayer dollars. And it is a theme that he has advanced since before he got into politics.
CHANG: That phone call did not talk about investigating other corruption, it talked about investigating the Bidens.
JOHNSON: No, but in the full context of the whole record, which you're going to see put on display when the president's trial attorneys take their turn, he was concerned about the large picture overall. Of course the Bidens were part of that. And this was not something relegated to the Trump administration.
The Obama administration had some alarm and concerns about that too, various departments. You're going to see that evidence put on. This is not - was not an outrageous thing. It was perfectly consistent with the theme of ensuring that we spend our taxpayer dollars wisely overseas.
CHANG: All right. That's Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana.
Thank you very much for talking to us.
JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.