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Republican Strategy On Impeachment

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How well is the Republican defense of President Trump working? The president's most prominent defenders in Congress are talking less about facts than about process in the impeachment inquiry. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is among those casting doubt on the inquiry in the House.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: It is an unfair process. And a better way to characterize it would be to call it an unfair process and inconsistent with the kinds of procedural safeguards that are routinely provided for people in this kind of situation, either in court or an impeachment process, in our country.

INSKEEP: To say the least, there's plenty of debate about what would be the regular process at this moment. But some House Republicans this week flooded a secure facility where a House committee has been privately interviewing witnesses. They demand that those interviews be done in public.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of a new media venture called The Dispatch and a regular guest here.

Jonah, welcome back.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Always great to be here.

INSKEEP: And congratulations on the new publication.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: What are the objections on the process here?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think the Republicans have legitimate complaints that on a scale of 1 to 10 are about a 4, maybe a 5. And they are claiming they are about a 50. This is not the normal process. It's a little confusing because the normal process is based on exactly two precedents of past impeachment events.

INSKEEP: Sure.

GOLDBERG: What they are trying - one of the reasons, which a lot of people pointed out, they're focusing on the process is you cannot defend the president on the merits anymore on the substance of this. Ambassador Taylor's testimony this week, if his opening statement is to be believed and it needs to be cross-examined and all of that...

INSKEEP: Sure.

GOLDBERG: ...The president is just simply guilty of what he's been charged of, of the quid pro quo stuff.

INSKEEP: And the only question then is do you believe that is wrong or right, do you believe that's impeachable or not?

GOLDBERG: Right. If the president came out tomorrow and said, man, I screwed this up, I am sorry, I understand how it looks now, I think Republicans would be elated because then they could say let's just move on, it was bad, the president admits it, contrition is very powerful in our country - president is unlikely to do that.

INSKEEP: And so they end up with this process argument. Now you said you feel there is some basis for the complaint. Essentially, the complaint is this is all happening with domination of Democrats and it's all happening in private. But is that a real objection? Because Democrats say that they are interviewing witnesses in private and there are Republicans in the room, of course, because this is how you conduct an investigation. And the next step is public hearings. And the next step after that, if it gets that far, would be a Senate trial. And that all would be in public. And there would be cross-examination. There'd be everything else.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. So if you talk to - and some of my colleagues at The Dispatch have done this. If you talk to the Republicans on this, they'll say look the - Chairman Schiff is not giving access to the transcripts. He is controlling these selective leaks, all of these kinds of things. I do think Chairman Schiff is - gets more of a free ride from a lot of people in the press who don't hold him accountable for how badly he handled and misled the public on the Russian collusion stuff. That said, it is amazing. I paid very close attention when I listen to the Republicans on the Hill talk about this or, you know, the people who stormed the SCIF in that ridiculous pizza party thing.

INSKEEP: Sure.

GOLDBERG: Just as a general rule, if you find yourself involved in something involving the word storming and the person who's leading you is Congressman Matt Gaetz, your decision tree has gone awry.

INSKEEP: Oh, why would that be, Jonah Goldberg?

GOLDBERG: Because he's a clown. And he is - he's a partisan sort of sycophant of the president. And that is his business model. That said, there are people in that group who are serious people. And so I think the...

INSKEEP: There are people in that group who are actually on the committees who are getting in the room in the private sessions.

GOLDBERG: Right. So this is the thing. The gaslighting that does bother me a lot from the Republicans is it's very difficult to get any of them to admit in front of a camera or a microphone that there are actually Republicans in that room. They make it sound as if the Democrats are doing these depositions totally without Republican input. And that is just not true. But I do think if you're going to impeach the president, this is not a legal proceeding. It's not - you know, it's analogous to a grand jury, but it's not a grand jury. It is incumbent on the Democrats, if they take this seriously, to do it in a more serious way that includes the public, that seems above board even if the Republican protests are too hyperbolic.

INSKEEP: If Republicans are focused on the process, are they just trying to be where they believe Republican voters are right now, still supporting the president and holding their fire on the facts and waiting to see where the public moves?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think they're - support for the president is pretty soft in the Senate or softer than you would imagine from watching the public displays of things. And the process place is a safe harbor for a lot of Republicans. The problem is, the Republicans are under enormous pressure from the president and the White House to go to the mattresses in all of this and defend him in every regard. And the problem is, they don't know what's coming out next. They don't know what other conversations are coming out. And also even if there are selective leaks and there's maybe another side to it, the stuff that is coming out is very damning of the president.

INSKEEP: You mentioned the support for the president maybe being softer than it would seem. Someone like Mitt Romney has been very critical of the president. Are there other senators you think who are privately moving in that direction?

GOLDBERG: I think - well, so some of my colleagues from The Dispatch did some reporting on this. Lindsey Graham tried to rally the entire Republican caucus to take a much firmer stance and sign a letter completely denouncing all of this. And he couldn't get Republicans to do it.

INSKEEP: Couldn't get them all to sign on it.

GOLDBERG: Apparently Senator Tom Cotton, of all people, stood up and said, you know, this is going to put a lot of vulnerable Republicans in a bad place if they get completely invested in all of this. What about - and they soften that language. I can see very easily this getting to five or 10 senators, Republican senators that might actually vote to remove, but we're a long way from there.

INSKEEP: Remember, you'd need something more like 20, OK?

GOLDBERG: Right.

INSKEEP: Jonah, thanks so much.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg of The Dispatch. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.