News Brief: Trump Impeachment, Virginia Gun Rally, Royals Step Back

Jan 20, 2020
Originally published on January 20, 2020 7:26 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So a pretty big week in Washington, D.C., with a Senate impeachment trial beginning tomorrow.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That's right. Senators will open the trial with a discussion of its rules. One big thing that hasn't been resolved yet is whether new witnesses will be called. Here's Democrat Adam Schiff, who will be the lead House manager for the trial, talking on ABC's "This Week."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

ADAM SCHIFF: If the Senate decides - if Senator McConnell prevails and there are no witnesses, it will be the first impeachment trial in history that goes to conclusion without witnesses.

GREENE: OK. One of many people who will be following all this this week, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who joins us this morning. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: OK. So we're starting to get a preview of what these arguments will be. We had this 111-page brief from the House impeachment managers. And then we have President Trump's legal team releasing a memo. Let's start with the White House.

KEITH: Right. So this is what they call an answer. There will be a longer brief that comes from the White House later today. But in the answer, they argue that the articles of impeachment submitted by House Democrats are, quote, "a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their president. This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere in the 2020 election."

They also say that the articles of impeachment are constitutionally invalid on their face, that, as Robert Ray argued on Weekend Edition Sunday, he's one member of the legal team, that there were no high crimes and misdemeanors in there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROBERT RAY: It's not bribery. It's not extortion. It's not an illegal campaign contribution. It's not any of those things. And because it is not any of those things, that is why it is not impeachable.

GREENE: OK. And so that's the argument from the White House. What are we hearing from Democrats at this point?

KEITH: So as you say, there was this lengthy brief that the seven impeachment managers put together. And the contrast between what they're saying and what the White House is saying couldn't be more stark. The impeachment managers are arguing that President Trump's conduct is the framers' worst nightmare, that he used his official power to pressure a foreign government to interfere in the United States election for his personal political gain and then attempted to cover it up by obstructing Congress. That is what they are arguing.

It includes this line, the only remaining question is whether the members of the Senate will accept and carry out the responsibility placed on them by the framers of the Constitution and their constitutional oaths. The lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff was on ABC's "This Week" and pushed back on the notion that Trump's conduct isn't impeachable.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

SCHIFF: Well, that's the argument I suppose you have to make if the facts are so deadset against you. If the president has admitted to the wrongdoing, his chief of staff has confessed to the wrongdoing, his European Union ambassador has confessed to the same quid pro quo, you have to rely on an argument that even if he abused his office in this horrendous way that it's not impeachable.

KEITH: Yeah. And that is the argument that the White House is making is that abuse of power is not an impeachable offense. But also, they claim that the president didn't abuse his power.

GREENE: And you mentioned we're going to be getting an even longer brief from President Trump's legal team today, right? So that'll happen. And then tell me what happens beyond that.

KEITH: Well - and then House managers can respond to that in writing. The big thing comes on Tuesday when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will deliver remarks in the early afternoon. They will then consider rules of the trial, rules that no one has seen yet - or at least none of us have seen yet. And we don't know what they will say.

We don't know exactly how long the trial will last. There's talk that it could be something like 12 hours a day and not starting until 1 p.m. Democrats hearing this talk coming from senators are not happy about it and say that that would be, in essence, trying to hide the trial from the public.

GREENE: All right. Interesting. We'll be following all of it. NPR's Tamara Keith. She covers the White House for us. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. So Virginia's capital is under a temporary state of emergency as it prepares today for a pro-gun rally.

KING: Yeah. And it's worth noting that this rally is an annual event. Thousands of gun rights advocates are expected to be there. They're protesting gun control measures proposed by the state legislature. But Virginia law enforcement says it's concerned that militia groups and white supremacists will also be there.

Governor Ralph Northam said he declared a state of emergency because he doesn't want a repeat of a deadly protest in Charlottesville that happened back in the summer of 2017.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RALPH NORTHAM: No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017. We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here.

KING: So all guns have been banned from the rally site today.

GREENE: OK. Let's turn to NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam, who is in Richmond. Hi, Hannah.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi there.

GREENE: Let's start with just how people are feeling ahead of this.

ALLAM: Well, the mood here is anxious and nervous, you know? You hear people say, I can't wait until it's over. I just hope it's peaceful. The logistics alone are a nightmare - street closings and security fences, barricades. And as you mentioned, guns are banned at the rally site. So everyone who wants to enter has to go through metal detectors. And there's just a single entrance for potentially thousands of people streaming into this one patch of land.

Also we've had a counter-protest and a vigil that we've heard have been canceled out of security concerns. And just for some perspective here, the main event was permitted for one hour, just from 11 to noon. So all of this - the state of emergency, the high security, the national media attention - it's basically all for a demonstration that officially was supposed to last just an hour.

GREENE: Wow. Well, you've been doing reporting and trying to understand what people involved in this are expecting. You attended a gathering of a militia group last night. I mean, what exactly did you hear there?

ALLAM: That's right. This was an event at a lodge about half an hour outside of Richmond. And it was billed as the State of the Militia 2020. And groups were there from all over the country. I guess the big takeaway for me is just the sheer number of factions. And they're coming with different agendas - some of them overlap, some of them don't. And the range of perspective just in that one banquet hall is a microcosm of, I think, what we'll see at the rally today.

There were people who were fine with their photos being taken, with their names being used, others were not at all and made it clear we were unwelcome. Some guys we were told not to approach under any circumstances. But there were surprising moments, too. Outside the hall, I met a militia member who was taking a smoke break. We started chatting. And he pulls out his phone and shows me a poem he's written about the pain he feels at the polarization in the country right now.

So, you know, there are surprises. And it can get messy sorting through all these factions and trying to figure out what they're all about. One of the organizers at the event, Tammy Lee, she said her main message is that they don't condone hate groups and want nothing to do with them.

TAMMY LEE: We're now moving toward what we call the American movement, which is neutral people, constitutionalists, people who don't hate, they welcome all sexes and races and creeds and religions. And that's part of what we're doing here tonight. But that's what we're doing out in public. And that's what we're doing out at these events now.

ALLAM: And I should say, Tammy Lee didn't even want reporters there. But she said she felt it was important to show different sides of the militia movement.

GREENE: Well, as Noel mentioned, this is an annual event. But you have the governor declaring this state of emergency and seems to be real concerned. Why is this year different?

ALLAM: The governor cited a credible threat of violence at the rally. We don't know the specific nature of the threat, but there are a lot of groups - specifically one called The Base, a secretive neo-Nazi group. And, you know, we saw arrests leading up to that just before the rally. So obviously that's scary to the people who just want to show up and assert their Second Amendment rights.

GREENE: NPR's Hannah Allam ahead of this gun rally. She's in Richmond, Va. Thanks so much.

ALLAM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: OK. So Prince Harry has now broken his silence about leaving the royal family - or the firm, as it's known in Britain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRINCE HARRY: The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly. There was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges. And I know I haven't always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option.

KING: Harry elaborated a little bit. He said he and his wife, Meghan Markle, wanted to keep serving the queen. But they also wanted to earn their own income. And unfortunately, he said, that wasn't possible. So over the weekend, Queen Elizabeth, senior royals and Harry and Meghan agreed to some things.

They will not be able to use their royal titles, his and her royal highness. They will still keep the titles duke and duchess of Sussex. And Harry, who was born a prince, will stay a prince.

GREENE: OK. Sorting all this out for us is NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is on the line from London. Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK. His and her royal highness, duke and duchess - most of us don't speak royal, exactly. Can you translate all this and tell us exactly what's happening?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Absolutely, David. The bottom line here is the royals and the couple cut a deal that Harry doesn't really like, which is what he was talking about last night. They had felt - Harry and Meghan had felt constrained in their royal duties. They had felt attacked by the press here. They wanted something, I would say, a more commercial operation on their own with a charitable foundation, maybe TV and movies, things like that, while still having a platform as senior royals and living outside - largely outside of the U.K.

The queen basically said over the weekend after a lot of negotiations, no dice. And the sense is that Buckingham Palace would want to vet any projects they wanted to do. And that's kind of understandable because they want to protect the crown and avoid any conflicts of interest.

GREENE: Yeah. Say more about what exactly the concern is there.

LANGFITT: Yeah. The concern is this - I mean, the crown has to be apolitical if it wants to survive in Britain. And it is relatively popular but also quite divisive. And the criticism is the couple were kind of trying to have it both ways - make money off the crown while curtailing their own duties, living overseas and not having any oversight.

Now, last night, Harry called their move to Canada and this new life a leap of faith. It's not exactly clear what this new enterprise is going to look like or how successful it will be, especially whether the loss of this royal title that we were just mentioning might affect their earning power.

GREENE: What's the reaction been to Prince Harry coming out and trying to claim this?

LANGFITT: It's fascinating, David. I mean, this morning, I was watching the BBC. And I watched two royal watchers - one of whom I've interviewed a number of times - actually arguing. One was team queen, one was team Harry...

GREENE: (Laughter) That's amazing.

LANGFITT: ...And I'm not making this up. I mean, this is - it's fascinating. I think a lot of people, because of the death of Diana, princess of Wales, they see Harry as, like, their nephew. And this gets very emotional for them. And so what we also saw this morning was questions about exactly how they would make their money and what would happen.

And I think, David, what this comes down to - it's interesting. This is a fascinating story - royalty, celebrity family strife. But some people are saying, 11 days before Brexit, people should be focusing more on the future of the United Kingdom and its relationship with the EU than the relationship between the queen and Harry.

GREENE: And Harry, of course, saying he wants a more peaceful life here. Any sense, briefly, what he means by that?

LANGFITT: Yeah. I think that he wants to get away from the tabloids. He feels - he and his wife feel totally victimized by the British tabloids here.

GREENE: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.