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An Impeachment Manager On His Case Against President Trump

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As the country prepares for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, a second impeachment trial of President Trump is before us - at some point. Last week, a majority of lawmakers determined that once again, President Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors. The House approved one article of impeachment against the president for inciting an insurrection against the federal government at the U.S. Capitol.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says no trial will take place until after Trump leaves office. But in the meantime, preparations are being made, including the selection of nine impeachment managers who will be in charge of presenting the case for President Trump's removal from office. Today, we are joined by one of them, Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado. He is a lawyer by training and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and he's also a member of the Progressive Caucus.

Representative Neguse, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

JOE NEGUSE: It's great to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: And I'm sorry, but I have to take you back to that terrible day over a week ago now, the invasion of the Capitol. What was that like for you? And I'm particularly interested because I read an interview you gave recently in which you reflected on what this was like for you as the son of Eritrean refugees to watch the Capitol, then the freedoms and the stability that your parents came to find, be attacked.

NEGUSE: Well, January 6 was a difficult day for the Congress, difficult day for our country. On January 6, I was on the House floor. The armed insurrection that ultimately took place obviously was deeply disturbing to each and every American, and myself included. As you said, I'm a son of immigrants. And certainly, to see this citadel of liberty attacked in that fashion was - it should shock the conscience of each and every American. It certainly shocked mine. And I am grateful that the House returned to finish our duty that evening and that ultimately, we now are in the process of holding this president accountable for the high crime and misdemeanor he committed. As Representative Cheney so eloquently stated, this president incited the mob. He assembled the mob. He summoned the mob. He lit the flame.

MARTIN: Now, I hear what you're saying, that you were - you feel it's important to get back to work immediately. But I do find myself wondering, like, what was going through your mind? I mean, you didn't - presumably, you didn't grow up with that kind of chaos. And I wondered if your parents had ever talked to you about, you know, chaotic situations that they had experienced and if any of that sort of came to you while you were experiencing that?

NEGUSE: Well, certainly, we all - you know, all those in the Capitol as these insurrectionists breached the doors - we all were worried for our safety. I will just say personally, I think one of the tragedies of it all is, you know, my parents - they immigrated to the United States 40 years ago. And it's only because of the incredible freedoms and opportunities that exist in the United States of America that don't exist in a lot of places in the world that they were able to make it and live the American dream and to see their son, you know, one generation removed, serve in the United States House of Representatives.

So to see one of those fundamental pillars of our constitutional republic, which is the peaceful transfer of power - to see that interrupted so violently and ultimately to see it undermined by the commander in chief, by the president of the United States, was beyond unsettling for me, and I think for a lot of Americans.

MARTIN: So then this past week, you participated in the vote on the article of impeachment. Largely, Republican lawmakers remain loyal to the president. A number of them defended him vociferously. But a few key people were not. As you mentioned, the No. 3 Republican, Liz Cheney, supported impeachment. What did you take away from those proceedings?

NEGUSE: Well, I thought that her words and the words of several of my Republican colleagues who ultimately chose country over party and voted to move forward with impeachment were so powerful. You know, to hear Representative Cheney talk about the fact that this president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence and, you know, to state what we all know to be true, which is that he did not do that and that this never would have happened without the president.

MARTIN: And to the question of timing, let's assume for the sake of argument it does start as the Biden administration takes up its work. The administration - incoming administration has an ambitious agenda, as his incoming chief of staff has pointed out, that this country's facing multiple crises. What do you say to Americans who say that this impeachment proceeding, however important, would be - could be a distraction from that important work?

NEGUSE: I'd say two things. First, I do think that the president-elect has provided a very clear and ambitious program for the Congress to enact with respect to a number of important priorities that we share. I believe that the Senate can ultimately do both and that they have a constitutional obligation to do both. But at the end of the day, what this trial gets at, at its core, is a fundamental pillar of our constitutional republic, which is the peaceful transfer of power and the ability of the Article One branch of government, the legislative branch, to perform its constitutional duties.

MARTIN: And to that point, though - it may seem obvious to you, but it isn't to everybody, so for people who are listening to our conversation and wonder, what's the value of proceeding with this trial when the president will be out of office, what do you say?

NEGUSE: I say a couple of things. First, it remains an open question as to when the trial will commence. And to the extent that the trial occurs after he - his term has ended, I think it's important for Congress to hold him accountable. It cannot be that in a constitutional republic like ours, the greatest democracy this world has ever known, that a president of the United States can incite an armed insurrection in the final days of his term and avoid accountability and avoid any consequences.

MARTIN: So as you pointed out, as an impeachment manager, your role is essentially that of a litigator, and the Senate is the jury. So how do you see your role? Is it to persuade the Senate? Or is it to persuade the public so that they will persuade the Senate?

NEGUSE: My view is that our job is to convince the Senate. Our goal is to secure a conviction. And what's interesting about this case is - as you know - is, we were all witnesses to the terrible armed insurrection that took place. Every senator was sitting in the United States Senate as this armed insurrection took place. They are all victims of the armed insurrection that this president incited, as were the managers.

So that, in my view, makes this a very straightforward case because everyone knows what they saw on January 6. Everyone knows what they heard the president say as he encouraged and incited this mob of insurrectionists to storm the Capitol.

MARTIN: Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado is one of nine impeachment managers. He is a Democrat. He is a lawyer by training and a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Representative Neguse, thank you so much for joining us.

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

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